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The Room where it happened / , (by John Bolton, 2020) -

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The Room where it happened / ,    (by John Bolton, 2020) -

The Room where it happened / , (by John Bolton, 2020) -

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The Room where it happened / , (by John Bolton, 2020) -
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2020
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John Bolton
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Robert Petkoff, John Bolton
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upper-intermediate
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20:52:49
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Room where it happened / , :

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: The Room where it happened

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For Gretchen and Jennifer Sarah Hard pounding, this, gentlemen. Lets see who will pound the longest. THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON, RALLYING HIS TROOPS AT WATERLOO, 1815 CHAPTER 1 THE LONG MARCH TO A WEST WING CORNER OFFICE One attraction of being National Security Advisor is the sheer multiplicity and volume of challenges that confront you. If you dont like turmoil, uncertainty, and riskall while being constantly overwhelmed with information, decisions to be made, and the sheer amount of work, and enlivened by international and domestic personality and ego conflicts beyond descriptiontry something else. It is exhilarating, but it is nearly impossible to explain to outsiders how the pieces fit together, which they often dont in any coherent way. I cannot offer a comprehensive theory of the Trump Administrations transformation because none is possible. Washingtons conventional wisdom on Trumps trajectory, however, is wrong. This received truth, attractive to the intellectually lazy, is that Trump was always bizarre, but in his first fifteen months, uncertain in his new place, and held in check by an axis of adults, he hesitated to act. As time passed, however, Trump became more certain of himself, the axis of adults departed, things fell apart, and Trump was surrounded only by yes men. Pieces of this hypothesis are true, but the overall picture is simplistic. The axis of adults in many respects caused enduring problems not because they successfully managed Trump, as the High-Minded (an apt description I picked up from the French for those who see themselves as our moral betters) have it, but because they did precisely the opposite. They didnt do nearly enough to establish order, and what they did do was so transparently self-serving and so publicly dismissive of many of Trumps very clear goals (whether worthy or unworthy) that they fed Trumps already-suspicious mind-set, making it harder for those who came later to have legitimate policy exchanges with the President. I had long felt that the role of the National Security Advisor was to ensure that a President understood what options were open to him for any given decision he needed to make, and then to ensure that this decision was carried out by the pertinent bureaucracies. The National Security Council process was certain to be different for different Presidents, but these were the critical objectives the process should achieve. Because, however, the axis of adults had served Trump so poorly, he second-guessed peoples motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government. The axis of adults is not entirely responsible for this mind-set. Trump is Trump. I came to understand that he believed he could run the Executive Branch and establish national-security policies on instinct, relying on personal relationships with foreign leaders, and with made-for-television showmanship always top of mind. Now, instinct, personal relations, and showmanship are elements of any Presidents repertoire. But they are not all of it, by a long stretch. Analysis, planning, intellectual discipline and rigor, evaluation of results, course corrections, and the like are the blocking and tackling of presidential decision-making, the unglamorous side of the job. Appearance takes you only so far. In institutional terms, therefore, it is undeniable that Trumps transition and opening year-plus were botched irretrievably. Processes that should have immediately become second nature, especially for the many Trump advisors with no prior service even in junior Executive Branch positions, never happened. Trump and most of his team never read the governments operators manual, perhaps not realizing doing so wouldnt automatically make them members of the deep state. I entered the existing chaos, seeing problems that could have been resolved in the Administrations first hundred days, if not before. Constant personnel turnover obviously didnt help, nor did the White Houses Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all). It may be a bit much to say that Hobbess description of human existence as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short accurately described life in the White House, but by the end of their tenures, many key advisors would have leaned toward it. As I explained in my book Surrender Is Not an Option,1 my approach to accomplishing things in government has always been to absorb as much as possible about the bureaucracies where I served (State, Justice, the United States Agency for International Development) so I could more readily accomplish my objectives. My goal was not to get a membership card but to get a drivers license. That thinking was not common at the Trump White House. In early visits to the West Wing, the differences between this presidency and previous ones I had served were stunning. What happened on one day on a particular issue often had little resemblance to what happened the next day, or the day after. Few seemed to realize it, care about it, or have any interest in fixing it. And it wasnt going to get much better, which depressing but inescapable conclusion I reached only after I had joined the Administration. Former Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt, a mentor of mine, liked to say, In politics, there are no immaculate conceptions. This insight powerfully explains appointments to very senior Executive Branch positions. Despite the frequency of press lines like I was very surprised when President Smith called me, such expressions of innocence are invariably only casually related to the truth. And at no point is the competition for high-level jobs more intense than during the presidential transition, a US invention that has become increasingly elaborate in recent decades. Transition teams provide good case studies for graduate business schools on how not to do business. They exist for a fixed, fleeting period (from the election to the inauguration) and then disappear forever. They are overwhelmed by hurricanes of incoming information (and disinformation); complex, often competing, strategy and policy analyses; many consequential personnel decisions for the real government; and media and interest-group scrutiny and pressure. Undeniably, some transitions are better than others. How they unfold reveals much about the Administration to come. Richard Nixons 196869 transition was the first example of contemporary transitions, with careful analyses of each major Executive Branch agency; Ronald Reagans in 198081 was a landmark in hewing to the maxim Personnel is policy, intently focused on picking people who would adhere to Reagans platform; and Donald Trumps 201617 transition was Donald Trumps. I spent election night, November 89, in Fox Newss Manhattan studios, waiting to comment on air about the next Presidents foreign-policy priorities, which everyone expected would occur in the ten p.m. hour, just after Hillary Clinton was declared the winner. I finally went on the air around three oclock the next morning. So much for advance planning, not only at Fox, but also in the camp of the President-Elect. Few observers believed Trump would win, and, as with Robert Doles failed 1996 campaign against Bill Clinton, Trumps pre-election preparations were modest, reflecting the impending doom. In comparison with Hillarys operation, which resembled a large army on a certain march toward power, Trumps seemed staffed by a few hardy souls with time on their hands. His unexpected victory, therefore, caught his campaign unready, resulting in immediate turf fights with the transition volunteers and the scrapping of almost all its pre-election product. Starting over on November 9 was hardly auspicious, especially with the bulk of the transition staff in Washington, and Trump and his closest aides at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Trump didnt understand much of what the huge federal behemoth did before he won, and he didnt acquire much, if any, greater awareness during the transition, which did not bode well for his performance in office. I played an insignificant part in Trumps campaign except for one meeting with the candidate on Friday morning, September 23, at Trump Tower, three days before his first debate with Clinton. Hillary and Bill were a year ahead of me at Yale Law School, so, in addition to discussing national security, I offered Trump my thoughts on how Hillary would perform: well prepared and scripted, following her game plan no matter what. She hadnt changed in over forty years. Trump did most of the talking, as in our first meeting in 2014, before his candidacy. As we concluded, he said, You know, your views and mine are actually very close. Very close. At that point, I was widely engaged: Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; Fox News contributor; a regular on the speaking circuit; of counsel at a major law firm; member of corporate boards; senior advisor to a global private-equity firm; and author of opinion articles at the rate of about one a week. In late 2013, I formed a PAC and a SuperPAC to aid House and Senate candidates who believed in a strong US national-security policy, distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars directly to candidates and spending millions in independent expenditures in the 2014 and 2016 campaigns, and preparing to do so again in 2018. I had plenty to do. But I had also served in the last three Republican Administrations,2 and international relations had fascinated me since my days at Yale College. I was ready to go in again. New threats and opportunities were coming at us rapidly, and eight years of Barack Obama meant there was much to repair. I had thought long and hard about Americas national security in a tempestuous world: Russia and China at the strategic level; Iran, North Korea, and other rogue nuclear-weapons aspirants; the swirling threats of radical Islamicist terrorism in the tumultuous Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen), Afghanistan and beyond; and the threats in our own hemisphere, like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. While foreign-policy labels are unhelpful except to the intellectually lazy, if pressed, I liked to say my policy was pro-American. I followed Adam Smith on economics, Edmund Burke on society, The Federalist Papers on government, and a merger of Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles on national security. My first political campaigning was in 1964 on behalf of Barry Goldwater. I knew senior Trump campaign officials like Steve Bannon, Dave Bossie, and Kellyanne Conway from prior associations, and had spoken to them about joining a Trump Administration should one happen. Once the transition began, I thought it reasonable to offer my services as Secretary of State, as did others. When Chris Wallace came off the Fox set early on November 9, after the race was called, he shook my hand and said, smiling broadly, Congratulations, Mr. Secretary. Of course, there was no dearth of contenders to lead the State Department, which generated endless media speculation about who the front-runner was, starting with Newt Gingrich, proceeding to Rudy Giuliani, then Mitt Romney, and then back to Rudy. I had worked with and respected each of them, and each was credible in his own way. I paid special attention because there was constant chatter (not to mention pressure) that I should settle for being Deputy Secretary, obviously not my preference. What came next demonstrated Trumpian decision-making and provided (or should have) a cautionary lesson. While all the early leading contenders were broadly conservative philosophically, they brought different backgrounds, different perspectives, different styles, different pluses and minuses to the table. Among these possibilities (and others like Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman), were there common, consistent attributes and accomplishments Trump sought? Obviously not, and observers should have asked: What is the real principle governing Trumps personnel-selection process? Why not have Giuliani as Attorney General, a job he was made for? Romney as White House Chief of Staff, bringing his undeniable strategic planning and management skills? And Gingrich, with decades of creative theorizing, as White House domestic policy czar? Was Trump looking only for people from central casting? Much was made of his purported dislike of my moustache. For what its worth, he told me it was never a factor, noting that his father also had one. Other than shrinks and those deeply interested in Sigmund Freud, which I assuredly am not, I dont really believe my looks played a role in Trumps thinking. And if they did, God help the country. Attractive women, however, fall into a different category when it comes to Trump. Loyalty was the key factor, which Giuliani had proved beyond peradventure in the days after the Access Hollywood tape became public in early October. Lyndon Johnson once reportedly said of an aide, I want real loyalty. I want him to kiss my ass in Macys window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. Who knew Trump read so much history? Giuliani was later extremely gracious to me, saying after he withdrew from the Secretary of State melee, John would probably be my choice. I think John is terrific.3 The President-Elect called me on November 17, and I congratulated him on his victory. He recounted his recent calls with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and looked ahead to meeting that afternoon with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Well have you up here in the next couple of days, Trump promised, and we are looking at you for a number of situations. Some of the new Presidents first personnel announcements came the next day, with Jeff Sessions picked as Attorney General (eliminating that option for Giuliani); Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor (appropriately rewarding Flynns relentless campaign service); and Mike Pompeo as CIA Director. (A few weeks after Flynns announcement, Henry Kissinger told me, Hell be gone within a year. Although he couldnt have known what was about to happen, Kissinger knew Flynn was in the wrong job.) As the days passed, more Cabinet and senior White House positions emerged publicly, including, on November 23, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as Ambassador to the UN, with Cabinet rank, a bizarre step to take with the Secretary of State still unchosen. Haley had no qualifications for the job, but it was ideal for someone with presidential ambitions to check the foreign policy box on her campaign r?sum?. Cabinet rank or no, the UN Ambassador was part of State, and coherent US foreign policy can have only one Secretary of State. Yet here was Trump, picking subordinate positions in States universe with no Secretary in sight. By definition, there was trouble ahead, especially when I heard from a Haley staff person that Trump had considered her to be Secretary. Haley, her staffer said, declined the offer because of lack of experience, which she obviously hoped to acquire as UN Ambassador.4 Jared Kushner, whom Paul Manafort had introduced me to during the campaign, called me over Thanksgiving. He assured me I was still very much in the mix for Secretary of State, and in a whole bunch of different contexts. Donald is a big fan of yours, as we all are. Meanwhile, the New York Post reported on decision-making at Mar-a-Lago at Thanksgiving, quoting one source, Donald was walking around asking everybody he could about who should be his secretary of state. There was a lot of criticism of Romney, and a lot of people like Rudy. There are also many people advocating for John Bolton.5 I knew I should have worked the Mar-a-Lago primary harder! Certainly, I was grateful for the considerable support I had among pro-Israel Americans (Jews and evangelicals alike), Second Amendment supporters, Cuban-Americans, Venezuelan-Americans, Taiwanese-Americans, and conservatives generally. Many people called Trump and his advisors on my behalf, part of the venerable transition lobbying process. The transitions spreading disorder increasingly reflected not just organizational failures but Trumps essential decision-making style. Charles Krauthammer, a sharp critic of his, told me he had been wrong earlier to characterize Trumps behavior as that of an eleven-year-old boy. I was off by ten years, Krauthammer remarked. Hes like a one-year-old. Everything is seen through the prism of whether it benefits Donald Trump. That was certainly the way the personnel-selection process appeared from the outside. As one Republican strategist told me, the best way to become Secretary of State was to try to be the last man standing. Vice PresidentElect Pence called on November 29 to ask to meet in Washington the next day. I knew Pence from his service on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; he was a solid supporter of a strong national-security policy. We conversed easily about a range of foreign and defense policy issues, but I was struck when he said about State: I would not characterize this decision as imminent. Given subsequent press reports that Giuliani withdrew his candidacy for Secretary at about that time, it could be the entire selection process for State was starting all over again, an almost certainly unprecedented development that far into the transition. When I arrived at the transition offices the next day, Representative Jeb Hensarling was leaving after seeing Pence. Hensarling, it was reported, was so sure of getting Treasury that he told his staff to begin planning. His not being named matched Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgerss finding she was not to be Interior Secretary after being told she would, as well as former Senator Scott Browns learning he would not become Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The pattern was clear. Pence and I had a friendly half-hour talk, during which I recounted, as I had several times with Trump, Achesons famous remark when asked why he and President Truman had such an excellent working relationship: I never forgot who was President, and who was Secretary of State. And neither did he. Trump announced Jim Mattis as Defense Secretary on December 1, but the uncertainty about State continued. I arrived at Trump Tower the next day for my interview and waited in the Trump Organization lobby with a State Attorney General and a US Senator also waiting. Typically, the President-Elect was behind schedule, and who should emerge from his office but former Defense Secretary Bob Gates. I surmised later that Gates was there to lobby for Rex Tillerson as Secretary of Energy or State, but Gates gave no hint of his mission, just exchanging pleasantries as he left. I finally entered Trumps office, for a meeting lasting just over an hour, also attended by Reince Priebus (soon to become White House Chief of Staff) and Bannon (who would be the Administrations Chief Strategist). We talked about the worlds hot spots, broader strategic threats like Russia and China, terrorism, and nuclear-weapons proliferation. I started with my Dean Acheson story, and, in contrast with my previous Trump meetings, I did most of the talking, responding to questions from the others. I thought Trump listened carefully; he didnt make or receive any phone calls, and we werent interrupted until Ivanka Trump came in to discuss family business, or perhaps try to get Trump vaguely back on schedule. I was describing why State needed a cultural revolution to be an effective instrument of policy when Trump asked, Now, were discussing Secretary of State here, but would you consider the Deputy job? I said I would not, explaining that State could not be run successfully from that level. Moreover, I was uneasy about working for someone who knew I had competed for his job and who might wonder constantly if he needed a food taster. As the meeting ended, Trump took my hand in both of his and said, I am sure we will be working together. Afterward, in a small conference room, Priebus, Bannon, and I caucused. Both of them said the meeting had gone extremely well, and Bannon said Trump had never heard anything like that before in terms of the scope and detail of the discussion. Nonetheless, they pressed me to take Deputy Secretary, which told me they were not optimistic I would get the top job. I explained again why the Deputy idea was unworkable. The next day, I learned Trump would interview Tillerson for State, the first time I heard Tillersons name raised, which likely explained why Priebus and Bannon asked me about being nominated for Deputy. Neither Trump nor the others raised the issue of Senate confirmation. Most Trump nominees could expect significant or even unanimous Democratic opposition. Rand Pauls well-known isolationist views meant he would be a problem for me, but several Republican Senators (including John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Cory Gardner) told me his opposition would be overcome. Nonetheless, after this meeting, there was silence from Trump Tower, convincing me that I would remain a private citizen. Tillersons December 13 nomination, however, only unleashed another wave of speculation (for and against) about my becoming Deputy. One Trump advisor encouraged me, saying, In fifteen months, youll be Secretary. They know his limitations. One of those limitations was Tillersons relationship from his years at ExxonMobil with Vladimir Putin and Russia, precisely at a time Trump was coming under early but steadily increasing criticism for colluding with Moscow to defeat Clinton. While Trump was ultimately vindicated on collusion, his defensive reaction willfully ignored or denied that Russia was meddling globally in US and many other elections, and public-policy debate more broadly. Other adversaries, like China, Iran, and North Korea, were also meddling. In comments at the time, I stressed the seriousness of foreign interference in our politics. McCain thanked me in early January, saying I was a man of principle, which likely wouldnt have endeared me to Trump had he known. At Defense, there was also turmoil over the Deputy Secretary job, as Mattis pushed for Obama-era official Mich?le Flournoy. Flournoy, a Democrat, might have been Secretary of Defense herself had Clinton won, but why Mattis wanted her in a Republican Administration was hard to fathom.6 Subsequently, Mattis also pressed for Anne Patterson, a career Foreign Service officer, to fill the critical job of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. I had worked several times with Patterson and knew her to be philosophically compatible for a senior policy position in a liberal Democratic Administration, but hardly in a Republican one. Senator Ted Cruz questioned Mattis about Patterson, but Mattis was unable or unwilling to explain his reasons, and