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Will There Be A Change In Policy With A New National Security Adviser?


President Trump's next choice for national security adviser is known for voicing strong opinions on Fox News. Years ago, John Bolton served briefly as U.N. ambassador for President George W. Bush. He's also held other top government posts. These days, he is an advocate of military intervention against both North Korea and Iran.


JOHN BOLTON: You're down to two choices. Eliminate the regime through reunification or through coup - that's sort of a second-best solution, in my view. Or, eliminate the weapons. That's what it comes down to.

INSKEEP: That's his prescription for North Korea. Here to discuss the choice of John Bolton is Michele Flournoy. She served as undersecretary of defense for policy under President Obama, and her name was once on a short list to serve as secretary of state for Hillary Clinton should she have been elected. Ms. Flournoy, good morning.


INSKEEP: What does this personnel change mean in terms of policy for President Trump?

FLOURNOY: Well, I think it's very consequential. John Bolton has extreme views, but the thing that worries me most is he tends to reach for a military solution to every foreign policy problem. In the Bush administration, he was one of the leaders sort of manipulating intelligence on the Iraq weapons of mass destruction program to push the case for war. On Iran, he advocated bombing the nuclear program even after negotiations had brought the program to a successful halt. And now he's advocating going into North Korea with military action to try to take out their nuclear weapons program, which would effectively start a wider war.

INSKEEP: Is it possible this is bluster, part of a negotiating posture?

FLOURNOY: It's possible, but his track record is as a serial interventionist. His track record is not only to bluster but to actually advocate action.

INSKEEP: Well, when we hear Bolton saying, as we did a moment ago, eliminate the regime - the North Korean regime here - eliminate the regime through reunification or through a coup. What could go wrong?

FLOURNOY: (Laughter) Reunification by force is a would-be going to war. Actually even a seemingly limited military strike against North Korea's nuclear arsenal would almost certainly lead to a wider war because North Korea would respond. They would likely use tens of thousands of artillery shells and rockets that are within range of Seoul. You would be starting a larger conflict. And a new Korean war would look a lot more like the past Korean war than it would like Iraq or Afghanistan. The estimates are that tens of thousands of Americans would lose their lives, not to mention even more South Koreans. So this is no small undertaking, and I think that's why this is such a consequential pick. You have now in place the closest person to the president with the most access every day who is going to fan the flames of President Trump's worst instincts and impulses on foreign policy.

INSKEEP: Could it at least be useful to have someone who's so skeptical of North Korea on board as the president prepares for a meeting, some kind of summit, that he has agreed to with Kim Jong Un of North Korea?

FLOURNOY: I think healthy skepticism is certainly warranted, but what you want to do is use military pressure and coercion, like sanctions, to make your diplomacy more effective. And what John Bolton does not have a track record on is effective diplomacy, figuring out how to leverage that pressure to actually negotiate terms of an agreement or some kind of, you know, some way to meet your objectives without actually going to war. And that's my worry. I'm not sure he's the one who can put together an effective game plan.

INSKEEP: Could you possibly favor Bolton's views of one country? He is said to be a hardliner not only on Iran and North Korea, but also of Russia. Profoundly skeptical of Russia and its intentions, and wanting to be tough on Russia at a time when President Trump has tried in so many different ways to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Could you see him as a positive influence there?

FLOURNOY: Well, Bolton has said some pretty mixed things on Russia, praising Putin in some circumstances, being tough on Russia in others. But I do think that certainly having a clear-eyed view of the threat that Putin poses not only to, you know, our democracy in terms of future meddling, but also in terms of the coherence of the West and NATO long term, that might be a silver lining. But that doesn't detract from the fact that this is a very dangerous choice.

INSKEEP: Just very briefly, does it really matter who's around this president, given that he does tend to go his own way?

FLOURNOY: I think it does. I think if you have some voices who are of moderation, some voices trying to offer alternative views. That's very important. He doesn't always listen, but sometimes he does. And you're going to lose that in this personnel choice.

INSKEEP: Michele Flournoy, thanks very much. Always a pleasure.

FLOURNOY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She served as undersecretary of defense during the Obama administration. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.