If Donald Trump disagreed with John Bolton about everything, why did he hire him in the first place? The most common answer to this question revolves around Trump’s basic incompetence and foreign policy ignorance, and that’s fair enough. But there’s something more interesting also going on here.
Trump has two warring traits when it comes to foreign policy. First, he likes to think of himself—and he likes others to think of him—as a tough guy. It’s central to his self-image. Second, he likes to think of himself as a dealmaker. He wants a deal in the Middle East. He wants a deal with North Korea. He wants a deal with China. He wants a deal with Iran.
This is a surprisingly unusual combination. In particular, most conservatives don’t want deals at all. Most of them won’t quite say this outright, but they don’t. We see this over and over, from START to the Law of the Sea to Iraq to Israel. They want to squash their enemies, not compromise with them.
This leaves Trump with no good people to hire. He could hire a dealmaker, but most dealmakers are too dovish for his taste. He can hire tough guys, but he’ll soon learn that they have no interest in deals. There’s hardly anyone around who truly shares Trump’s values.
Which is too bad. One of Trump’s few redeeming qualities is that he genuinely isn’t very keen on military intervention. I suspect this stems more from a fear of losing than anything else, but who cares? At least it’s the right instinct. If he could find a competent NSA who shared his nationalistic impulses but was also eager to make deals with adversaries, he might actually get somewhere.