the nomination, under increasing opposition from Republican Senators and others, ultimately collapsed. All this turmoil led Graham and others to counsel that I stay out of the Administration in its early days and wait to join later, which I found persuasive. For a time, there was consideration of my becoming Director of National Intelligence, to which former Senator Dan Coats was ultimately named in early January. I thought that the office itself, created by Congress after the 9/11 attacks to better coordinate the intelligence community, was a mistake. It became simply a bureaucratic overlay. Eliminating or substantially paring back the Directors Office was a project I would have enthusiastically undertaken, but I concluded quickly Trump himself was insufficiently interested in what would necessarily be a hard slog politically. Given the ensuing, prolonged, almost irrational war between Trump and the intelligence community, I was lucky the Directors job didnt come my way. And so the Trump transition ended with no visible prospect of my joining the Administration. I rationalized the outcome by concluding that if Trumps post-inaugural decision-making process (using that word loosely) was as unconventional and erratic as his personnel selections, I was fine staying outside. If only one could say that for the country. Then, less than a month into the Administration, Mike Flynn self-destructed. It started with Flynns facing criticism for alleged remarks to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, someone I knew well; he had been my Moscow counterpart for a time when I was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the Bush 43 Administration. The criticism intensified dramatically when Flynn seemingly lied to Pence and others about the Kislyak conversation. Why Flynn would lie about an innocent conversation, I never understood. What senior Administration aides, and indeed Trump himself, told me a few days later made more sense, namely, that they had already lost confidence in Flynn for his inadequate performance (much as Kissinger had predicted), and the Russian issue was simply a politically convenient cover story. Flynn resigned late on February 13, after a day of White House Sturm und Drang, just hours after Kellyanne Conway unhappily received the unfair and unfortunate job of telling the ravenous press corps that Flynn had Trumps full confidence. This is the very definition of confusion and disorder. Confusion and disorder unfortunately also marked the NSC staff in the Administrations first three weeks. Personnel choices were in disarray, as CIA Director Mike Pompeo personally took the stunning, nearly unprecedented step of denying sensitive compartmented information clearance to one of Flynns choices to be a Senior Director, one of the top-rung NSC jobs.7 Denying this critical clearance, as everyone knew, effectively barred that person from working at the NSC, a stinging blow to Flynn. He also faced innumerable battles with career officials detailed to the NSC during Obamas tenure but, as is customary, still there as the Trump presidency began. These battles provided frequently leaked accounts of bureaucratic blood on the floor at the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the great gray granite Victorian pile across West Executive Avenue housing the bulk of the NSC staff. Similarly, on one of Trumps signature campaign issuesstemming illegal immigrationthe White House stumbled through one mistake after another in the early days, trying to craft Executive Orders and policy directives. Judicial challenges were inevitable, and likely to be hotly litigated in a judiciary filled with eight years of Obama appointees. But the White House entirely owned the initial immigration debacles, betraying a lack of transition preparation and internal coordination. A dissent channel cable at State, intended to be internal, found its way onto the Internet, signed by over a thousand employees, criticizing the immigration initiative. The press feasted on it, although the cables arguments were weak, disjointed, and poorly presented. But somehow the cable, and similar arguments by media commentators and Hill opponents, went unanswered. Who was in charge? What was the plan? Surprisingly, Tillerson called three days after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination on January 23 by an 1110 party-line vote, pulling me from a corporate board meeting. We talked for thirty minutes, mostly about State organizational issues and how the interagency decision-making process worked. Tillerson was gracious and professional, and utterly uninterested in having me as his Deputy. Of course, had I been in his shoes, I would have felt the same way. Tillerson later told Elliott Abrams, whom he also considered, that he wanted someone who would work behind the scenes supporting him, not someone who had gained public attention, as I had at the UN and as a Fox commentator. Tillerson asked if I was interested in anything at State other than Deputy, and I said no, having already had the second-best job as UN Ambassador. Tillerson laughed, and we talked about the often-fraught relations between Secretaries and UN Ambassadors. It was clear he had not spoken with Haley about their relationship and that he had no idea how to handle this ticking time bomb. I worried that Tillerson was susceptible to capture by the State Department bureaucracy. He had spent his entire forty-one-year career at Exxon, in an environment where there were clear metrics for performance, profit-and-loss statements being harsh taskmasters, and where the corporate culture was hardly subject to revolutionary change from within. After years of perching at the top of Exxons hierarchy, believing that all his subordinates were on the same team, it would have been remarkable for Tillerson, sitting in the Secretarys seventh-floor suite, to assume anything else about the careerists on the floors below him or posted around the world. Precisely because of his background, Tillerson should have surrounded himself with people familiar with the Foreign and Civil Services strengths and weaknesses, but he went a very different way. He neither sought a cultural revolution (as I would have done), nor embraced the building (as all who worked there referred to it), nor sought to control the bureaucracy without fundamentally changing it (as Jim Baker did). Instead, he isolated himself with a few trusted aides, and paid the inevitable price. But with Flynn, fairly or unfairly, crashing and burning, the National Security Advisor job, which I hadnt previously considered because of Flynns closeness to Trump, was now open. The press speculated that Flynns successor would be another general, mentioning David Petraeus, Robert Harwood (formerly Navy, now at Lockheed, pushed vigorously by Mattis), or Keith Kellogg (a longtime Trump supporter and now NSC Executive Secretary). Tillerson seemed to be uninvolved, another sign of trouble, both because he was not in the loop and because he didnt seem to realize the potential problem for him if a Mattis ally got the job, potentially making Tillersons relations with the White House more difficult. Indeed, news stories were noting Tillersons low profile generally.8 Bannon texted me on Friday, February 17, asking me to come to Mar-a-Lago to meet Trump over Presidents Day weekend. That day, MSNBCs Joe Scarborough tweeted, I strongly opposed @AmbJohnBolton for SecState. But the former UN ambassador is Thomas Jefferson in Paris compared to Michael Flynn. In Trumpworld, this could be helpful. During the Mar-a-Lago primary that weekend, a guest told me he had heard Trump say several times, Im starting to really like Bolton. Hadnt I concluded before that I needed to work that crowd harder? Trump interviewed three candidates: Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty, a superb study of civil-military relations in America; Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, Commandant of West Point; and me. I had met and spoken with McMaster years before and admired his willingness to espouse controversial positions. Meeting Caslen for the first time, I saw him as a personable and highly competent official. Both were in full-dress uniform, immediately demonstrating their marketing skills. Me, I still had my moustache. Trump greeted me warmly, saying how much he respected me and that he was happy to consider me to be National Security Advisor. Trump also asked if I would consider a title like Bannons (who was also present in the private bar on Mar-a-Lagos first floor, along with Priebus and Kushner), covering strategic issues. Thus, apparently, I could be one of many generic Assistants to the President, of which there were already too many in Trumps White House, with only slapdash efforts at defining their roles and responsibilities. This was a complete nonstarter for me, so I politely declined, saying I was only interested in the National Security Advisor job. As Henry Kissinger once reportedly said, Never take a government job without an inbox. The President assured me that Flynns successor would have a free hand in organizational and personnel matters, which I believed essential in running an effective NSC staff and interagency process. We covered the full range of world issues, a tour dhorizon, as the State Department loves to call it, and Trump interjected at one point, This is so great. John sounds just like he does on television. I could just keep listening. I love it. Kushner asked, How do you handle the point that youre so controversial, that people either love you or hate you? As I was opening my mouth to answer, Trump said, Yeah, just like me! People either love me or hate me. John and I are exactly alike. I added only that one should be judged on performance, listing a few of what I considered to be my foreign-policy achievements. The meeting ended with a discussion about Russia, as Trump said, I saw you talking the other day about the INF issue, referring to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. He then explained why it was so inequitable that no nations other than Russia and America (such as China, Iran, or North Korea) were limited in developing intermediate-range capabilities, and that the Russians were violating the treaty. This was almost exactly what I had said, so I had no doubt he was still watching and absorbing Fox News! I suggested we tell Putin to comply with Russias INF obligations or we would withdraw, which Trump agreed with. Bannon and I left together, Bannon saying, That was great. Nonetheless, my clear impression was that Trump was going to pick a general. I returned to my hotel, and later in the day Bannon and Priebus asked me to breakfast with them at Mar-a-Lago the next morning. Priebus suggested alternatives to the National Security Advisor position, saying of Trump, Remember who youre dealing with. They promised real influence, access to Trump, and the inevitability of Administration turnover, meaning I would eventually become Secretary of State or something. Based on my government experience, I explained that to run the bureaucracy, you needed to control the bureaucracy, not just watch it from the White House. The NSC was a mechanism to coordinate the national-security agencies, and the job required someone who had experience at lower levels on how it worked and didnt work. I didnt make an impression. I think Trump had said to them, in effect, Get him into the Administration so he can defend us on television. That was exactly the last thing I intended to do, regarding policies I had little or nothing to do with formulating. At one point, Bannon said, Help me out here, Ambassador, which was actually what I was trying to do, although he meant that I should tell him what else would induce me to join the Administration. Flying back to Washington, I saw on the airplane Wi-Fi that Trump had picked McMaster. That was no surprise, but I was surprised to hear Trump then say: I know John Bolton. Were going to be asking him to work with us in a somewhat different capacity. John is a terrific guy. We had some really good meetings with him. He knows a lot. He had a good number of ideas, that I must tell you, I agree with very much. So, well be talking to John Bolton in a different capacity. I clearly hadnt made my point about the best role for me, certainly not to Kushner, who texted me shortly thereafter, Great spending time togetherwe really want to get you on the team. Lets talk this week to find the right spot as u have a lot to offer and we have a unique chance to get some good done. Madeleine Westerhout, Trumps secretary in the Outer Oval (the room where Trumps personal assistants sat), called on Tuesday to connect me to Trump, but I had my cell phone on silent and didnt catch it. Predictably, Trump was tied up when I later called back, so I asked Westerhout if she knew what the subject was, fearing a true full-court press. She said, Oh, he just wanted to tell you how wonderful you are, and said he wanted to thank me for coming to Mar-a-Lago. I told her that was very kind, but not wanting to burden his schedule, I said he didnt really need to call again, hoping to dodge the bullet. A few days later, Westerhout, always exuberant back then, left another message saying the President wanted to see me. I was convinced I would be pitched on some amorphous position, but fortunately I left the country for almost two weeks and dodged the bullet again. You can run, but you cannot hide, and a meeting with Trump was finally scheduled for March 23, after lunch with McMaster at the White House mess. I texted Bannon in advance to be transparent: I was only interested in the Secretary of State or the National Security jobs, and neither was open as far as I could tell. By coincidence, I entered the West Wing for the first time in over ten years as the press scrum waited outside to interview Republican House members meeting with Trump on the failing effort to repeal Obamacare. Just what I needed, even though I didnt plan to answer any questions. In the Twitter era, however, even a nonstory is a story, as one reporter tweeted: GLENN THRUSH John Bolton just walked into the West WingI asked him what he was doing, he smiled and said health care!!!! I saw later that the Washington Posts Bob Costa had tweeted while I was walking in: ROBERT COSTA Trump wants to bring John Bolton into the administration. Thats why Bolton is at the WH today, per a Trump confidant. Ongoing convo. I had a perfectly pleasant lunch with McMaster, discussing Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and we then went to the Oval to see Trump, who was just finishing lunch with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Nelson Peltz, a New York financier. Trump was sitting behind the Resolute desk, which was completely bare, unlike the desk in his New York office, which seemed always covered with newspapers, reports, and notes. He had a picture taken of the two of us, and then McMaster and I sat down in front of the desk for our discussion. We talked a bit about the Obamacare repeal effort and then turned to Iran and North Korea, repeating much of the ground McMaster and I had covered at lunch. Trump said, You know, you and I agree on almost everything except Iraq, and I replied, Yes, but even there, we agree that Obamas withdrawal of American forces in 2011 led us to the mess we have there now. Trump then said, Not now, but at the right time and for the right position, Im going to ask you to come into this Administration, and youre going to agree, right? I laughed, as did Trump and McMaster (although I felt somewhat uncomfortable on his behalf), and answered, Sure, figuring I had again dodged the bullet I had feared. No pressure, no rush, and no amorphous White House job without an inbox. The meeting lasted about twenty-plus minutes, and then McMaster and I left, stopping by Bannons office on the way out. Bannon and I visited for a while with Priebus, running into Sean Spicer in the hallway and then later the Vice President, who greeted me warmly. The atmosphere reminded me of a college dorm, with people wandering in and out of each others rooms, chatting about one thing or another. Werent these people in the middle of a crisis trying to repeal Obamacare, one of Trumps signature 2016 issues? This was not a White House I recognized from past Administrations, that was for sure. The most ominous thing I heard was Mike Pence saying, Im really glad youre coming in, which was not what I thought I was doing! I finally left at about two fifteen, but I had the feeling I could have hung around all afternoon. I could see this pattern of contact with the Trump White House lasting for an indefinite period, and to an extent it did. But I ended the Administrations first hundred days secure in my own mind about what I was prepared to do and what I wasnt. After all, as Cato the Younger says in one of George Washingtons favorite lines from his favorite play, When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway, the post of honor is a private station. Life under Trump, however, did not resemble life in Joseph Addisons eponymous Cato, where the hero strove to defend the failing Roman Republic against Julius Caesar. Instead, the new Administration resembled much more closely the Eagles song Hotel California: You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave. It was not long before Bannon and Priebus were again calling and texting me to come into the White House in some capacity, as they sought to overcome the mismatches between Trump, McMaster, and Tillerson. The most palpable manifestation of the problems was Iran, specifically the 2015 nuclear deal, which Obama considered a crowning achievement (the other being Obamacare). The deal was badly conceived, abominably negotiated and drafted, and entirely advantageous to Iran: unenforceable, unverifiable, and inadequate in duration and scope. Although purportedly resolving the threat posed by Irans nuclear-weapons program, the deal did no such thing. In fact, it exacerbated the threat by creating the semblance of a solution, diverting attention from the dangers, and lifting the economic sanctions that had imposed substantial pain on Irans economy, while allowing Tehran to proceed essentially unimpeded. Moreover, the deal did not seriously address other threats Iran posed: its ballistic-missile program (a thinly disguised effort to develop delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons); its continuing role as the worlds central banker for international terrorism; and its other malign activity in the region, through the intervention and growing strength of the Quds Force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpss external military arm, in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and elsewhere. Freed from sanctions, benefiting from the transfer of $150 million in cash on pallets in cargo airplanes and the unfreezing of an estimated $150 billion in assets globally, Tehrans radical ayatollahs were back in business. Trump and other 2016 GOP candidates campaigned against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the lumbering formal title of the Iran deal, and it was widely believed to be ready for extreme unction following his inauguration. But a combination of Tillerson, Mattis, and McMaster frustrated Trumps efforts to break free from this wretched deal, earning them the plaudits of the adoring media as an axis of adults restraining Trump from indulging in wild fantasies. If only they knew. In fact, many of Trumps supporters saw their efforts as preventing him from doing what he had promised voters he would do. And McMaster wasnt doing himself any favors by opposing the phrase radical Islamic terrorism to describe things like radical Islamic terrorism. Jim Baker used to tell me when I worked for him at Bush 41s State Department and pressed for something Baker knew Bush didnt want, John, the guy who got elected doesnt want to do it. That was usually a signal I should stop pushing, but in the Trump Administrations infant national-security apparatus, what the guy who got elected wanted was only one of many data points. In early May, after I had another White House discussion with Priebus and Bannon, they took me to what turned out to be a photo opportunity with Trump and Pence in the colonnade that connects the Residence to the West Wing. John, so good to see you, said Trump as we walked along the colonnade, surrounded by photographers. We talked about the Philippines and the Chinese threat to bring nearly the entire South China Sea under its sovereignty. When we finished, Trump said loud enough for the trailing mob of reporters to hear, Is Rex Tillerson around? He should talk to John. And with that, Trump was off to the Oval. Priebus said, That was great. We want to get you back over here regularly. Life at the White House developed its own rhythm, with Trump firing FBI Director James Comey later in May (at Kushners suggestion, according to Bannon), then meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (whom I had known for over twenty-five years at that point) and allegedly being less than cautious in discussing classified material, calling Comey a nutjob, according to the unbiased New York Times.9 I was in Israel in late May to give a speech and met with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, whom I had first met in the Bush 41 years. Irans threat was the centerpiece of our attention, as it should have been for any Israeli Prime Minister, but he was also dubious about assigning the task of bringing an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Kushner, whose family Netanyahu had known for many years. He was enough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly, but like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of Kissinger had failed. I was back at the White House in June to see Trump, walking with Priebus to the Outer Oval. Trump saw us through his open door and said, Hi, John, give me just a minute, Im signing judges commissions. I was happy to give him all the time he needed, because Trumps growing record on judicial nominations, in due course to be graced by the confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, was for conservatives the highest priority and greatest achievement of his tenure. When Priebus and I entered, I congratulated Trump on withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, which the axis of adults had failed to stop him from doing and which I saw as an important victory against global governance. The Paris Agreement was a charade, for those truly concerned about climate change. As in many other cases, international agreements provided the semblance of addressing major issues, giving national politicians something to take credit for, but made no discernible real-world difference (in this case giving leeway to countries like China and India, which remained essentially unfettered). I gave Trump a copy of a 2000 article of mine called Should We Take Global Governance Seriously? from the Chicago Journal of International Law, not because I thought he would read it, but to remind him of the importance of preserving US sovereignty. I warned Trump against wasting political capital in an elusive search to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute and strongly supported moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, thereby recognizing it as Israels capital. On Iran, I urged that he press ahead to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and explained why the use of force against Irans nuclear program might be the only lasting solution. You tell Bibi that if he uses force, I will back him. I told him that, but you tell him again, Trump said, unprompted by me. As the conversation ranged on, Trump