Donald Trump surprised the world on Sunday when he arrived on the Korean peninsula for a meeting with Kim Jong-un, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea. The 45-minute meeting ended with a promise to resume talks on denuclearization and lifting sanctions.
Almost as surprising as the visit itself was who was included in the U.S. entourage. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and an ultra-hawkish voice on North Korea, was sent to Mongolia while his boss met with Kim. In his place was Tucker Carlson, the popular Fox News host and now informal counsel to the president.
Few things capture the Trumpiness of the current political era better than the fact that Carlson is now the angel on our president’s shoulder. The paleoconservative pundit’s command of Trump’s attention was first demonstrated just over a week ago, when, to the chagrin of his official inner circle, the president refused to attack Iran in retaliation for a downed drone. It soon became clear that his decision was heavily influenced by Carlson, who has warned repeatedly on his 8-p.m. show, which the president watches regularly, that war with Iran would be a costly mistake. Until that point, Bolton had “dominated” Iran policy in the White House according to inside sources, single-handedly shaping the president’s access to information on the country.
Last year, Bolton was directly involved in high-stakes talks with North Korea. Just like with Iran, he provided the most consistently pro-war voice in the administration. In the months leading up to the negotiations, he repeatedly made the case for preemptive military action to the media. His insistence on the “Libya model” of denuclearization, a seeming reference to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall and death soon after he gave up his weapons, was condemned by North Korea and was widely interpreted as an attempt to sabotage the peace process.
This time, Bolton is out of the picture. Trump’s unprecedented gesture to North Korea represents the ultimate rebuke to the hawks in favor of peace and detente.
Almost immediately after last week’s Iran crisis passed, Tucker Carlson delivered a biting polemic against Bolton on his show, calling the administration official a “bureaucratic tapeworm.” It is quite likely that Trump watched the attack on his own security adviser live on TV. Perhaps it was that segment that crystallized the president’s distaste for Bolton, or perhaps it was frustration over the stalled negotiations last year. Either way, Carlson is triumphant, and Bolton has been banished — at least for the time being.