John Bolton: Trump ‘Doesn’t Have Full Control of the State Department’

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton warned that President Donald Trump “doesn’t have full control of the State Department” at a crucial time in American history because the president has yet to fill key department positions with his nominees, speaking during an interview Monday on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”

Bolton, who served under former presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, noted that the Trump administration is facing key tests in the form of North Korea’s escalating nuclear aggression and the president’s plans to tout his “America First” agenda throughout the course of this week’s U.N. General Assembly. Noting that the Department of State recently has been giving off signals that conflict with Trump’s own policies, he warned that the number of Obama holdovers in the department present a “huge” problem for Trump.

"It's huge, yes, because what it means is Trump doesn't have full control of the State Department," Bolton said. "The way a president exercises control over the bureaucracy is to get as many of his people into these key positions ... as he can. Because then they are loyal to him. They know what his policies are, and they carry them out."

But several key State Department positions remain stocked with former President Barack Obama's appointees nearly eight months after Trump's January 20 inauguration, he noted.

"What they were doing the day before Trump was inaugurated, they're going to do the day after he was inaugurated unless they're told to do something differently," Bolton said. "If you're still there a year after a new president takes his place, you haven't changed your mind and are not trying to pursue the new president's policies."

Saying that the Department of State and other departments are like "a big aircraft carrier," the former ambassador said they are "filled with people who have a culture that says to them, 'We should be running foreign policy — not these political appointees who come in on top of us.'" But if the Obama holdovers remain in their various departments, the status quo will remain and continually thwart Trump's agenda.

"So Trump sits there in the White House. The bureaucracy, like those big aircraft carriers, are still on course from January the 19th, when they were in the Obama administration," Bolton said.

In particular, he took issue with how the State Department holdovers — and even Trump appointee Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — have been contradicting Trump's policies or undermining his efforts to enact change in how the U.S. deals with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.

"I think the president takes the North Korean nuclear threat very seriously. It's not at all clear that the State Department does," Bolton said.

The former U.N. ambassador pointed to Tillerson's Sunday interview with CBS News' "Face the Nation," in which Tillerson championed the recent sanctions the U.N. economic sanctions slapped against North Korea, as well as the Trump administration's decision to exert more pressure on China to wield its influence over North Korea.

In his interview, Tillerson said that the U.S. strategy "has been to undertake this peaceful pressure campaign" against North Korea by enacting "the four no's."

"The four no's being that we do not seek regime change, we do not seek a regime collapse, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, and we do not seek a reason to send our forces north of the demilitarized zone," Tillerson said. "So the peaceful-pressure campaign is built around enabling, putting together the largest and strongest international coalition we can to send the same message to North Korea and to North Korea's neighbors, China and Russia, that this is the policy of the rest of the world."

Tillerson's comments left Bolton dissatisfied.

"Yesterday on 'Face the Nation,' Secretary Tillerson said that all of our pressure was designed to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table for what he called constructive, productive dialogue," Bolton said. "That's what we've been doing for 25 years. That's why we're at the point where we've almost got deliverable nuclear weapons."

"There's nothing more to say to Kim Jong-Un and his diplomats," he added. "It's another reason why this [UNGA] speech is important for the president. He's been dogged by the dissidents among his advisers on national security and their failure to get command over the bureaucracy. So tomorrow is an opportunity to pull it together."

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

Last Modified: January 7, 2018, 8:02 pm

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