asked, Do you get along with Tillerson? and I said we hadnt spoken since January. Bannon told me a few days later that Trump was pleased with the meeting. And indeed, a few weeks on, Tillerson called to ask me to be special envoy for Libyan reconciliations, which I saw as another exercise in box-checking; if asked, Tillerson could tell Trump he had offered me something but I turned it down. Tillerson almost simultaneously asked Kurt Volker, a close associate of McCains, to become special envoy for Ukraine. Neither job required full-time government employment, but my view was you were either in the Administration or not, and halfway houses wouldnt work. North Korea was also on the Administrations mind, with the release of Otto Warmbier, who suffered barbaric treatment at Pyongyangs hands and died upon returning to the United States. The Norths brutality told us everything we needed to know about its regime. Moreover, Pyongyang was launching ballistic missiles, including on the Fourth of July (how thoughtful), followed by another on July 28, which ultimately led to further UN Security Council sanctions on August 5. A few days later, Trump was prompted to threaten fire and fury like the world has never seen against North Korea,10 though Tillerson immediately said Americans should sleep well at night and have no concern about this particular rhetoric of the past few days, hardly clarifying things.11 I wondered if Tillerson was pooh-poohing North Korea or Trump, who upped the ante on August 11 by saying the US was locked and loaded on North Korea.12 There was little visible evidence that any new military preparations were under way. On August 30, Trump tweeted that we had talked to North Korea for twenty-five years without result, and there wasnt much point in talking further. Trump reiterated the point on October 7: Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid hasnt worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work! Mattis, in South Korea, almost immediately contradicted Trump, saying there was always room for diplomacy, although he quickly walked it back, claiming there was no daylight between him and the President.13 The dissonance was getting louder. North Korea had chimed in with its sixth nuclear-weapons test on September 3, this one almost certainly thermonuclear, followed twelve days later by firing a missile over Japan, underlining Trumps point in his tweet. Almost immediately thereafter, Japanese Prime Minister Abe wrote a New York Times op-ed concluding that more dialogue with North Korea would be a dead end and saying, I fully support the United States position that all options are on the table, which is as close as any Japanese politician can get to saying he could support offensive military operations.14 By contrast, Tillerson was announcing we wanted to bring North Korea to the table for constructive, productive dialogue.15 He was obviously deep in the grip of the building. When Trump announced new financial sanctions on North Korea, China responded by saying its central bank had directed all Chinese banks to cease doing business with Pyongyang, which was quite a step forward if actually carried out (and many were dubious).16 Iran remained the most visible flashpoint, however, and in July Trump faced his second decision whether to certify Iran was complying with the nuclear deal. The first decision to do so had been a mistake, and now Trump was on the verge of repeating it. I wrote an op-ed for The Hill that appeared on its website on July 16,17 apparently setting off a daylong battle inside the White House. McMaster and Mnuchin held a conference call to brief reporters on the decision to certify Iranian compliance, and the White House e-mailed talking points to the media explaining the decision as their call was under way. But an outside analyst told me, Theres chaos at the NSC, the talking points were pulled back, and the decision to certify compliance was reversed.18 The New York Times, citing a White House official, reported on a nearly hour-long confrontation between Trump, on one side, and Mattis, Tillerson, and McMaster, on the other, on the certification issue, confirming what I had heard earlier. Other sources said the same thing.19 Trump ultimately succumbed, but not happily, and only after yet again asking for alternatives, of which his advisors said there were none. Bannon texted me, POTUS loved it Your op-ed drove him on Iran. Trump called me a few days later to complain about how the Iran certification issue had been handled, and especially about people in the State Department who hadnt given him any options. Then he said, referring to my last conversation with Tillerson, I hear what Rex talked to you about wont work. Dont take some half-assed position over there. If he offers you something thats really great, okay, whatever, but otherwise just wait. Im going to call you, concluding the call by saying I should come and see [him] next week on Iran. Bannon texted me right afterward, We talk about it/u everyday. I told Bannon I would write a plan about how the US could withdraw from the Iran deal. It would not be hard. The next day, Sean Spicer resigned as White House spokesman to protest Anthony Scaramuccis being named Communications Director, with Sarah Sanders picked as Spicers successor. One week later, Trump fired Priebus, naming John Kelly, then Homeland Security Secretary and a former four-star Marine general, as White House Chief of Staff. On Monday, July 31, Kelly fired Scaramucci. In mid-August, controversy erupted over Trumps comments about neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia. He fired Bannon on August 18. Was this what business schools taught about running large organizations? What was not happening was any White House sign of life on my Iran-deal exit strategy, which I had earlier transmitted to Bannon. When I sought a meeting with Trump, Westerhout suggested I first see Tillerson, which would have been a waste of time for both of us. I suspected that Kellys efforts to bring discipline to White House operations and limit Oval Office anarchy in particular had resulted in my walk-in privileges being suspended, along with those of many others. I thought it would be a shame to let my Iran plan wither, so I suggested to National Review editor Rich Lowry that he publish it, which he did at the end of August.20 Irans Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, immediately denounced my plan as a huge failure for Washington.21 I knew I was on the right track. Most of the Washington media, instead of focusing on the plans substance, wrote instead on my loss of access to Trump, probably because they understood palace intrigue better than policy. Kushner texted me to say, You are always welcome at the White House, and Steve [Bannon] and I disagreed on many things, but we were in sync on Iran. In fact, Kushner invited me to meet on August 31 to go over his emerging Middle East peace plan, along with Iran. After a relatively long hiatus, I didnt think this meeting was accidental. Nonetheless, still no word from Trump, although another Iran compliance certification, required every ninety days by statute, came due in October. The White House announced Trump would make a major Iran address on October 12, so I decided to stop being shy, phoning Westerhout to ask for a meeting. By then, Tillerson had reportedly called Trump a fucking moron, which he refused to deny flatly. Rumors flew that Kelly wanted to resign as Chief of Staff and that Pompeo would replace him, although it was also regularly rumored that Pompeo would replace McMaster. I was still focused on Iran and wrote another op-ed for The Hill, hoping the magic might work again.22 It appeared on October 9, the same day I had lunch with Kushner in his West Wing office. Although we talked about his Middle East plan and Iran, what really got his attention was the photo I brought of the gaudy entrance to Special Counsel Robert Muellers office, located in the building where my SuperPAC was located. The media reported Trumps advisors were urging he decline to certify Iran as complying with the nuclear agreement but that the US nonetheless stay in the deal. I saw this as self-humiliation, but so desperate were the deals advocates that they were willing to concede a critical point on compliance just to save the deal. Trump called me in the late afternoon of October 12 (the speech having been moved to Friday the thirteenth) to talk. You and I are together on that deal, you may be a little tougher than I am, but we see it the same, he said. I answered that I could see from the press coverage he was likely to decertify Iran but still remain in the deal, which I said was at least a step forward. I asked to discuss the issue further when there was more time. A hundred percent, said Trump. Hundred percent. I know thats your view. I watch what you say very carefully. I asked if he would put a line in his speech that the agreement was under 24/7 review and that it was subject to being terminated at any time (thus eliminating the need to wait ninety days before having another shot at withdrawal and plainly making the fight over withdrawal rather than compliance, as the deals supporters preferred). We talked about the language Trump might actually use as he dictated to others in the room. Trump then raised the topic of Irans Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, asking if he should designate it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, thereby subjecting it to additional penalties and constraints. I urged him to do so because of the organizations control of Irans nuclear and ballistic-missile programs, and its extensive support for radical Islamic terrorism, Sunni and Shia. Trump said he was hearing Iran would be particularly upset by this specific designation, and there might be blowback against US forces in Iraq and Syria, which I learned later was Mattiss position. But his argument was misdirected; if Mattis was correct, the answer was to provide more protection for our troops or withdraw them to focus on the main threat, Iran. As it turned out, it would take nearly two years to get the Revolutionary Guard designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, showing the immense staying power of a dug-in bureaucracy. Trump also said he was thinking of saying something on North Korea, which I urged him to do. On Friday, he said: There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea. I am going to instruct our intelligence agencies to do a thorough analysis and report back their findings beyond what they have already reviewed.23 I was delighted. I said I looked forward to talking with him again, and Trump said, Absolutely. (Later, in November, on my birthday, purely coincidentally I am sure, Trump returned the North to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, from which the Bush 43 Administration had mistakenly removed it.) I thought the Trump call had accomplished four things: (1) having the speech announce that the Iran deal was under continuous review and subject to US withdrawal at any time; (2) raising the connection between Iran and North Korea; (3) making it clear the Revolutionary Guard should be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization; and (4) getting a renewed commitment that I could see him without other approvals. Ironically, by having me on the speakerphone, all of those points were clear to whoever was in the Oval with him. I wondered, in fact, if I could do much more if I were actually in the Administration, rather than just calling in from the outside a few hours before a speech like this one. Kushner had me back to the White House on November 16 to discuss his Middle East peace plan. I urged that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, rather than follow Haleys plan to reform it. (See chapter 8.) The Council was a sham when I voted against it in 2006, having abolished its equally worthless predecessor.24 We should never have rejoined, as Obama did. I also advocated defunding the UN Relief and Works Agency, ostensibly designed to aid Palestinian refugees but that over decades had become, effectively, an arm of the Palestine apparat rather than the UN. Kushner said twice how much better I would be handling State than present management. In early December, Trump, fulfilling a 2016 commitment, declared Jerusalem as Israels capital and announced that he would move the US embassy there. He had called me a few days before, and Id expressed support, although he had clearly already decided to act. It was long overdue and utterly failed to produce the crisis in the Arab street regional experts had endlessly predicted. Most Arab states had shifted their attention to the real threat, which was Iran, not Israel. In January, the US cut its funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, contributing only $60 million of an expected tranche of $125 million, or roughly one-sixth of the estimated total fiscal year 2018 US contribution of $400 million.25 Trump again invited me to the White House on December 7. I was sitting in the West Wing lobby admiring the huge Christmas tree when Trump came in leading Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, just after a congressional leadership meeting. We all shook hands, and the various leaders began posing for pictures in front of the tree. As I was watching, John Kelly grabbed my elbow and said, Lets get out of here and go back for our meeting. We went to the Oval and Trump came in almost immediately, along with Pence; we exchanged greetings; and then Pence departed and Kelly and I sat in front of Trump, who was behind the Resolute desk. I welcomed the embassy move to Jerusalem, and we quickly turned to Iran and North Korea. I explained some of the linkages between the two rogue states, including the Norths sale of Scud missiles to Iran over twenty-five years ago; their joint missile testing in Iran after 1998 (following Japanese protests, Pyongyang had declared a moratorium on launch testing from the Peninsula after landing a projectile in the Pacific east of Japan); and their shared objective of developing delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons. On nuclear capabilities, Pakistani proliferator A. Q. Khan had sold both countries their basic uranium-enrichment technology (which he stole for Pakistan from Europes Urenco Ltd.) and nuclear-weapons designs (initially provided to Pakistan by China). North Korea had been building the reactor in Syria destroyed by Israel in September 2007,26 almost certainly financed by Iran, and I described how Iran could simply buy what it wanted from North Korea at the appropriate time (if it hadnt already). The threat of North Koreas acquiring deliverable nuclear weapons manifests itself in several ways. First, strategy depends on analyzing intentions and capabilities. Intentions are often hard to read; capabilities are generally easier to assess (even granted that our intelligence is imperfect). But who wants to bet on what is really on the minds of the leaders in the worlds only hereditary Communist dictatorship, in the face of hard evidence of accelerating nuclear and missile capabilities? Second, a nuclear-armed North Korea can conduct blackmail against nearby non-nuclear-weapons states like Japan and South Korea (where we have large deployed forces ourselves) and even against the United States, especially under a weak or feckless President. The dangers do not come simply from the risk of a first strike but from mere possession, not to mention the incentives for onward proliferation in East Asia and elsewhere created by a nuclear Pyongyang. Third, the North had repeatedly demonstrated it will sell anything to anybody with hard cash, so the risks of its becoming a nuclear Amazon are far from trivial. I explained why and how a preemptive strike against North Koreas nuclear and ballistic-missile programs would work; how we could use massive conventional bombs against Pyongyangs artillery north of the DMZ, which threatened Seoul, thereby reducing casualties dramatically; and why the United States was rapidly approaching a binary choice, assuming China didnt act dramatically, of either leaving the North with nuclear weapons or using military force. The only other alternatives were seeking reunification of the Peninsula under South Korea or regime change in the North, both of which required cooperation with China, which we had not even begun to broach with them. Trump asked, What do you think the chances of war are with North Korea? Fifty-fifty? I said I thought it all depended on China, but probably fifty-fifty. Trump turned to Kelly and said, He agrees with you. In the course of this conversation (which lasted about thirty-five minutes), Trump raised his dissatisfaction with Tillerson, saying he didnt seem to have control of State. Trump asked why, and I said it was because Tillerson hadnt filled the subordinate ranks with appointees who would advance the Administrations policies and that he had, in effect, been captured by the careerists. I also explained why State needed a cultural revolution because of its desire to run foreign policy on its own, especially under Republican Presidents, during which both Trump and Kelly nodded affirmatively. Trump asked Kelly what he thought Tillerson was doing wrong, and Kelly said Tillerson was trying to centralize decision-making too much in his own hands. I agreed but said delegating authority had to go hand in hand with getting the right people in place to delegate it to. Kelly agreed, saying, Delegation with supervision. Trump then said to Kelly, John knows that place [State] backwards and forwards. Kelly nodded agreement. I thought it was striking that Trump did not raise McMaster. As we ended the meeting, Trump said, Youre still ready to come in for the right position, am I right? I laughed and said, For the right position, yes. As Kelly and I walked back to the West Wing lobby, he said, The guy loves you. After weve been here all day, hell call me at home at nine thirty at night and say, Did you just see Bolton on television? I told Kelly to call me if I could be of help and left the building. A week before Christmas, I met again with Kushner on the Middle East peace plan for about forty minutes and had a couple of other spare calls with him during the month. Other than that, things were quiet for the rest of the month. Happy New Year! On January 6, 2018, during a maelstrom of press commentary on the new Fire and Fury book about Trump, he tweeted that he was a very stable genius. With another statutorily required presidential decision approaching on whether to have the pre-Iran-deal sanctions come back into force, I decided to sit back. They knew how to get me if they wanted to, and no one made contact. Trump reprised what he had done in October, keeping the sanctions from coming back into effect but not certifying that Iran was complying with the deal. No progress. And then North Korea returned to the spotlight as South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics. Pence and Ivanka Trump represented the US, amid speculation of talks with the North Korea delegation. I gave interviews applauding Pence for not letting the North gain a propaganda edge or drive wedges between us and South Korea. Pence tweeted in response, Well said @AmbJohnBolton, a nice signal. Of course, South Korean President Moon Jae-in was going all out for domestic political purposes to highlight his success in having high-level North Koreans attend, particularly Kim Jong Uns younger sister, Kim Yo Jong (sanctioned by the US as a known violator of human rights). In fact, Kim Yo Jong did have a mission, inviting Moon to the North, which he accepted instantly. It trickled out later that Seoul had paid Pyongyangs costs of participating in the games, not from any Olympic spirit, but following a sad, well-established pattern.27 South Koreas left worshipped this Sunshine Policy, which basically held that being nice to North Korea would bring peace to the Peninsula. Instead, again and again, it merely subsidized the Norths dictatorship. On March 6, I had yet another meeting with Trump. Waiting in the West Wing lobby, I watched on television as reporters asked why he thought the North was now ready to negotiate, and Trump replied happily, Me. I hoped he understood North Korea truly feared that he, unlike Obama, was prepared if necessary to use military force. I went to the Oval at about 4:40, once again sitting in front of the completely clean Resolute desk. Trump said to me, just as Kelly entered, Did I ask for this meeting or did you? I said I had, and he responded, I thought I had, but Im glad you came in because I wanted to see you. We started off talking about North Korea, and I explained I thought Kim Jong Un was trying to buy time to finish the relatively few (albeit critical) tasks still necessary to achieve a deliverable nuclear-weapons capability. That meant that Kim Jong Un now especially feared military force; he knew economic sanctions alone wouldnt prevent him from reaching that goal. I wasnt quite sure Trump got the point, but I also raised reports of North Koreas selling chemical-weapons equipment and precursor chemicals to Syria, likely financed by Iran.28 If true, this linkage could be pivotal for both North Korea and Iran, showing just how dangerous Pyongyang was: now selling chemical weapons, soon enough selling nuclear weapons. I urged him to use this argument to justify both exiting the Iran nuclear deal and taking a harder line on North Korea. Kelly agreed and urged me to keep pounding away in public, which I assured him I would. On the Iran nuclear deal, Trump said, Dont worry, Im getting out of that. I said they could try to fix it, but that wont happen. He turned to how much he wanted to fire Tillerson, saying, You know whats wrong. Id love to have you over there. But he said he thought confirmation, with just a 5149 Republican majority, would be difficult. That son of a bitch Rand Paul will vote against you, and McConnell is worried he may persuade other Republicans, who need his vote on judges and other things. What do you hear? I said I wouldnt get Pauls vote, but I would be surprised if he dragged other Republicans along with him. (The real count in the Senate, however, increasingly looked to be 5049, as John McCains health continued to deteriorate, raising the prospect he might never return to Washington.) I also said, based on earlier conversations with Republican Senators, that we could roll up a handful of Democrats, especially in an election year. I doubted Id persuaded Trump, and he asked, What else would you be interested in? I answered, National Security Advisor. Kelly broke his silence to underline that that job did not require Senate confirmation, and Trump asked happily, So I dont have to worry about those clowns up there? and both Kelly and I said, Right. I then launched into a description of what I thought the core duties of the National Security Advisors job were, namely, ensuring that the full range of options was put before the President and that his decisions were then carried out, at which Kelly nodded vigorously. I said I thought my training as a litigator equipped me for that role, because I could present the options fairly but still have my own point of view (as one does with clients), and that I understood he made the final decisions, once again telling him the Dean Acheson/Harry Truman story. Trump and Kelly both laughed. Trump asked me what I thought McMaster had done right, and I said it was a real achievement to write a good national-security strategy in a Presidents first year in office, something that had not occurred, for example, in Bush 43s tenure, among others. Trump asked what I thought Mattis had done well, and