Trump and Bolton on Libya

North Korea and the U.S. press corps share a common enemy.


John Bolton, national security advisor, sits during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 17.
John Bolton, national security advisor, sits during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 17. PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

President Trump has already run through two national security advisers, and now the press corps is goading him to grind up a third after only weeks on the job. That’s the best way to read the media accounts that Mr. Trump threw John Bolton “under the bus” Thursday by contradicting his security adviser on Libya as a model for North Korea.

Mr. Bolton is right, as we’ll explain.

The White House aide said recently that U.S. sees the “Libya model” as an example for North Korea to pursue nuclear disarmament. He was referring to Moammar Gadhafi’s decision in 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, to renounce his nuclear program and invite U.S. inspectors to examine all of it. Americans literally hauled the equipment out of Libya—in what was a triumph of nuclear non-proliferation.

The analogy infuriated North Korea, however, which denounced Mr. Bolton by name on Tuesday when it threatened to cancel Kim Jong Un’s June 12 summit with Mr. Trump. “We do not hide a feeling of repugnance towards” Mr. Bolton, said the Korean statement, adding that North Korea is not Libya, which “met a miserable fate.”


The American press ate it up. “Trump’s North Korea Nobel buzz could die with John Bolton,” thrilled Politico, casting Mr. Bolton as the main obstacle to Mr. Trump’s potential diplomatic triumph and a possible Nobel peace prize. Who knew the press corps had such concern for North Korean sensibilities?

A reporter tried to provoke Mr. Trump Thursday about the “comment that Ambassador Bolton made about the Libya model of denuclearization,” and he took the bait. “Yeah. Well, the Libyan model isn’t a model that we have at all, when we’re thinking of North Korea. In Libya, we decimated that country,” Mr. Trump replied. “There was no deal to keep Gadhafi. The Libyan model that was mentioned was a much different deal.” This quickly became Mr. Bolton under the bus.

Except the two men are talking about two different events. Mr. Trump is referring to the overthrow of Gadhafi in 2011 amid the Arab Spring uprising inside Libya, long after he had given up his nuclear weapons. Mr. Bolton was referring to the 2003 events and saying the U.S. wants comparable assurances from North Korea that its denuclearization is “complete, verifiable, and irreversible.” In that sense, Libya is the model for North Korea.

We trust somebody in the White House will explain this history to Mr. Trump. North Korea is going to be the toughest negotiation of Mr. Trump’s life, and he needs Mr. Bolton’s counsel to avoid falling for the same false promises that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did.

Appeared in the May 18, 2018, print edition.

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