National Security Adviser John Bolton talks to reporters about Venezuela outside...

National Security Adviser John Bolton talks to reporters about Venezuela outside the White House on May 1. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

Judging by all insider accounts that have emerged from the White House since 2017, nobody who works for President Donald Trump can trust for long that he or she is in good standing with him.

Trump has an unusual tendency to pillory some of his own appointees from time to time, from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Most recently it was his chosen FBI Director Chris Wray, who denies feds were "spying" on Trump's 2016 campaign even as his boss conjures this "conspiracy."

Trump clearly does not want to look like these days he is handing the keys to the U.S. war machine to National Security Adviser John Bolton, who seems the more willing to brandish military force against Iran.

Ex-George W. Bush adviser Bolton's pushing the disastrous Iraq War in 2003 had right-wing Republicans and many Democrats alarmed by Trump's appointing him last year. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insists the United States wants to squeeze Iran in the latest crisis to force negotiations. Bolton makes no secret of a desire for regime change. He has even hawkishly distanced himself from Trump's call for troop withdrawals from Syria. 

If you are bullish on Trump, you might choose to see this tension as a strategic good-cop, bad-cop synergy. If you are not, you might perceive his letting underlings fight as signaling uncertainty and passivity in a dangerous crisis he helped create.

“John’s very good. He has strong views on things which is OK. I’m the one who tempers him, which is OK. I have John Bolton and I have people who are a little more dovish than him,” Trump told reporters on May 9.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan last week presented a new contingency plan for committing up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American forces or strives to develop nuclear weapons. Bolton, also hawkish on North Korea, backed this presentation.

The status quo could bolster Trump's standing with the public, which overwhelmingly does not want a war to commence. It makes Bolton a foil, someone used to show the chief decider to be more moderate.

But then it also might lead you to ask why the walrus-mustached former United Nations ambassador is on the payroll at all — if he's really there to do his job or just to take the public-relations hit when need be.

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