I cited the major defense budget increase over the Obama years the Administration had recently won. Before I could finish, both Trump and Kelly said simultaneously the budget win was Trumps accomplishment, not Mattiss. I thought that was a real revelation about Trumps attitude toward Mattis. The meeting ended after about thirty-five minutes, and Trump said, Okay, stay patient, Ill be calling you. Kelly and I walked out of the Oval, and he asked, Have you thought about the media reaction if you get named? I had, saying I had been through it already when nominated to the UN ambassadorship. Kelly said, Yes, that was outrageous. But think about it again, anyway, because hes serious. I had put up with so much from the media over the years that I really didnt care what their reaction was; by that point, my scar tissue had scars. As the Duke of Wellington once said (perhaps apocryphally), my attitude was, Print and be damned. I felt pretty good until that evening. While addressing a fund-raiser in Northern Virginia for Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, whom I first met at the Reagan Justice Department, I heard Kim Jong Un had invited Trump to meet, and he had accepted. I was beyond speechless, appalled at this foolish mistake. For a US President to grant Kim a summit with no sign whatever of a strategic decision to renounce nuclear weaponsin fact, giving it away for nothingwas a propaganda gift beyond measure. It was worse by orders of magnitude than Madeleine Albright clinking glasses with Kim Il Sung during the Clinton years. Fortunately, I had no Fox interviews that night because of the fund-raiser, so I had time to think about it. The next day, Sarah Sanders seemed to walk things back, saying our existing policy had not changed. As I had left the White House earlier on Tuesday, the White House had announced Gary Cohns resignation as Chairman of the National Economic Council. Larry Kudlow was named to replace him. In the meantime, in February, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned because of damaging personal information revealed in his FBI background investigation, followed shortly thereafter by Trumps longtime staffer Hope Hicks, then Communications Director. The bloodletting continued on March 13, with the announcement that Tillerson had been unceremoniously fired as Secretary of State; that Pompeo would be nominated to replace him; and that Pompeos CIA Deputy, Gina Haspel, a career intelligence officer, would succeed him. Kushner called me the next day for another meeting on his Middle East peace plan, which I again found difficult to believe was entirely coincidental. Then, on March 16, Jeff Sessions resumed the bloodletting by firing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Life around the world, however, was still rolling along. A Russian hit squad, using chemical weapons from the Novichok family, attacked former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. After Moscow disdainfully refused even to address the attack, Prime Minister May expelled twenty-three undeclared Russian intelligence agents.29 In interviews, I took a very tough view of how America should respond to this attack, a view I still hold. So, it was unsettling to read that Trump had congratulated Putin on winning reelection as President of Russia, over McMasters advice, which had been promptly and widely leaked to the media. Nonetheless, Trump later expelled over sixty Russian diplomats as part of a NATO-wide effort to show solidarity with London.30 As several House members helping me with my National Security Advisor campaign confided, we were within days of Trumps deciding who would replace McMaster. I gritted my teeth, because the job was looking more arduous than before, but I decided not to pull back now. On Wednesday, March 21, my cell phone rang as I was riding down a snowy George Washington Memorial Parkway to do an interview at Foxs DC studio (the federal government and most area schools and businesses being closed). Good morning, Mr. President, I said, and Trump replied, Ive got a job for you that is probably the most powerful job in the White House. As I started to answer, Trump said, No, really better than Chief of Staff, and we both laughed, which meant Kelly was probably in the room with him. And you wont have to deal with the Democrats in the Senate, no need for that. You should come in and well talk about this, come in today or tomorrow. I want someone with gravitas, not some unknown. You have great support, great support, from all kinds of people, great support, like those Freedom Caucus guys (a group of Republicans in the House). I thanked Trump and then called my wife and daughter, Gretchen and JS (Jennifer Sarah), to tell them, stressing that for Trump it was never over until something was publicly announced, and sometimes not then. I met with Trump in the Oval the next day at four oclock. We started into what seemed like another interview, talking about Iran and North Korea. Much of what Trump said harked back to his campaign days, before a series of speeches had positioned him in the broad Republican mainstream foreign-policy thinking. I wondered if he was having second thoughts about making me an offer, but at least he said unequivocally he was getting out of the Iran deal. He said almost nothing about the supposed upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un, an omission I found hard to read. The largest single block of time was spent discussing again how I thought the NSC should work. Although I didnt mention Brent Scowcroft by name, the system I explained, as Kelly well knew, was what Scowcroft had done in the Bush 41 Administration. First, it was the NSCs responsibility to provide the President with the available options and the pluses and minuses of each. Second, once a decision was made, the NSC was the Presidents enforcer to ensure that the bureaucracies carried out the decision. All this resonated with Trump, although he didnt directly offer me the job, asking instead, So you think you want to do this? I was beginning to wonder if this now hour-long meeting was just going to dribble off inconclusively when Westerhout came in to tell Trump he had another meeting. He stood up, and of course so did I. We shook hands over the Resolute desk. Although there had been no clear offer and acceptance, both Kelly and I knew what had in fact happened, in the Trumpian way. Given the experiences already recounted here, and more, why accept the job? Because America faced a very dangerous international environment, and I thought I knew what needed to be done. I had strong views on a wide range of issues, developed during prior government service and private-sector study. And Trump? No one could claim by this point not to know the risks in store, up close, but I also believed I could handle it. Others may have failed for one reason or another, but I thought I could succeed. Was I right? Read on. Outside the Oval, I encountered White House Counsel Don McGahn going in with folders on potential judicial nominations. Kelly and I spoke for a few minutes, and I said it was clear to me that neither one of us could accomplish anything unless we worked together, which was my intention, and he readily agreed. I also asked what the timing of an announcement might be, and he thought the next day or the following week at the earliest. I later learned (as did Kelly) that within minutes of my leaving the Oval, Trump called McMaster to tell him he would be announcing the switch later that same afternoon. I went to the West Wing lobby to retrieve my coat, and the receptionist and a White House communications staffer said there was a mob of reporters and photographers waiting for me to exit the north door to the driveway. They asked if I would mind going out the back way, through the White Houses Southwest Gate onto Seventeenth Street, and walking behind the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to miss the press, which I happily did. I called Gretchen and JS again, and began to think about preparations for starting at the White House. On my way to the Fox News studio for an interview on Martha MacCallums show, Trump tweeted: I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job and will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9. At that point, my cell phone felt like a hand grenade going off, with incoming calls, e-mails, tweets, and news alerts. I now had some two weeks to make the necessary transition away from private life to government service, and the pace was frenetic. The next day, Trump called me during his intelligence briefing, saying, Youre getting great press, that the announcement was playing very big, getting great reviews the base loves it, and so on. He said at one point, Some of them think youre the bad cop, and I replied, When we play the good cop/bad cop routine, the President is always the good cop. Trump responded, The trouble is, weve got two bad cops, and I could hear the others in the Oval for the intel briefing laughing, as was I. Since Trump had announced I would start on April 9, the first priority was the White House Counsels vetting process. This consisted of filling out extensive forms and undergoing questioning by the Counsels Office lawyers on financial disclosure issues, possible conflicts of interest, requirements for divestiture of assets (not that I had all that much to divest), unwinding existing employment relationships, freezing my PAC and SuperPAC during my government service, and the like. Also required was what baby boomers called the sex, drugs and rock and roll interview, where typically the trap was not what foolish things you had done in your life but whether you admitted them in response to questions or volunteered them if they were exotic enough. Since my last government job as UN Ambassador, I had received plenty of media coverage, so I took care to mention even the outlandish things that lazy, biased, incompetent reporters had published at my expense, including that Maria Butina had tried to recruit me as a Russian agent. (I do not think the press is an enemy of the people, but, as Dwight Eisenhower said in 1964, its ranks are filled with sensation-seeking columnists and commentators whose writings mark them as little more than intellectualoids.) Then there was the mandatory urine sample I provided for drug testing; lets not forget that. I also tried to consult with former National Security Advisors, starting of course with Kissinger, who said, I have great confidence in you, and I wish you every success. You know the subject. You know the bureaucracy. I know you are able to handle it. And most important, Kissinger, like every predecessor with whom I spoke, Republican and Democrat alike, offered their support. I spoke with Colin Powell (who had been my boss when he was Secretary of State in Bush 43s first term), Brent Scowcroft, James Jones, Condi Rice, Steve Hadley, Susan Rice, John Poindexter, and Bud McFarlane, as well as Bob Gates, who had been Scowcrofts Deputy and later Secretary of Defense. Scowcroft said succinctly, The world is a mess, and were the only ones who can straighten it out. I spoke with former Secretaries of State for whom I had worked, including George Shultz and Jim Baker (Powell and Condi Rice, of course, fell into both categories), and also Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Finally, I spoke with President George W. Bush, who was very generous with his time, wishing me all the best. I asked about calling his father, for whom I had also worked, and he said it would be difficult at that time, so I simply asked that he pass on my regards. I had lunch with McMaster on March 27 in the Ward Room, part of the White House Navy mess facility. He was gracious and forthcoming in his assessments of issues, policies, and personnel. A few days later, I had breakfast with Jim Mattis at the Pentagon. Mattis showed his flair with the press, as he greeted me at the entrance, by saying he had heard I was the devil incarnate. I thought of replying, I do my best, but bit my tongue. We had a very productive discussion. Mattis suggested that he, Pompeo, and I have breakfast once a week at the White House to go over pending issues. Although we were all on the telephone with each other several times most days, the breakfasts proved to be a very important opportunity for the three of us alone to discuss key issues. When one might be traveling, the other two would get together, usually in the Ward Room, but often at State or the Pentagon. When Mattis and I finished, he took me to meet Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose term as Chairman would last through September 2019. I recalled to Dunford his remarks on the North Korea nuclear issue at the summer 2018 Aspen Security Forum: Many people have talked about the military options with words such as unimaginable. I would probably shift that slightly and say it would be horrific and it would be a loss of life unlike any weve experienced in our lifetime, and I mean anyone whos been alive since World War II has never seen a loss of life that could occur if there is a conflict on the Korean Peninsula. But as Ive told my counterparts, both friend and foe, it is not unimaginable to have military options to respond to North Koreas nuclear capability. What is unimaginable to me is allowing the capability to allow nuclear weapons to land in Denver, Colorado. My job will be to develop military options to make sure that doesnt happen.31 Dunford seemed surprised I knew of his comments, and we had a good discussion. Dunford had a reputation as an outstanding military officer, and I had no reason to doubt that, then or later. I broached Mattiss three-way-breakfast idea with Mike Pompeo at the CIA a few days later. He readily agreed. He and I had already exchanged a number of e-mails, one from him saying, Im truly excited to get started as a co-founder of the war cabinet. I will send Sen. Paul your regards. I also had a chance to meet his Deputy and likely successor, Gina Haspel. I had watched Trump closely during his nearly fifteen months in office, and I had no illusions that I could change him. Any number of National Security Council models might have been academically sound but would make no difference if they simply spun in a vacuum, disconnected, admiring themselves and lauded by the media but not actually engaging the sitting President. I was determined to have a disciplined, thorough process, but I would judge my performance on how it actually shaped policy, not how outsiders compared it to prior Administrations. Several decisions flowed from this analysis. First, the NSC staff (roughly 430 people when I arrived, 350 when I left) was not a think tank. Its product was not discussion groups and staff papers but effective decision-making. The organization should be simple and direct. I planned to eliminate many duplicative, overlapping structures and staff. Since Trump had given me full hiring and firing authority, I acted quickly and decisively, among other things naming only one Deputy National Security Advisor, instead of several, to strengthen and simplify the National Security Council staffs effectiveness. This critical role I filled first with Mira Ricardel, a longtime defense expert with extensive government service and as a senior Boeing executive, and later with Dr. Charles Kupperman, a defense expert with similar credentials (including Boeing!). They had strong personalities; they would need them. On the Saturday before Easter at six thirty p.m., I had a somewhat bizarre conversation with Trump. He did almost all the talking, starting with Rex was terrible and then explaining why, focusing on a decision to commit $200 million for Syrian reconstruction. Trump didnt like it: I want to build up our country, not others. As a US Agency for International Development alumnus, I supported using US foreign assistance to advance national-security objectives, but I also knew such efforts had their weaknesses as well as strengths. I tried to get a word in edgewise, but Trump rolled right along, saying periodically, I know you get this. He then said, Youve got a lot of leakers down there. You can get rid of anybody you want, which I was already preparing to do. Finally, the conversation ended, and we both said, Happy Easter. On Easter Monday, Trump called again. I asked, Hows the Easter Egg Roll going, Mr. President? Great, he said as Sarah Sanders, her children, and others came in and out of the Oval, and then returned to his Saturday-night monologue, saying, I want to get out of these horrible wars [in the Middle East]. Were killing ISIS for countries that are our enemies, which I took to mean Russia, Iran, and Assads Syria. He said his advisors were divided into two categories, those who wanted to stay forever, and those who wanted to stay for a while. By contrast, Trump said, I dont want to stay at all. I dont like the Kurds. They ran from the Iraqis, they ran from the Turks, the only time they dont run is when were bombing all around them with F-18s. He asked, What should we do? Figuring the Easter Egg Roll might not be the best time to discuss Middle East strategy, I said I was still waiting to get my temporary security clearance lined up. Pompeo, who had arrived in the Oval, said, Give John and me a little bit of time before he was cut off by more children and parents traipsing through. It was pretty clear Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria, and indeed at an NSC meeting the next day (see chapter 2), he voiced precisely these sentiments. Still, much remained to be decided, giving me confidence we could protect US interests as the struggle to destroy the ISIS territorial caliphate neared a successful conclusion. On Friday, April 6, heading into the weekend before my first official day, I met again with Kelly and several others to review West Wing procedures. I explained some of the NSC personnel changes I planned and the reorganizations I intended. I had Trumps authority to do these things, but I didnt mind informing Kelly in advance. He spent the rest of the meeting, which lasted an hour, explaining how Trump acted in meetings and on phone calls. The President used very rough language, said Kelly, which was true, and of course, hes entitled to do that, also true. Trump despised both Bush Presidents and their Administrations, leading me to wonder if he had missed my almost ten years of service in those presidencies. And Trump changed his mind constantly. I wondered listening to all this how close Kelly was to just walking away. Kelly concluded by saying graciously, Im glad youre here, John. The President hasnt had a National Security Advisor for the past year, and he needs one. I spent the weekend reading classified materials and otherwise preparing for April 9. But as the next chapter will show, the Syria crisis came unannounced and unexpected, like much of the next seventeen months. Acheson had written about Roosevelts replacement of Cordell Hull as Secretary of State with Edward Stettinius, which had led the press to speculate that Roosevelt would continue to be his own Secretary of State. Acheson had a firm view: The President cannot be Secretary of State; it is inherently impossible in the nature of both positions. What he can do, and often has done with unhappy results, is to prevent anyone else from being Secretary of State.32 Although not written about the National Security Advisor position, Achesons insight was profound. Perhaps that is what Kelly was trying to say in his final comment to me before I started. And as Condi Rice said to me much later, Secretary of State is the best job in the government, and National Security Advisor is the hardest. I am sure she is right. CHAPTER 2 CRY HAVOC! AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR On Saturday, April 7, 2018, Syrian armed forces, using chemical weapons, attacked the city of Douma in southwest Syria and other nearby locations. Initial reports had perhaps a dozen people killed and hundreds wounded, including children, some grievously sickened by the dangerous chemicals.1 Chlorine was the likely base material for the weapons, but there were claims of sarin gas activity and perhaps other chemicals.2 Bashar al-Assads regime had similarly used chemical weapons, including sarin, one year earlier, on April 4, 2017, at Khan Shaykhun in northwest Syria. Only three days later, the United States responded forcefully, launching fifty-nine cruise missiles at the suspected site from which the Syrian attack emanated.3 Syrias dictatorship obviously had not learned its lesson. Deterrence had failed, and the issue now was how to respond appropriately. Unhappily, a year after Khan Shaykhun, Syria policy remained in disarray, lacking agreement on fundamental objectives and strategy.4 Now it was again in crisis. Responding to this latest Syrian chemical-weapons attack was imperative, but we also urgently needed conceptual clarity on how to advance American interests long-term. An NSC meeting held the week before Douma, however, pointed in exactly the opposite direction: US withdrawal from Syria. Leaving would risk losing even the limited gains achieved under Barack Obamas misbegotten Syria-Iraq policies, thereby exacerbating the dangers his approach fostered. Responsibility for this policy disarray, one year after Khan Shaykhun, rested at that iconic location where the buck stops: the Resolute desk in the Oval Office. At about nine a.m. on April 8, in his own personal style and the style of our times, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, tweeted: Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK! Minutes later, he tweeted again: If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history! These were clear, forceful statements, but Trump tweeted before consulting his national security team. Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, my predecessor as National Security Advisor, had left Friday afternoon, and I didnt start until Monday. When I tried to pull together a meeting on Sunday, White House lawyers blocked it, because I would not officially become a government employee until Monday. This gave the word frustration new meaning. Trump called me Sunday afternoon, and we (mostly he) talked for twenty minutes. He mused that getting out of the Middle East the right way was tough, a theme he raised repeatedly during the call, interspersed with digressions on trade wars and tariffs. Trump said he had just seen Jack Keane (a four-star general and former Army Vice Chief of Staff) on Fox News and liked his idea of destroying Syrias five main military airfields, thereby essentially knocking out Assads entire air force. Trump said, My honor is at stake, reminding me of Thucydidess famous observation that fear, honor and interest are the main drivers of international politics and ultimately war. French President Emmanuel Macron had already called to say France was strongly considering participating in a US-led military response.5 Earlier in the day, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner had told me that UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had phoned him to relay essentially the same message from London. These prompt assurances of support were encouraging. Why a foreign minister was calling Kushner, however, was something to address in coming days. Trump asked about an NSC staffer I planned on firing, a supporter of his since the earliest days of his presidential campaign. He wasnt surprised when I told him the individual was part of the leak problem, and he continued, Too many people know too many things. This highlighted my most pressing management problem: dealing with the Syria crisis while reorienting the NSC staff to aim in a common direction, a bit like changing hockey lines on the fly. This was no time for placid reflection, or events would overtake us. On Sunday, I could only suggest to the NSC staff that they do everything possible to ascertain all they could about the Assad regimes actions (and whether further attacks were likely), and develop US options in response. I called an NSC staff meeting for six forty-five a.m. Monday morning to see where we stood, and to assess what roles Russia and Iran might have played. We needed decisions that fit into a larger, post-ISIS Syria/Iraq picture, and to avoid simply responding whack-a-mole style. I left home with my newly assigned Secret Service protective detail a little before six a.m., heading to the White House in two silver-colored SUVs. Once at the West Wing, I saw that Chief of Staff John Kelly was already in his first-floor, southwest-corner office, down the hall from mine on the northwest corner, so I stopped by to say hello. Over the next eight months, when we were in town, we both typically arrived around six a.m., an excellent time to sync up as the day began. The six forty-five NSC staff meeting confirmed myand what seemed to be Trumpsbelief that the Douma strike required a strong, near-term military response. The US opposed anyones use of WMD (weapons of mass destruction)nuclear, chemical, and biologicalas contrary to our national interest. Whether in the hands of strategic opponents, rogue states, or terrorists, WMD endangered the American people and our allies. A crucial question in the ensuing debate was whether reestablishing deterrence against using weapons of mass destruction inevitably meant greater US involvement in Syrias civil war. It did not. Our vital interest against chemical-weapons attacks could be vindicated without ousting Assad, notwithstanding the fears of both those who wanted strong action against his regime and those who wanted none. Military force was justified to deter Assad and many others from using chemical (or nuclear or biological) weapons in the future. From our perspective, Syria was a strategic sideshow, and who ruled there should not distract us from Iran, the real threat. I called Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at 8:05 a.m. He believed Russia was our real problem, harking back to Obamas ill-advised 2014 agreement with Putin to eliminate Syrias chemical weapons capability, which obviously hadnt happened.6 And now here we were again. Unsurprisingly, Russia was already accusing Israel of being behind the Douma strike. Mattis and I discussed possible responses to Syrias attack, and he said he would be supplying light, medium, and heavy options for the Presidents consideration, which I thought was the right approach. I noted that, unlike in 2017, both France and Britain were considering joining a response, which we agreed was a plus. I sensed, over the phone, that Mattis was reading from a prepared text. Afterward, UK national security advisor Sir Mark Sedwill called me to follow up Johnsons call to Kushner.7 It was more than symbolic that Sedwill was my first foreign caller. Having our allies more closely aligned to our main foreign-policy and defense objectives strengthened our hand in critical ways and was one of my top policy goals. Sedwill said deterrence had obviously failed, and Assad had become more adept at concealing his use of chemical weapons. I understood from Sedwill that Britains likely view was to ensure that our next use of force was both militarily and politically effective, dismantling Assads chemical capabilities and re-creating deterrence. That sounded right. I also took a moment to raise the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, even in the midst of the Syria crisis, emphasizing the likelihood, based on my many conversations with Trump, that America now really would be withdrawing. I emphasized that Trump had made no final decision, but we needed to consider how to constrain Iran after a US withdrawal and how to preserve trans-Atlantic unity. Sedwill was undoubtedly surprised to hear this. Neither he nor other Europeans had heard it before from the Administration, since, before my arrival, Trumps advisors had almost uniformly resisted withdrawal. He took the point stoically and said we should talk further once the immediate crisis was resolved. At ten a.m., I went down to the Situation Room complex for the scheduled Principals Committee meeting of the National Security Council, a Cabinet-level gathering. (Old hands call the area the Sit Room, but millennials call it Whizzer, for the initials WHSR, White House Situation Room.) It had been completely renovated and much improved since my last meeting there in 2006. (For security reasons as well as efficiency, I later launched a substantial further renovation that began in September 2019.) I normally would chair the Principals Committee, but the Vice President decided to do so, perhaps thinking to be helpful on my first day. In any case, I led the discussion, as was standard, and the issue never arose again. This initial, hour-long session allowed the various departments to present their thoughts on how to proceed. I stressed that our central objective was to make Assad pay dearly for using chemical weapons and to re-create structures of deterrence so it didnt happen again. We needed political and economic steps, as well as a military strike, to show we had a comprehensive approach and were potentially building a coalition with Britain and France. (UK, US, and French military planners were already talking.)8 We had to consider not just the immediate response but what Syria, Russia, and Iran might do next. We discussed at length what we did and didnt know regarding Syrias attack and how to increase our understanding of what had happened, especially whether sarin nerve agent was involved or just chlorine-based agents. This is where Mattis repeated almost verbatim his earlier comments, including that the Pentagon would provide a medium-to-heavy range of options. Further work on Syria, not to mention filling out more government forms, swirled along until one p.m., when I was called to the Oval. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley (who had participated in the Principals Committee via secure telecommunications from New York) was calling to ask what to say in the Security Council that afternoon. This was apparently the normal way she learned what to do in the Council, completely outside the regular NSC process, which I found amazing. As a former UN Ambassador myself, I had wondered at Haleys untethered performance in New York over the past year-plus; now I saw how it actually worked. I was sure Mike Pompeo and I would be discussing this issue after he was confirmed as Secretary of State. The call started off, however, with Trump asking why former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, before he left office, had approved $500 million in economic assistance to Africa. I suspected this was the amount approved by Congress in the course of the appropriations process, but said I would check. Trump also asked me to look into a news report on Indias purchasing Russian S-400 air defense systems because, said India, the S-400 was better than Americas Patriot defense system. Then we came to Syria. Trump said Haley should basically say, You have heard the Presidents words [via Twitter], and you should listen. I suggested that, after the Security Council meeting, Haley and the UK and French Ambassadors jointly address the press outside the Council chamber to present a united front. I had done that many times, but Haley declined, preferring to have pictures of her alone giving the US statement in the Council. That told me something. In the afternoon, I met with NSC staff handling the Iran nuclear-weapons issue, asking them to prepare to exit the 2015 deal within a month. Trump needed to have the option ready for him when he decided to leave, and I wanted to be sure he had it. There was no way ongoing negotiations with the UK, France, and Germany would fix the deal; we needed to withdraw and create an effective follow-on strategy to block Irans drive for deliverable nuclear weapons. What I said couldnt have been surprising, since I had said it all before publicly many times, but I could feel the air going out of the NSC staff, who until then had been working feverishly to save the deal. I was back in the Oval at four forty-five p.m. for Trump to call Macron.9 I typically joined in the Presidents calls with foreign leaders, which had long been standard practice. Macron reaffirmed, as he was doing publicly, Frances intention to respond jointly to the chemical attacks (and which, after the fact, he actually took credit for!).10 He noted UK Prime Minister Theresa Mays desire to act soon. He also raised the attack earlier on Monday against Syrias Tiyas airbase, which housed an Iranian facility, and the risk of Irans counterattacking even as we planned our own operations.11 I spoke later with Philippe ?tienne, my French counterpart and Macrons diplomatic advisor, to coordinate carrying out the Trump-Macron discussions. As I listened, I realized that if military action began by the weekend, which seemed likely, Trump couldnt be out of the country.12 When the call ended, I suggested he skip the Summit of the Americas conference in Peru scheduled for that time and that Pence attend instead. Trump agreed, and told me to work it out with Pence and Kelly. When I relayed this to Kelly, he groaned because of the preparations already made. I responded, Dont hate me on my first day, and he agreed a switch was probably inevitable. I went to the VPs office, which was between my office and Kellys, to explain the situation. While we were talking, Kelly came in to say the FBI had raided the offices of Michael Cohen, a Trump lawyer and chief fixer for nondisclosure agreements with the likes of Stormy Daniels, not exactly a matter of high state. Nonetheless, in the time I spent with Trump the rest of the week, which was considerable, the Cohen issue never came up. There was no trace of evidence to suggest Cohen was on Trumps mind, in my presence, other than when he responded to the incessant press questioning. On Monday evening, Trump hosted a semiannual dinner with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military combatant commanders to discuss matters of interest. With all of them in town, it also provided an opportunity to hear their views on Syria. Had this not been my first day, with the Syria crisis overshadowing everything, I would have tried to meet them individually to discuss their respective responsibilities. That, however, would have to wait. The next day, at eight thirty, I spoke again with Sedwill, calling to prepare for Mays telephone conversation to Trump, scheduled shortly thereafter. Sedwill again pressed on the timing issue, and I wondered if domestic political pressures in Britain were weighing on Mays thinking, given that parliament was coming back into session on April 16. Former Prime Minister David Camerons failure to obtain House of Commons approval to attack Syria, after the Assad regime crossed Obamas red line on chemical weapons, worried me as a precedent. Obviously, if we acted before Parliament came back into session, I thought that risk would be eliminated.13 Sedwill was also happy to hear that the Pentagon was thinking heavier rather than lighter for the military response, which was consistent with UK preferences, and in seeking a broader conceptual framework for Syria. When May and Trump spoke, she echoed Sedwills comments on the need to act promptly.14 Throughout the call, Trump seemed resolved, although it was clear he didnt like May, a feeling that struck me as reciprocal. I also spoke frequently through the week with my Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, about reports regarding an air strike against Syrias Tiyas air base, and Irans highly threatening presence in Syria.15 Through the week, more information on the attacks came in, and I spent considerable time reviewing this data, as well as reams of classified material on the rest of the world. My practice in prior government jobs had always been to consume as much intelligence as I could. I might have agreed or disagreed with analyses or conclusions, but I was always ready to absorb more information. Proof of the Assad regimes chemical-weapons usage was increasingly clear in public reporting, although left-wing commentators, and even some on Fox, were saying there was no evidence. They were wrong. The second Syria Principals Committee meeting convened at one thirty and again consisted largely of the various agencies reporting on their developing planning and activity, all consistent with a strong response. I soon realized Mattis was our biggest problem. He hadnt produced any targeting options for the NSC or for White House Counsel Don McGahn, who needed to write an opinion on the legality of whatever Trump ultimately decided. From long, unhappy experience, I knew what was going on here. Mattis knew where he wanted Trump to come out militarily, and he also knew that the way to maximize the likelihood of his views prevailing was to deny information to others who had a legitimate right to weigh in. It was simple truth that not presenting options until the last minute, making sure that those options were rigged in the right direction, and then table-pounding, delaying, and obfuscating as long as possible were the tactics by which a savvy bureaucrat like Mattis could get his way. The Principals Committee meeting ended inconclusively, although Mattis gave some ground to McGahn in the end after a little temper-flaring around the Sit Room table. I was determined that this obstructionism would not happen, but Mattis had clearly dug in. I didnt think he was over the line yet, but he was right on it, as I said to both Pence and Kelly after the meeting. Starting at about three p.m., I spent about two hours in the Oval, in a meeting rolling from one issue to another. Trump was worried about the possibility of Russian casualties in Syria, given Russias extensive military presence there, which had climbed dramatically during the Obama years. This was a legitimate concern, and one we addressed by having the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, call his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov, to assure him that whatever action we decided to take, it would not be targeted at Russian personnel or assets.16 The Dunford-Gerasimov channel had been and remained a critical asset for both countries over time, in many instances far more suitable than conventional diplomatic communications to ensure Washington and Moscow both clearly understood their respective interests and intentions. Another Trump-Macron call went through at three forty-five, with Macron pushing for prompt action and threatening to act unilaterally if we delayed too long, an assertion he had earlier stated publicly.17 This was preposterous and potentially dangerous; it was showboating, and Trump ultimately reined the French back in. Macron was right, however, in seeking prompt action, which weighed against Trumps mistaken inclination to move slowly. The quicker the retaliation, the clearer the message to Assad and others. We had still not seen options from the Pentagon, and the two leaders did not discuss specific targets. It seemed, nonetheless, that Macron wanted the medium option among the target packages, whatever that turned out to be. Low is too low, he said, and high is too aggressive. I had no idea what he meant, wondering whether he did either, or whether he was just posturing. While briefing Trump for a later call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, I stressed that we had the right formula: (1) a proposed three-way attack option with France and Britain, not just a unilateral US strike as in 2017; (2) a comprehensive approach, using political and economic as well as military means, combined with effective messaging to explain what we were doing and why; and (3) a sustainednot just a one-shoteffort. Trump seemed satisfied. He also urged me, Do as much TV as you want, saying, Go after Obama as much as you want, which he called a good thing to do. I actually didnt want to do media that week, and there were enough other people clawing to get on television that no shortage of Administration voices would be heard. The Erdogan call turned out to be an experience. Listening to him (his remarks were always interpreted), he sounded like Mussolini speaking from his Rome balcony, except that Erdogan was talking in that tone and volume over the phone. It was as if he were lecturing us while standing on the Resolute desk. Erdogan seemed to avoid any commitment to join US strike plans but said he would be speaking to Putin imminently.18 Trump urged Erdogan to stress that we were seeking to avoid Russian casualties. The next day, Thursday, Ibrahim Kalin, my Turkish counterpart (and also Erdogans press spokesman, an interesting combination), called to report on the Erdogan-Putin call. Putin had emphasized he did not want to see a broader confrontation with the United States over Syria, and that everyone should act with common sense.19 At eight a.m. Thursday, Dunford called to debrief his conversation with Gerasimov late the night before. After the obligatory Russian defense of the Assad regime, Gerasimov got down to business, taking Dunford seriously when he stressed our intention was not to target Russians. Dunford characterized Gerasimov as very professional, very measured. Dunford and I agreed it was a positive result, which I conveyed to Trump later in the morning, along with the Erdogan-Putin phone call. I met with Trump and Pence at one thirty in the small dining room down a short hall from the Oval. Trump spent a lot of time in this dining room, with a wide-screen television on the wall opposite his chair, usually turned to Fox News. It was here that his collection of official papers, newspapers, and other documents usually resided, rather than on the Resolute desk in the Oval. Trump wanted to withdraw most US troops from Syria and persuade Arab states to deploy more of their own forces there, as well as pay for the remaining US presence. He did not see this substitution of Arab for US forces as a strategic redirection, but as a way of deflecting US domestic political criticism for his increasingly blunt public comments about withdrawing from Syria. I said I would look into it. With a full NSC meeting (the proper term only when the President chairs the meeting) coming that afternoon, I also told Trump we were essentially being sandbagged by Mattis on the range of target options. Trump seemed troubled, but he offered no real direction. The NSC meeting convened at three oclock in the Sit Room, lasted about seventy-five minutes, and ended inconclusively. The Pentagons proposed response to Syrias chemical-weapons attack was far weaker than it should have been, largely because Mattis had stacked the options presented to Trump in ways that left little real choice. Instead of three choices (light, medium, and heavy), Mattis and Dunford (who didnt seem to be doing anything Mattis didnt want, but who also didnt seem very happy about the whole thing) presented five options. I had only seen these options a few hours before the NSC meeting, which made a truly considered analysis by NSC staff impossible. Most unhelpfully, the five options didnt scale up or down in any particular order. Instead, two were characterized as low risk, and three were deemed high risk. Only one option was categorized as ready to go (one of the low-risk ones), with one partially ready (the other low-risk one). Moreover, even within the alternatives, the potential targets were combined in incomprehensible ways; picking and choosing among the various elements of the five options would have left things even more confused. We were not looking at options along an understandable scale but a collection of apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, and pears, incommensurables, as nuclear targeteers said. Given the imperative to strike soon to emphasize our seriousness, which Trump now accepted, this left little or no choice, especially since Britain and France, for their own reasons, had impressed on us their desire to strike sooner rather than later. Had Trump insisted on one of the riskier options, several more days would have passed, and we were already close to one full week since Syrias attack. If we were following the 2017 timeline, the retaliation should have been happening today. Moreover, because Mattis was recommending to strike only chemical-weapons-related targets, even options Trump and others had asked about had not been included. Moreover, Mattis said without qualification that causing Russian casualties would mean we would be at war with Russia, notwithstanding our efforts to avoid such casualties and the Dunford-Gerasimov conversation. In the April 2017 attack with cruise missiles, the United States had struck targets at one end of a Syrian military airfield where no Russians were, even though we knew Russians were located near another runway at the same airfield.20 No one seemed to care particularly about potential Iranian casualties, although both Russians and Iranians were increasingly located throughout Syrian territory held by Assads forces. This increased foreign presence was an ever-larger part of the strategic problem in the Middle East, and acting like it wasnt simply allowed Assad to use them as human shields. Mattis was looking for excuses not to do much of anything, but he was wrong tactically and strategically. Ultimately, although Trump had said all week he wanted a significant response, he did not decide to make one. And his ultimate choice among the options missed the central strategic point, which Mattis had to know. The very reason we were in the Sit Room was that the 2017 US strike had failed to establish conditions of deterrence in Assads mind sufficiently powerful that he never used chemical weapons again. We knew he had used chemical weapons not just at Douma a few days before but in several other cases since April 2017, and there were other possible cases where we were less sure.21 The April 7, 2018, attack was simply the worst of the lot. The analysis in 2018 should have been: how big does it have to be to succeed in establishing deterrence this time, given that we failed the last time? Inevitably, in my view, that should have included attacks beyond facilities housing Syrias chemical-weapons program. We should have destroyed other Syrian military assets, including headquarters, planes, and helicopters (i.e., targets related to the decision to use chemical weapons and the delivery systems to drop the bombs containing the weapons themselves), and also threatened the regime itself, such as by attacking Assads palaces. These were all points I made, unsuccessfully. That we measurably failed to scale up the level of our response virtually guaranteed that Assad, Russia, and Iran would all breathe a sigh of relief. Mattis pushed relentlessly for his innocuous options. While Pence tried to help me out, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin strongly backed Mattis, although he manifestly had no idea what he was talking about. Nikki Haley explained that her husband was in the National Guard, so we should try to avoid military casualties. When McGahn again sought more information on the targets, Mattis flatly refused to provide it, even though McGahn was still asking for it only for his legal analysis, not to act as a targeteer, which was outside his purview (as were Mnuchins and Haleys comments). It was stunning. McGahn told me later he didnt challenge Mattis directly because he didnt want to disrupt the meeting further; he was later able to get what he needed for his legal opinion. The best we could say, as Dunford phrased it, was that Trump had decided to strike the heart of the [Syrian chemical-weapons] enterprise. We would be firing over twice as many missiles as in 2017, and at more physical targets.22 Whether that would result in anything more than a few additional buildings being destroyed, however, was a very different question. Even if the President had decided on the optimal strike, the decision-making process was completely unacceptable. Wed experienced a classic bureaucratic ploy by a classic bureaucrat, structuring the options and information to make only his options look acceptable in order to get his way. Of course, Trump didnt help by not being clear about what he wanted, jumping randomly from one question to another, and generally frustrating efforts to have a coherent discussion about the consequences of making one choice rather than another. The media portrayed the meeting, the details of which were promptly leaked, as Mattis prevailing because of his moderation. In fact, the spirit of Stonewall Jackson lived in Mattis and his acolytes. (There stands Jackson like a stone wall, as the Confederates said at the First Battle of Bull Run.) Achieving a better outcome, however, would require more bureaucratic infighting and a further NSC meeting, thereby losing more critical time. That was a nonstarter, and Mattis knew it. Indeed, Syria had already moved equipment and materials away from several targets we hoped to destroy.23 I was satisfied I had acted as an honest broker, but Mattis had been playing with marked cards. He knew how Trump responded in such situations far better than I did. As McGahn often whispered to me during our overlapping White House tenures, reflecting the contrast with our earlier experiences in government, This is not the Bush Administration. As the meeting ended, I sensed that Trump just wanted to decide on something and get back to the Oval, where he felt more comfortable and in control. I had been outmaneuvered by an expert bureaucratic operator. I was determined it would not happen again. Far more important, the country and the President had not been well served. I was determined that wouldnt happen again either. Over the next several months, I tried many ways to pry open the Pentagons military planning for similar contingencies, to get more information in advance to help make the politico-military decision-making process more comprehensive and agile, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. After we left the Sit Room, we indicated to the press that we hadnt made any final decisions and that the NSC would meet again on Friday at five p.m., thus leading everyone to think that any military action would come several days later. But we were clear among ourselves that we were aiming for a Trump speech to the nation at five p.m. on Friday (the middle of the night Syria time) in which he would announce the trilateral attack. I went immediately into a brief video conference call with Sedwill and ?tienne, using another room in the Sit Room complex. I explained what our decisions were, so we would all be prepared for the coming calls between Trump, Macron, and May. I then ran up to the Oval, where Trump spoke first with May at about four forty-five; she was happy with the outcome of the NSC meeting, which the UK and French militaries had already discussed, another sign we had been completely gamed by Mattis. While waiting in the Oval for the Macron call, Trump railed away about Tillerson and how much he disliked him, recalling a dinner with Tillerson and Haley. Haley, said Trump, had some disagreement with Tillerson, who responded, Dont ever talk to me that way again. Before Haley could say anything, Tillerson said, Youre nothing but a cunt, and dont ever forget it. In most Administrations, that would have gotten Tillerson fired, so I wondered if he ever actually said it. And if he hadnt, why did Trump tell me he had? After that, the Macron call was unremarkable. Meanwhile, our preparations accelerated. When I was finally leaving late in the evening, Kushner came into my office to say Trump thought I had done a great job. I didnt think so, but it meant I would probably make it through the end of my fourth day on the job. On Friday, I made calls to various Arab states to check their interest in putting together the Arab expeditionary force Trump sought to substitute for US troops in Syria and Iraq. He had imagined that, in addition to manpower, the Arabs would pay the US cost plus twenty-five percent, and then he went up to cost plus fifty percent for our remaining forces. I could only imagine the reactions. It was clear to me, however, that without something from the Arab nations, Trump would almost certainly withdraw the few remaining US forces in Syria, and sooner rather than later. I spoke with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani; Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, my counterpart in the United Arab Emirates; and Abbas Kamel, the head of Egypts national intelligence service. I made it clear the idea came directly from the President, and they all promised to take it very seriously. Later, explaining the background, I turned all this over to Pompeo when he became Secretary of State, saying we were going nowhere fast. He readily agreed, and there it ended. At nine fifteen a.m., Kelly asked me to his office, saying Trump had just called, among other things wanting to revisit the strike package he had agreed to the day before. We got Mattis and Dunford on the phone and then connected to Trump, who was still in the Residence. I dont love the targets, he said, it could be criticized as nothing, thus making essentially the point I had raised in Thursdays NSC meeting. He was now also a little concerned about chemical plumes after the attack, although Mattis had emphasized the day before that the Defense Department didnt think there would be any. Trump said he was thinking of tweeting that he had planned to attack but had called it off because there were no good targets anymore, although he would keep his finger on the trigger. I nearly imploded, and I could only imagine what Mattis and Dunford were doing. Kelly seemed nonchalant, having doubtless been through this drill countless times. Were knocking out nothing, Trump repeated. I said that we should have agreed on a heavier strike, but we were now past the point of changing our mind and doing nothing but tweeting; the others agreed. Trump was irritated at Germany and prepared to get out of NATO, and also determined to stop Nord Stream II (a natural-gas Baltic pipeline project directly connecting Russia to Germany). Nord Stream II was not directly relevant here, but once reminded of it, he asked Mnuchin to make sure he was working on it. Dont waste this [Syria] crisis on Merkel, he said, referring to the pipeline project. Trump then launched into possible Russian actions in retaliation for a Syria strike, such as sinking a US Navy vessel, which Mattis assured him was very unlikely, despite the presence of several Russian warships in the Eastern Mediterranean. After more rambling, Trump seemed to settle on going ahead, and Kelly said quickly, Well take that as a go order for 2100, meaning the time now projected for Trumps Friday night speech announcing the attack. Trump said, Yes. Trumps call to Kelly, and Kellys intervention, reflected how much of [my] job Kelly [was] doing, as McMaster had put it to me the week before. Nonetheless, I was glad this time that Kellys experience in the Trump White House stopped the spreading chaos of this telephone discussion and allowed a fully considered (if inadequate, in my view) decision to go forward. Fortunately, the day brought no more hiccups, and we began calling key House and Senate lawmakers. Macron called again to say that, after speaking with Putin, all seemed well in Moscow. Putin had given the standard line that Assads forces had not conducted a chemical-weapons attack, but it was clear that we and Macron all knew Putin was lying. Putin had also commented how unfortunate it would be in public-relations terms if Assads attacks had been falsely reported, from which I understood Macron to surmise that Russia was running influence campaigns in Britain and France about Syria, and possibly also in America. After the call, I stayed with Trump in the Oval for another half hour. Trump asked how things were going, observing, This is what youve been practicing for. As he had done a few days before, he raised the possibility of a pardon for Scooter Libby, which I strongly supported. I had known Libby since the Bush 41 Administration and felt his treatment in the Valerie Plame affair demonstrated all the reasons why the independent counsel concept was so badly flawed and so unjust. Trump signed the pardon a few hours later. In the afternoon, Stephen Miller brought in the Presidents speechwriting team to talk about his evening address to the nation. The draft looked good, and at about 5:00 p.m., back in the Oval, Trump went over the speech word by word until he was satisfied. Pompeo called at about 3:40, and I congratulated him on his successful confirmation hearings on Thursday. He had asked Gina Haspel to tell Trump that he was prepared to take even stronger action against Syria, which was good to know in case things came unstuck again in the next few hours. Actual operations for the attack were well under way by the early evening. Because this was a time-on-target attack, some weapons were launched well before others so that they all arrived as close as possible to simultaneously on their targets. At eight thirty, several of us walked to the Diplomatic Reception Room, where the speech would be broadcast. We did not walk through the colonnade, to avoid tipping anyone off that something was about to happen, but across the dark South Lawn, thereby getting a breathtaking close-up view of the White House illuminated at night. Trump was upstairs in the living quarters and took the elevator to the ground floor at about eight forty-five. We went quickly through the speech one more time. Trump delivered it well, shook hands with the aides around him, and returned to the living quarters. I went back to my office to pack up and head home, finding to my amazement that the West Wing was full of tourists at nine thirty at night! The strike went nearly perfectly, with Syrian air defenses firing over forty surface-to-air missiles, none of which hit our incoming cruise missiles.24 We believed Assad was surprised by the extent of the destruction, and there were no chemical plumes. On Saturday, Trump tweeted happily about the attack and spoke with May and Macron,25 who were equally pleased with the retaliation and the Western unity it had demonstrated. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres criticized the strike for not having Security Council authorization, and therefore its inconsistency with international law, which some of us thought was ridiculous. I spent most of the day in the West Wing just in case follow-up activity might be needed. Did we succeed in deterring Assad? Ultimately, we did not. After my resignation, the world learned that Assad had again used chemical weapons against civilian populations in May 2019,26 and there had likely also been other uses. In short, whereas in 2017 the US strike produced perhaps twelve months of deterrence, the somewhat larger 2018 strike produced roughly only thirteen months. And on broader Syria policy, and the handling of Irans growing regional hegemony, this Syria debate only underscored the confusion that would dog US policy during my tenure and beyond. To borrow Professor Edward Corwins famous phrase, Syria policy remained an invitation to struggle. CHAPTER 3 AMERICA BREAKS FREE On the Monday after the Syria attack, I flew with Trump to Florida, taking my first ride on Marine One from the South Lawn to Joint Base Andrews, and then Air Force One to Miami. Our destination was nearby Hialeah for a rally boosting Trumps efforts to create a positive business climate. The over-five-hundred-strong audience consisted largely of Cuban- and Venezuelan-Americans, and when Trump introduced me, in the context of the Syria strike, I got a standing ovation. Trump, obviously surprised, asked, Are you giving him all the credit? You know that means the end of his job. What fun. Senator Marco Rubio, however, had foreshadowed the ovation earlier when he raised my appointment as National Security Advisor: Its a bad day for Maduro and Castro, and a great day for the cause of freedom. I had long worked on these issues, and the crowd knew it even if Trump didnt. Air Force One flew afterward to Palm Beach, and we then motorcaded to Mar-a-Lago. I continued preparing for Trumps summit with Japanese Prime Minister Abe, with a heavy focus on North Koreas nuclear-weapons program, the main purpose of Abes trip. Even the simple task of preparing Trump for Abes visit turned out to be arduous, and a sign of things to come. We arranged two briefings, one largely on North Korea and security issues, and one on trade and economic issues, corresponding to the schedule of meetings between Abe and Trump. Although the first Abe-Trump meeting was on political matters, our briefing room was filled with trade-policy types who, having heard there was a briefing, wandered in. Trump was late, so I said we would have a brief discussion on trade and then get to North Korea. It was a mistake. Trump, set off by a comment that we had no better ally than Japan, jarringly complained about Japans attack on Pearl Harbor. Things went downhill from there. Before long, Abe arrived, and the session ended. I pulled Kelly aside to discuss the fruitless briefing, and he said, Youre going to be very frustrated in this job. I answered, No, Im not, if there are minimal rules of order. This is not a Trump problem; this is a White House staff problem. I dont need a lecture from you, Kelly shot back, and I replied, Im not lecturing you, Im telling you the facts, and you know its true. Kelly paused and said, It was a mistake to let them [the trade people] in, and we agreed to fix the problem next time. But in truth, Kelly was right and I was wrong. It was a Trump problem, and it never got fixed. Abe and Trump first had a one-on-one meeting, and then they and their delegations convened in Mar-a-Lagos White and Gold Ballroom, which was indeed very white and very gold, at three p.m. Abe greeted me by saying, Welcome back, because we had known each other for over fifteen years. As is typical at such meetings, the press mob then stampeded in, cameras rolling. Abe explained that, during the one-on-one, he and Trump had forged a mutual understanding that all options were on the table regarding North Korea, where we needed maximum pressure and the threat of overwhelming military power.1 Certainly, that was my view, although at that very moment Pompeo was busy negotiating where Trumps summit with Kim Jong Un would occur. The Abe visit was perfectly timed to stiffen Trumps resolve not to give away the store. After the media shuffled reluctantly out, Abe and Trump had a lengthy discussion on North Korea and then turned to trade issues. While this meeting continued, the press was exploding on something else. In the hectic hours before the Syria strike, Trump had initially agreed to impose more sanctions on Russia. Moscows presence in Syria was crucial to propping up Assads regime, and perhaps facilitating (or at least allowing) chemical-weapons attacks and other atrocities. Afterward, however, Trump changed his mind. We made our point, Trump told me early Saturday morning, and we could hit them much harder if need be later. Moreover, the US had just imposed substantial sanctions on Russia on April 6, as required by the Countering Americas Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,2 which Trump detested because Russia was its target. Trump believed that acknowledging Russias meddling in US politics, or in that of many other countries in Europe and elsewhere, would implicitly acknowledge that he had colluded with Russia in his 2016 campaign. This view is wrong as a matter of both logic and politics; Trump could have had a stronger hand dealing with Russia if he had attacked its efforts at electoral subversion, rather than ignored them, especially since the concrete actions, such as economic sanctions, taken by his Administration were actually quite robust. As for his assessment of Putin himself, he never offered an opinion, at least in front of me. I never asked what Trumps view was, perhaps afraid of what I might hear. His personal take on the Russian leader remained a mystery. I tried to persuade him to proceed with the new sanctions, but he wasnt buying. I said Mnuchin and I would make sure Treasury didnt make any announcement. Fortunately, since many senior officials were all too familiar with the roller-coaster ride of Administration decisions, there was a built-in pause before Trumps initial approval of new sanctions would actually be carried out. A final go/no go decision was to be made on Saturday, so I told Ricky Waddell, McMasters Deputy and still on board, to get the word out to stop any forward motion. NSC staff informed Treasury first, then all the others, and Treasury agreed it would also alert everyone the sanctions were off. On the Sunday-morning talk shows, however, Haley said Treasury would be announcing Russia sanctions on Monday. Immediately, there were red flags and alarm bells. Jon Lerner, Haleys political advisor, told Waddell that the US Mission to the UN in New York knew the orders on the Russia sanctions, and said, She [Haley] just slipped, a breathtaking understatement. Magnetic attraction to television cameras, a common political ailment, had created the problem, but it was also a process foul: the sanctions were for Treasury to announce. The Ambassador to the UN had no role to play, except, in this case, mistakenly stealing the limelight. Trump called me at six thirty p.m. to ask how the Sunday shows had gone, and I told him about the Russia mistake and what we were doing to fix it. Yeah, whats up with that? Trump asked. This is too much. I explained what Haley had done, and Trump said, Shes not a student, you know. Call the Russians and tell them. That I did, ringing Moscows US Ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, whom I knew from the Bush 43 Administration, shortly thereafter. I wasnt about to tell him what had actually happened, so I just said Haley had made an honest mistake. Antonov was a lonely man, since people in Washington were now afraid to be seen talking to Russians, so I invited him to the White House to meet. This pleased Trump when I later debriefed him, because now we could start talking about the meeting he wanted with Putin. I also filled in Pompeo on Haley and the days Russia events, and I sensed over the phone he was shaking his head in dismay. Notwithstanding that Moscow was calm, the US press on Monday was raging away on the Russia sanctions story. Trump gave Sanders press guidance that we had hit Russia hard with sanctions and were considering more, hoping that would stop the bleeding caused by Haleys comments. I spoke to States Acting Secretary, John Sullivan, who agreed State bore some generic responsibility, since in the Tillerson-Haley days, there had been essentially no communication between State and our UN mission in New York. Haley was a free electron, which she had obviously gotten used to, communicating directly with Trump. I told Sullivan of the screaming matches between Al Haig and Jeane Kirkpatrick in the early days of the Reagan Administration, and Sullivan laughed, At least they were talking. By Tuesday, the press was still baying away. Haley called me at nine forty-five, worried about being left out on a limb: Im not going to take it. I dont want to have to answer for it. She denied she or the US mission had been informed of the Saturday rollback. I said I would check further, even though her own staff had admitted on Sunday that she had made a misstep. I had Waddell check again with Treasury, which was getting tired of being blamed. They emphasized they had made clear to everyone on Friday, including the UN Ambassadors representative, that, whatever Trumps decision, no announcement would be made until Monday morning, just before US markets opened. I thought that was a telling point. Treasury also confirmed they had called around on Saturday, as the NSC staff had done, to follow up. And anyway, why should our UN Ambassador make the announcement? Waddell spoke again with Haley aide Jon Lerner, who said, She shouldnt have done it it was a slip of the tongue. Meanwhile, Trump groused about how the press was spinning what was, without doubt, a reversal of policy, because he worried it made him look weak on Russia. The wildfire, however, was about to break out on another front, as Larry Kudlow briefed the press on the Trump-Abe discussions. Sanders wanted me to join Kudlow, but I chose not to, for the same reason I declined to go on the Sunday talk shows: I didnt see any point in being a TV star in my first week on the job. In live coverage of Kudlows briefing, asked the inevitable question about the Russia sanctions, Kudlow said there had been some momentary confusion and then made the points Trump had dictated to Sanders on Air Force One. Haley immediately fired off a message to Foxs Dana Perino: With all due respect, I dont get confused, and, boom, the war was on again, at least for a while. Haley got a good book title out of the incident. But, with all due respect, Haley wasnt confused. She was wrong. After Trump and Abe golfed on Wednesday morning, there was a working lunch, largely on trade matters, which did not begin until three p.m. The two leaders held a joint press conference, and a dinner between the two delegations started at seven fifteen, a lot of food in a short period. I flew back to Washington on the First Ladys plane, considering this summit a real success on substantive issues like North Korea. My focus now, however, was Iran, and the opportunity presented by the next sanctions waiver decision, on May 12, to force the issue of withdrawal. Pompeo had called me in Florida on Tuesday evening, spun up about what to do on the Iran nuclear deal. I couldnt tell if he was still wired after his difficult confirmation process, which was entirely understandable, or if he was being played by people at State who were getting increasingly agitated that we might finally withdraw. After a difficult, sometimes testy, back-and-forth about the inevitable criticism from the High-Minded a withdrawal decision would cause, Pompeo said he would have State think more thoroughly about what would follow from our exit, something they had adamantly resisted doing thus far. I worried that Pompeos evident nervousness about blowing away the Iran nuclear deal could lead to even more delay. Knowing that States bureaucracy would seize on indecisiveness to obstruct the demise of yet another hallowed international agreement, hesitation at the Administrations political level could be fatal. Trump stayed in Florida the rest of the week, but back in Washington, I focused on Iran. I had long believed that Irans nuclear threat, while not as advanced operationally as North Koreas, was as dangerous, potentially more so because of the revolutionary theological obsessions motivating its leaders. Tehrans nuclear program (as well as its chemical and biological weapons work) and its ballistic-missile capabilities made it both a regional and global threat. In the already tense Middle East, Irans progress in the nuclear field inspired othersTurkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabiato take steps ultimately consistent with having their own nuclear-weapons capabilities, evidence of the proliferation phenomenon at work. Iran also had the dubious distinction of being the worlds central banker of international terrorism, with an active record particularly in the Middle East of supporting terrorist groups with weapons and finance, and by deploying its own conventional military capabilities in foreign countries in aid of its strategic objectives. And after forty years, the fervor of Irans Islamic Revolution showed no signs of abating in its political and military leaders. I met with the UKs Mark Sedwill, then with my German counterpart, Jan Hecker, and spoke at length by phone with Frances Philippe ?tienne. While I said repeatedly no final decision had been made, I also tried every way possible to explain there was no avenue for fixing the agreement, as the State Department had pleaded for well over a year. For all three of my counterparts, and their governments, this was hard news. That was why I kept repeating it, knowing, or at least hoping, that Trump would withdraw from the deal in a matter of weeks. The news would be a thunderclap, and I wanted to be certain I did everything possible so that our closest allies were not surprised. With imminent visits to the White House by Macron and Merkel, there were ample opportunities for full discussion of these issues, but they needed to know in advance that this time Trump meant to get out. Probably. I expected, despite his wobble when I was at Mar-a-Lago, that Pompeo would instill some discipline at State, but he had run into a confirmation problem with Rand Paul. Paul eventually declared support for Pompeo, in exchange for Pompeos saying (1) that the 2003 Iraq war had been a mistake, and (2) at least according to a Paul tweet, that regime change was a bad idea and that we should withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible. I felt sorry for Pompeo, because I was sure those were not his real views. I was never faced with having to recant my views in order to get a vote, or even to get the NSC job from Trump, so I never had to make the decision Pompeo faced. States John Sullivan told me later that day about his courtesy call with Paul during his confirmation process. Paul had said he would vote for Sullivan for one reason only: Your name is not John Bolton. Kelly had also told me that, in the course of the Pompeo negotiations, Paul said I was the worst fucking decision Trump had made. Kelly replied, He seems like a nice guy to me, which set Paul off on another tirade. It all made me proud. During these hectic first two weeks, I also participated in several trade-related meetings and calls. I was a free trader, but I agreed with Trump that many international agreements reflected not true free trade but managed trade and were far from advantageous to the US. I particularly agreed that China had gamed the system. It pursued mercantilist policies in the supposedly free-trade World Trade Organization (WTO), all the while stealing US intellectual property and engaging in forced technology transfers that robbed us of incalculable capital and commerce over decades. Trump understood that a strong domestic US economy was critical to the effective projection of US political and military power (not, as I began to understand, that he wanted to do much projecting), which precept applied to China and everyone else. And I had no truck whatever with WTO decision-making and adjudication processes that were intended to subsume national decision-making. I completely agreed on this point with US Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer, a former colleague from Covington and Burling, where we had been associates together in the mid-1970s. Decision-making on trade issues under Trump, however, was painful. There could have been an orderly path, using the NSCs interagency structure, cochaired with Kudlows National Economic Council, to develop trade-policy options, but there was only one person who thought that was a good idea: me. Instead, the issues were discussed in weekly meetings, chaired by Trump, in the Roosevelt Room or the Oval, that more closely resembled college food fights than careful decision-making, with no lower-level interagency effort to sort the issues and the options. After these sessions, had I believed in yoga, I probably could have used some. I attended my first trade meeting in late April, in preparation for a Mnuchin-Lighthizer trip to Beijing. Trump allowed as how tariffs are a mans best friend, which was chilling, but at least he said to Mnuchin, Youre going to China to kick their ass. That I liked. Looking at me, Trump said China was strictly enforcing sanctions against North Korea because they feared a trade war with us, which was only partially correct: In my view, China was not strictly enforcing sanctions.3 Mnuchin and Kudlow predicted a global depression if a real trade war erupted, but Trump brushed them aside: The Chinese dont give a shit about us; they are cold-blooded killers [on trade]. I could see that trade issues would be a wild ride. Macron arrived on April 24 for the Trump Administrations first State visit, replete with a ceremony that must have impressed even the French. Sadly for the press, nothing went wrong. The French and US delegations lined up on the South Lawn, with the President and First Lady in the Diplomatic Reception Room, waiting for the Macrons to arrive, and the military bands playing away. I asked Dunford at one point the name of one of the songs, and he asked the Washington Military Districts commander, but neither of them knew. Another disappointment, said Dunford, and we both laughed. The military pageantry was impressive, especially when the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, dressed in Revolutionary War uniforms, marched in review, playing Yankee Doodle. It made up for a lot of bureaucratic agony. Before the Macron-Trump one-on-one in the Oval, the press mob shambled in for the customary pictures and questions. Trump characterized the Iran deal as insane, ridiculous, and the like.4 I wondered if this time people would take it seriously. With the press cleared from the Oval, Trump and Macron spoke alone for much longer than expected, the bulk of which consisted, as Trump told me later, of his explaining to Macron that we were exiting the Iran deal.5 Macron tried to persuade Trump not to withdraw but failed. Instead, Macron worked to ensnare Trump in a larger negotiating framework of four pillars that was discussed in the expanded meeting in the Cabinet Room after the one-on-one (the four pillars being: handling Irans nuclear program now; handling it tomorrow; Irans ballistic-missile program; and regional peace and security).6 Macron was a clever politician, trying to spin a clear defeat into something that sounded at least somewhat positive from his perspective. Speaking almost entirely in English during the meeting, he said unambiguously about the agreement: No one thinks its a sufficient deal,7 arguing we should work for a new comprehensive agreement based on the four pillars. During the meeting, Trump asked for my opinion of the Iran deal. I said it wouldnt stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons and that there was no way to fix the deals basic flaws. Knowing of Trumps penchant to deal on anything, I mentioned Eisenhowers famous observation If you cant solve a problem, enlarge it, and said I thought that was what Macron seemed to be doing. It was something we could explore after withdrawing and reimposing US sanctions, which Mnuchin affirmed we were completely ready to do. Said Trump the builder, You cant build on a bad foundation. Kerry made a bad deal. Im not saying what Im going to do, but if I end the deal, Im open to making a new deal. Id rather try to solve everything than leave it like it is. We should, he said, get a new deal rather than fixing a bad deal.8 (Macron told Trump in a subsequent call that he was eager to rush to find a new deal, which didnt produce any resonance from Trump.) The meeting then turned to trade and other issues, and broke around 12:25 to prepare for the joint press conference. At that event, neither leader said much that was new or different on Iran, although, at one point, Trump observed, nobody knows what Im going to do, although, Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea.9 Later, the black-tie state dinner was very nice, if you like eating until 10:30 at night. Even at that, Gretchen and I skipped the subsequent entertainment, as did John Kelly and his wife, Karen, whom we ran into as we all picked up briefcases and work clothes from our offices on the way home. Preparations to leave the deal took a giant step forward when Mattis agreed on April 25, If you decide to withdraw, I can live with it. Hardly an enthusiastic endorsement, but it at least signaled that Mattis wouldnt die in a ditch over it. Even so, Mattis extensively restated his opposition to withdrawal every chance he got, to which Trump said resolutely a few days later, I cant stay in. That was the definitive statement that we were leaving. Later in the morning of April 25, Trump again emphasized to me that he wanted Mnuchin fully ready with the heaviest possible sanctions when we exited. I also met that morning with ?tienne, and my clear impression was that Macron had not briefed the French side fully on the one-on-one with Trump. This was excellent news, since it meant Macron fully understood that Trump had told him we were about to withdraw. The Trump-Merkel April 27 summit was a working visit rather than a state visit, so not as grand as Macrons. Trumps one-on-one with Merkel lasted only fifteen minutes before the larger Cabinet Room meeting, which he opened by complaining about Germanys feeding the beast (meaning Russia) through the Nord Stream II pipeline, moving on to the European Union (EU), which he thought treated the US horribly. It was clear to me that Trump thought Germany was Russias captive. Trump also used a line I later heard countless times, that the EU is worse than China except smaller,10 adding that the EU was set up to take advantage of the US, which Merkel disputed (in English, as the whole meeting was). She also asked for three to four months delay in imposing global steel and aluminum tariffs Trump was considering, so the EU could negotiate with the US. Trump answered that he didnt want to negotiate with the EU. Too bad he didnt feel that way about North Korea, I thought to myself.11 Trump had already turned to Germanys failure to meet its NATO commitment to increase defense expenditures to 2 percent of GDP, describing Merkel as one of the great tap dancers on NATO, which she was now doing on trade.12 Merkel kept pressing for an extension, even two months, on the tariffs, but Trump said it would be a waste of time, just like NATO. He asked when Germany would reach 2 percent, and Merkel answered 2030, innocently, which caused even Germans to smile and Trump to say that she had been saying the same thing for sixteen months. On tariffs, Merkel finally said he could do whatever he wanted because he was a free man. Mention of Iran was desultory. Merkel asked us to stay in the deal, and Trump reacted with indifference. At the press event, Trump said of Iran, They will not be doing nuclear weapons, and that was pretty much it. Possibly more eventful was yet another putative Israeli attack on Iranian positions in Syria the day after,13 which Mattis and others at the Pentagon worried could prompt Iranian retaliation (probably through surrogate Shia militia groups in Iraq) on US forces. None happened, and in any event Trump seemed unconcerned. Briefing Netanyahu on his Iran thinking, Trump said that the whole deal was based on lies, Iran had played the United States for fools, and that Israel should feel free to flay the deal publicly, which of course Netanyahu was already busily doing. As the days went by, I quietly confirmed with Mnuchin, Haley, Coats, Haspel and others that everything pointed to an early May withdrawal from the Iran deal, and that we all needed to think of the decisions appropriate rollout and follow-up steps in our respective areas. Mnuchin insisted he needed six months to get the sanctions back in place, which I couldnt understand. Why not make the reimposed sanctions effective immediately, with some short grace period, say three months, to allow businesses to adjust existing contracts and the like? This was a perennial problem with Treasury under Mnuchin. He seemed as concerned with mitigating the impact of sanctions as with imposing them to begin with. No wonder Iran, North Korea, and others were so good at evading sanctions: they had plenty of time to get ready under Mnuchins approach (which was, in essence, the same as Obamas). Pompeo agreed with me that the sanctions should take immediate effect. We did score a small victory when Mnuchin reduced the wind-down period on most goods and services from 180 days to 90 days, except for oil and insurance, which he kept at 180 days. Of course, oil was the overwhelmingly most important economic issue at stake, so Mnuchins retreat was hardly significant. And we were not talking just about winding down existing contracts, but a grace period within which new contracts could be entered and performed with no prohibition at all. It was unnecessarily self-defeating. Pompeo, Mattis, and I had our first weekly breakfast at the Pentagon on May 2 at six a.m., and Mattis continued to make his case against withdrawing. It was clear that Trump had made up his mind. Throughout the rest of the day and the week, and over the weekend, preparations intensified for the withdrawal announcement, particularly drafting the official presidential decision document, to make sure there were no loopholes that supporters could crawl back through. Stephen Miller and his speechwriters were also working away on Trumps speech, which was progressing well. Trump had plenty to add, so the drafting went right until the text had to be prepared for the teleprompters. Although I had aimed for Trumps announcement to be on May 7, Sanders told me that the First Lady had an event scheduled that day, so we moved the withdrawal to May 8. Thus are weighty matters of state disposed. And, in fact, even there Trump wavered, wondering about one date or another, literally until almost the last minute. There was a final, perfunctory Trump-May phone call on Iran and other issues on Saturday, May 5,14 and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrived in Washington Sunday night for further discussions. That night as well, Mattis sent me a classified document at home again opposing the withdrawal, but still not requesting a high-level meeting to discuss it. I felt like saying that his position was well preserved and well papered for history, but I refrained. The Pentagon still wasnt telling us what it would have to do operationally if the US withdrew, having moved from overt opposition into guerilla warfare. It didnt slow us down. I saw Johnson in my office at nine a.m. Monday, having first met him in London in 2017, discussing Iran and North Korea at length. We reviewed Trumps recent meetings with Macron and Merkel, and Macrons four pillars idea; Johnson said they had been thinking along the same lines. I said I would be happy to call the idea Johnsons four pillars, and we all laughingly agreed. He, like Macron, stressed that Britain fully understood the existing deals weaknesses, which would have surprised many supporters who still worshipped at its altar.15 I explained why the announcement would be coming soon, although, knowing Trump, I did not say it would be the next day. We would not then simply lapse into inaction but would bring back into force all the nuclear-related US sanctions the deal had put on ice. As we parted, I reminded Johnson that I had said to him the previous summer that I wanted to help out on Brexit, and still did, although we had had little chance to talk about it. I spoke later with Sedwill about this conversation and was later on the phone with ?tienne when he exclaimed that Trump had just tweeted: I will be announcing my decision on the Iran Deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00pm. No suspense left there. ?tienne had been watching Trumps tweets more carefully than I! There was little doubt what was coming, which I confirmed to Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and a few others, not that anyone needed much explanation. On D-day itself, Trump called Chinas Xi Jinping at eight thirty a.m. on several issues, including North Korea. Trump said he would be making a statement on Iran shortly and asked, in an almost childlike way, if Xi wanted to know what he would say. Xi said it sounded like Trump wanted to tell him, a completely on-target insight. Trump, in a why not? moment, said that, feeling trust in confiding in Xi, he was terminating the nuclear deal, which was bad, and that we would see what happened. Xi said he would keep the news confidential, adding simply that the US knew Chinas position, meaning Xi did not plan to make it a major bilateral issue. Macron called and asked what Trump planned to say on Iran, but Trump wanted to be sure Macron would be circumspect. He admonished Macron not to make it public, asking for Macrons word. Macron replied affirmatively, believing that Iran should not leave the deal, nor would France as they worked to achieve a comprehensive new deal, as the two leaders had discussed previously. Trump didnt think Iran would exit, because they were making too much money. Trump mused that at some point he should meet with Iranian President Rouhani, flattering Macron as the best of the Europeans, and that he should tell Rouhani Trump was right. Trump delivered the speech at about two fifteen p.m., which went according to script, with Pence, Mnuchin, Ivanka, Sanders, and myself in attendance. Afterward, we all walked back to the Oval Office feeling things had gone off as planned and that the speech would be well received. A few minutes after two thirty, I conducted a close encounter with reporters in the White House briefing room, which was on the record but not on camera so that the media pictures would be, appropriately, of the President giving his speech. With that, we were done. It had taken one month to shred the Iran nuclear deal, showing how easy it was to do once somebody took events in hand. I did my best to prepare our allies Britain, Germany, and France for what happened, because they had seemed completely unready for a possible US withdrawal. A lot remained to be done to bring Iran to its knees, or to overthrow the regime, Trumps stated policy to the contrary notwithstanding, but we were off to a great start. For several months after the withdrawal, work proceeded to follow up on Trumps decision to reimpose economic sanctions, and to take other steps to increase pressure on Tehran consistent with his decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal. Basically, the initial plan was to bring back into effect all the previous sanctions suspended by Obamas nuclear deal and then make adjustments to close loopholes, increase enforcement activity, and turn the campaign into maximum pressure on Iran.16 By July 26, it was time to hold a restricted Principals Committee meeting to see how we were doing, which we did at two p.m. in the Sit Room. The most interesting part of the meeting was Mattiss efforts to downplay the overall importance of Iran in the international threat matrix facing the US. He said Russia, China, and North Korea were bigger threats, although his reasons were vague, and I was pleased to see Pompeo and Mnuchin both push back, given that Iran was one of the top four threats identified in the National Security Strategy Trump had approved before my arrival. But the ghost of Mattiss protestations about taking Iran seriously would dog us right until the end of 2018, when he departed, and beyond. So momentous was this meeting that it leaked to the press and was reported the next day.17 In the meantime, Irans currency was dropping through the floor. In mid-August 2018, and then again in January 2019, I traveled to Israel to meet with Netanyahu and other key Israeli officials on a range of issues, but especially Iran. This was existential for Israel, and Netanyahu had become the leading strategist on rolling back Irans nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs. He also clearly understood that regime change was far and away the most likely way to permanently alter Iranian behavior. Even if that was not the Trump Administrations declared policy, it certainly could happen as the effects of sanctions took hold. Moreover, given the views of the Middle Easts Arab oil-producing states, there was, and had been tacitly for years, agreement on the common threat Iran posed to them and Israel among themselves, albeit for different reasons. This Iran consensus was also contemporaneously making possible a new push to resolve the Israel-Palestine dispute, which strategically could very much benefit America. Whether we could make the most of these new alignments operationally, of course, was very different. By early September, attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad and the US consulate in Basra, undoubtedly, in my view, by Shia militia groups acting at Irans behest, revealed new tensions within the Administration, as many in State and Defense resisted forceful responses.18 The unwillingness to retaliate, thereby raising the costs to the attackers and hopefully deterring them in the future, reflected the hangover of Obama-era policies. Even twenty months into the Trump presidency, new appointees and new policies were not yet in place. If it were still early 2017, the problem might have been understandable, but it was sheer malpractice that bureaucratic inertia persisted in such critical policy areas. The debate over responding to these sorts of attacks lasted right through my tenure, because of obstructionism and Trumps impulsive desires to reduce Americas troop presence in the region, leading uniformly in a more passive direction. For all that Trump hated about the Obama Administration, it was no small irony that his own idiosyncratic views simply reinforced the bureaucracys existing tendencies, all to the detriment of US interests in the Middle East more broadly. I was also troubled by Treasurys unwillingness to bear down on Irans participation in the global financial messaging system known as SWIFT. There was considerable interest among congressional Republicans in stopping Irans continued connection to the system, but Mnuchin and Treasury objected. They had understandable concerns, but invariably they pushed for no change in existing policy, the characteristic attribute of bureaucratic inertia. The real answer was to squeeze Iran ever harder and work to find more ways to comprehensively monitor Iran, not to give it a pass simply to continue with monitoring mechanisms that could be replaced and perhaps even improved with a little effort.19 The NSC staff and I kept pushing on this, largely behind the scenes, and succeeded later in the year, but even more difficult obstacles to our Iran policy emerged in the coming year. CHAPTER 4 THE SINGAPORE SLING Even as we neared withdrawing from the wretched Iran nuclear deal, Trumps focus on North Koreas nuclear-weapons program resumed. The more I learned, the more discouraged and pessimistic I became about a Trump-Kim summit. I was deeply skeptical of efforts to negotiate the North out of its nuclear-weapons program,1 which Pyongyang had already sold many times to the US and others in exchange for economic benefits. Despite breaching its commitments repeatedly, North Korea always cajoled a gullible America back to the negotiating table to make more concessions, ceding time to a proliferator, which invariably benefits from delay. Here we were, at it again, having learned nothing. Worse, we were legitimizing Kim Jong Un, commandant of the North Korean prison camp, by giving him a free meeting with Trump. It called to mind Winston Churchills dark 1935 observation about Britains failed policies toward Germany: When the situation was manageable, it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand, we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience, and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gongthese are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.2 Having endured eight years of Obama mistakes, which I constantly feared would include dangerous concessions to North Korea, as his Iran policy had, not to mention the Bush 43 Administrations failed Six-Party Talks and Clintons failed Agreed Framework, I was sick at heart over Trumps zeal to meet with Kim Jong Un. Pompeo told me that Trumps fascination with meeting Kim dated to the Administrations outset; clearly the options were very limited. On April 12, in the midst of the Syria whirlwind, I met with my South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, Director of their National Security Office. In March, in the Oval, Chung had extended Kims invitation to meet to Trump, who accepted on the spur of the moment. Ironically, Chung later all but admitted that it was he who had suggested to Kim that he make the invitation in the first place!3 This whole diplomatic fandango was South Koreas creation, relating more to its unification agenda than serious strategy on Kims part or ours. The Souths understanding of our terms to denuclearize North Korea bore no relationship to fundamental US national interests, from my perspective. It was risky theatrics, in my view, not substance. I urged Chung to avoid discussing denuclearization at the upcoming April 27 North-South summit, to prevent Pyongyang from driving a wedge between South Korea, Japan, and the US, one of its favorite diplomatic strategies. I told Trump that we needed the closest possible coordination with Moon Jae-in to avoid North Koreas engineering a split between Washington and Seoul. I wanted to preserve USSouth Korean alignment, and avoid the headline Trump rejects South Korea compromise, but he seemed unconcerned. Later in the morning, I met with my Japanese counterpart, Shotaro Yachi, who wanted me to hear their perspective as soon as possible. Tokyos view of the looming Trump-Kim meeting was 180 degrees from South Koreasin short, pretty much like my own. Yachi said they believed the Norths determination to get nuclear weapons was fixed, and that we were nearing the last chance for a peaceful solution. Japan wanted none of the action for action formula that characterized Bush 43s failed Six-Party Talks.4 Action for action sounded reasonable, but it inevitably worked to benefit North Korea (or any proliferator) by front-loading economic benefits to the North but dragging out dismantling the nuclear program into the indefinite future. The marginal benefits to Pyongyang of even modest economic aid (or release from pain, like easing sanctions) was much greater than the marginal benefits to us of the step-by-step elimination of the nuclear program. Kim Jong Un knew this just as well as we did. At that point, Japan wanted dismantlement to begin immediately upon a Trump-Kim agreement and to take no longer than two years. I urged, however, based on the experience in Libya, that dismantlement should take only six to nine months. Yachi only smiled in response, but when Abe met Trump at Mar-a-Lago the following week (see chapter 3), Abe asked for dismantlement to take six to nine months!5 Yachi also stressed North Koreas abduction of Japanese citizens over many years, a powerfully emotional issue in Japans public opinion and a key element in Abes successful political career. At Mar-a-Lago and later, Trump committed to pursuing this issue and followed through faithfully in every subsequent encounter with Kim Jong Un. Pompeo, the Administrations initial contact for North Korea as CIA Director, was already negotiating the summits venue and date, and the prospect of releasing three American hostages. Kim wanted the meeting in Pyongyang or Panmunjom, both of which Pompeo and I agreed were nonstarters. Pompeo saw Geneva and Singapore as the two most acceptable choices, but Kim didnt like to fly. North Koreas rickety airplanes couldnt reach either city anyway, and he didnt want to be too far from Pyongyang. My hope: maybe the whole thing would collapse! At Mar-a-Lago, Abe spoke at length about North Koreas nuclear program, stressing as had Yachi in our earlier meeting in Washington, that we needed a truly effective agreement, unlike the Iran nuclear deal which Trump had so frequently criticized, and which the Obama Administration itself had emphasized was not even signed.6 Of course, Pyongyang was just as capable of lying about a signed as an unsigned document, but it might just trip them up. Abe also urged Japans long-standing positions that, in discussing ballistic missiles, we include short- and medium-range missiles (which could hit significant parts of Japans home islands) as well as ICBMs (which the North needed to hit the continental United States). Similarly, Japan also wanted to eliminate the Norths biological and chemical weapons, which I agreed should be part of any agreement with Pyongyang.7 Trump asked Abe what he thought of Kims recent visit to see Xi Jinping in China, and Abe said it reflected the impact of Americas implicit threat to use military force, and the cutoff, under international sanctions, of much of the oil flow from China. Abe emphasized that the US strike against Syria a few days before had sent a strong signal to North Korea and Russia. Kim Jong Uns father, Kim Jong Il, had been frightened when Bush 43 included the North in the Axis of Evil, and military pressure was the best leverage on Pyongyang. I thought Abes convincing presentation would sway Trump, but the impact turned out to be limited. The Japanese had the same sense that Trump needed continual reminders, which explained why Abe conferred so frequently with Trump on North Korea throughout the Administration. On April 21, the North announced with great fanfare that it was forgoing further nuclear and ballistic-missile testing because it was already a nuclear power. The credulous media took this as a major step forward, and Trump called it big progress.8 I saw just another propaganda ploy. If the necessary testing were now concluded, Pyongyang could simply complete the work necessary for weapons and delivery-system production capability. Chung returned on April 24 before Moons inter-Korean summit with Kim at the DMZ. I was relieved Chung contemplated that the leaders Panmunjom Declaration would only be two pages, which meant whatever it said about denuclearization could not be very specific. I sensed that South Korea believed Kim Jong Un was desperate for a deal because of the pressure imposed by sanctions, and that economic development was the Norths top priority, now that it was a nuclear-weapons state. I did not find this reasoning comforting. Meanwhile, Pompeo was narrowing the options on timing and location for the Trump-Kim meeting, probably June 12 or 13, in either Geneva or Singapore. The April 27 Moon-Kim festival at the DMZ had everything but doves with olive branches flying around but was actually almost substance-free. On Friday morning Washington time, I gave Trump a copy of a New York Times op-ed by Nick Eberstadt,9 one of Americas most astute Korea watchers, which rightly called the summit P. T. Barnumstyle, a-sucker-is-born-every-minute diplomacy. I didnt think Trump would read it, but I wanted to emphasize my view that South Koreas agenda was not always ours, and that we needed to safeguard our own interests. Fortunately, the Panmunjom Declaration was remarkably anodyne, especially on the nuclear issues. Moon called Trump on Saturday to report on his talks. He was still ecstatic. Kim had committed to complete denuclearization, offering to close their Punggye-ri nuclear test site. This was just another sham concession, like blowing up the Yongbyon reactors cooling tower under Kim Jong Il. Moon pushed hard for the Trump-Kim meeting to be at Panmunjom, followed immediately by a trilateral with both Koreas and the US. This was largely a Moon effort to insert himself into the ensuing photo op (as we would see again in June 2019). Trump seemed swept up in the rapture, even suggesting advancing the Kim meeting to mid-May, which was logistically impossible. Fortunately, Moon conceded that Kim preferred Singapore, which helped nail down the venue. Trump said finally that Pompeo and I would work with Moon on the dates, which was reassuring. Moon had asked Kim to denuclearize in one year, and he had agreed, agreeably close to a timeframe I had suggested.10 Ironically, in the months that followed, it was harder to get State to agree to a one-year schedule than to persuade Kim. The two leaders strategized about how to proceed, and Trump asked Moon to specify what we should request from North Korea, which was quite helpful. This was clever diplomacy, because whatever Moon wrote, he could hardly object if we asked for it, and if we were tougher than Moon, he had at least had his say. Moon complimented Trumps leadership. In turn, Trump pressed him to tell South Koreas media how much Trump was responsible for all this. He then spoke with Abe, to strategize further about the Trump-Kim Summit in light of Moons report on his meeting with Kim. Abe repeated all the key points he had made at Mar-a-Lago, in contrast with Moons over-optimistic perspective. Not trusting Kim, Japan wanted concrete, unambiguous commitments, on both the nuclear and the abductee issues. Abe stressed to Trump that he was tougher than Obama, showing clearly that Abe thought it necessary to remind Trump of that point. I spoke later with Pompeo, then traveling in the Middle East, who listened to the Abe and Moon calls from there. The Moon call especially had been a near-death experience, I said, and Pompeo responded, Having cardiac arrest in Saudi Arabia. After a few more gyrations, we settled on Singapore for the summit meeting on June 12 and 13. On Monday morning, Trump called me about my appearances on two of the Sunday talk shows, where much of the discussion concerned North Korea. I had been very good on television, he said, but I needed to praise him more because theres never been anything like this before. After all, Moon said he would recommend Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. Trump said, however, that he didnt like my reference to the Libya model for denuclearizing North Korea because of Muammar Qaddafis overthrow seven years later during the completely unrelated Middle East Arab Spring. I tried explaining that the model for nonproliferation analysts was completely removing Libyas nuclear program, not Qaddafis subsequent unpredictable demise. History showed that I didnt get through. Trump failed to understand that the unforeseen Arab Spring, which swept dramatically through the region beginning in 2011, was the reason for Qaddafis subsequent downfall, not his 2003 renunciation of nuclear weapons. This was not Trumps error alone. Many engaged in the classic logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this), exemplified in this sentence from a 2019 New York Times story: Libyas dictator, Muammar el-Qaddafi, was killed in 2011 after relinquishing his countrys nascent nuclear program.11 Nonetheless, Trump ended the conversation by saying, Great job. Ironically, Trump himself said at a later press conference that when he referred to the Libya model he meant the total decimation of Libya: Now, that model would take place [with North Korea] if we dont make a deal, most likely.12 A few minutes after Trump made those remarks, the Vice President gave me a high five and said, Hes got your back! Trump himself said, Youre clear, I fixed it! There were also significant developments on the hostage front, where we were getting increasing indications that North Korea would release three US prisoners if Pompeo personally flew to the North to receive them and return them to America. He and I didnt like the idea of his going to Pyongyang, but freeing the hostages was sufficiently important that we decided to swallow it. (Trump cared nothing about who picked up the hostages, not seeing it as an issue.) Chung came to see me a third time on May 4, providing more details on the Panmunjom meeting. He stressed that he had pushed Kim hard to agree to complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, which had long been our formulation going back to the Bush 43 Administration,13 and would be an important rhetorical step for North Korea. According to Moon, Kim had seemed amenable, in the pre-Singapore context, but Kim never made the commitment publicly. Moon urged Kim to reach a big deal with Trump, after which specifics could be discussed at working levels, stressing that whatever benefits the North might receive would come after accomplishing denuclearization. Kim, said Chung, said that he understood all this. Moon wanted to confer with Trump in Washington in mid to late May before the Trump-Kim summit, which we ultimately agreed to. Later that day, Japans Yachi also came to my office to discuss the Moon-Kim summit, showing just how closely Japan followed the entire process. Yachi wanted to counter the euphoria emanating from Seoul, not that I was overcome by it, stressing we should not fall for the Norths traditional action for action approach. Pompeo left for Pyongyang on Tuesday, May 8, picked up the three American hostages, and returned with them to Washington, arriving at Andrews after two a.m. on Thursday morning. Trump greeted the returning men in an incredible, hastily arranged, middle-of-the-night, broadcast-live arrival ceremony. The three released Americans were understandably exuberant, raising their arms in celebration when they exited the plane into the bright spotlights. They loved speaking to the press and were the hit of the night, enjoying, thankfully, a return from North Korea far different from that of the fatally tortured and brutalized Otto Warmbier. The Marine One flight back to the White House, passing very near the illuminated Washington Monument, was almost surreal. Trump was on cloud nine, even at three thirty a.m., when we landed on the South Lawn, because this was a success even the hostile media could not diminish. Maneuverings for the Trump-Kim meeting continued apace. In particular, we worried about what China was doing to influence the North Koreans, and closely followed what key Chinese players like Yang Jiechi, Chinas former Ambassador to Washington during Bush 43, former Foreign Minister, and now State Councilor (a position superior to Foreign Minister in Chinas system), were saying to their counterparts and in public. I had concerns that Beijing was setting the stage to blame the United States if the talks broke down, warning that North Korean hardliners were undercutting Kim Jong Un for releasing the American hostages without any reciprocity from the US. Under this scenario, there was no consensus within the system in the North, and that strong resistance from Pyongyangs military meant that the talks were in jeopardy before they even began. The answer? More preemptive concessions by the United States. This was one of the oldest games in the Communist playbook: frightening gullible Westerners with tales of splits between moderates and hardliners so that we accepted otherwise unpalatable outcomes to bolster the moderates. Chung did worry about the Norths recent announcement that only journalists would attend the closure of the Punggye-ri test site, not nuclear experts, as they had previously committed to. Pyongyang might just as well invite the Bobbsey Twins. While this ploy was destroying something rather than building it, Grigory Potemkins ghost was nonetheless undoubtedly celebrating his continued relevance. Chung and I were on the phone constantly over the following week preparing for Moon Jae-ins visit to Washington and the Trump-Kim Singapore meeting. We spoke repeatedly about the Punggye-ri closure, which was pure fluff, starting with the lack of any US or international site inspections, particularly examining the tunnels and underground facilities before any preparations for or detonations closing the adits (the tunnel entrances). By precluding such inspections, North Korea was concealing key information. Nuclear forensics experts, as was common practice, could have extrapolated significant conclusions about the size and scope of the nuclear-weapons program, other locations in the Norths nuclear gulag that we wanted disclosed and inspected, and more.14 We knew from the IAEAs experience in Iraq in 1991 and thereafter, which I had lived through personally during the Bush 41 Administration, that there were enormous amounts of information that could be very effectively concealed without adequate, persistent on-site inspections before, during, and after any denuclearization. Subsequent international monitoring, such as the International Atomic Energy Agencys taking soil samples outside the adits, was no substitute for inspections inside Punggye-ri mountain, as the North fully understood. This propaganda charade was evidence not of Pyongyangs good faith but of its unmistakable bad faith. Even CNN later characterized North Koreas approach as like trampling on a crime scene.15 Chung thought the issue could be raised at an inter-Korean meeting at Panmunjom later in the week, but the North canceled the meeting at the last minute, another typical Pyongyang gambit. They then expressly threatened to cancel the Trump-Kim meeting, complaining about an annual USSouth Korean military exercise called Max Thunder. This was another propaganda ploy, but it and later complaints about these military exercises, absolutely vital to our joint military preparedness, turned out to influence Trump beyond the Norths wildest expectations. I told Trump about this North Korean eruption at about six thirty p.m., and he said our press line should be, Whatever the situation is, is fine with me. If they would prefer to meet, I am ready. If they would prefer not to meet, that is okay with me too. I will fully understand. I called again at about seven oclock and listened at length to Trump criticize the South KoreanUS military exercise: he had been against it for a year, couldnt understand why it cost so much and was so provocative, didnt like flying B-52s from Guam to participate, and on and on and on. I couldnt believe that the reason for these exercisesto be fully ready for a North Korean attackhadnt been explained before. If it had, it clearly hadnt registered. Competent militaries exercise frequently. Especially in an alliance, joint training is critical so that the allied countries dont cause problems for themselves in a time of crisis. Fight tonight was the slogan of US Forces Korea, reflecting its mission to deter and defeat aggression. A decrease in readiness could mean fight next month, which didnt cut it. As I came to realize, however, Trump just didnt want to hear about it. The exercises offended Kim Jong Un and were unnecessarily expensive. Case closed. In the meantime, we were working on logistics for Singapore; on one critical point, Pompeo suggested that he, Kelly, and I be with Trump whenever he was around Kim, to which Kelly and I readily agreed. I also worried how cohesive we could be given the daily explosions everyone became inured to in the Trump White House. One such bizarre episode in mid-May involved disparaging remarks by Kelly Sadler, a White House communications staffer, about John McCain. Her comments, dismissing McCain and how he might vote on Gina Haspels nomination as CIA Director because hes dying anyway, leaked to the press, immediately creating a storm. Trump wanted to promote Sadler, while others wanted to fire her, or at least make her apologize publicly for her insensitivity. Sadler refused and got away with it because Trump, who despised McCain, allowed her to. Sadler turned her own insensitivity into a weapon by accusing others of leaking, a frequent offensive tactic in the Trump White House. In an Oval Office meeting, Trump rewarded her with a hug and kiss. Although this debacle was hardly my issue, I went to see Kelly at one point, figuring that surely rational people could get an apology out of this insubordinate staffer. After a brief discussion, with just the two of us in his office, Kelly said, You cant imagine how desperate I am to get out of here. This is a bad place to work, as you will find out. He was the first to see Trump in the morning and the last to see him at night, and I could only conjecture how many mistakes he had prevented during his tenure. Kelly attacked the press, fully justifiably in my view, and said, Theyre coming for you, too, which I didnt doubt. North Korea continued to threaten canceling the Trump-Kim meeting and attacked me by name. This was nothing new, dating to 2002 under Bush 43, when North Korea honored me by calling me human scum. They attacked my citing the Libya model of denuclearization (I wondered if they had a source inside the White House who knew Trumps reaction), saying, We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feelings of repugnance toward him.16 Of course, it was clear to everyone on our side of the negotiations that they were really denouncing the very concept of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization. South Korea remained concerned about the Norths efforts to scale back the joint military exercises. Even the dovish Moon Administration understood full well the exercises were critical to their security and worried this was yet another Pyongyang effort to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. Chung said the North was clearly trying to split Trump away from me, relating that at the April 27 Moon-Kim meeting, several North Korean officials asked about my role in the Trump-Kim meeting. I felt honored once again. But more important, North Korea continued denouncing the joint military exercises, now attacking Moon: The present South Korean authorities have been clearly proven to be an ignorant and incompetent group17 Such attacks were the Norths not-so-subtle way of intimidating Moon into doing the Norths work for it by pressuring us, a ploy we were determined wouldnt succeed. More seriously, Kims chief of staff did not arrive in Singapore as scheduled on May 17. Preparations for the Norths paranoid leader were formidable, even if dwarfed by what it took for a US President to make such a journey. Delay in laying the groundwork could ultimately postpone or even cancel the meeting itself. By Monday, May 21, no North Korean advance team had arrived, hence there were no meetings with our team in Singapore. Trump began to wonder what was up, telling me, I want to get out [of Singapore] before they do, which sounded promising. He recounted how with the women he had dated, he never liked to have them break up with him; he always wanted to be the one doing the breaking up. (Very revealing, said Kelly when I told him later.)18 One question was whether to cancel Singapore just as Moon Jae-in came to town or wait until he departed. I urged Trump to act now, because doing so after Moon left would seem like an explicit rebuff of Moon, which was unnecessary. Trump agreed, saying, I may tweet tonight. At Trumps request, I spoke with Pence and Kelly, who both agreed he should tweet away. I reported this back to Trump, and Trump started dictating what his tweet might say. After several drafts (suitably retyped by Westerhout), it (or they) emerged as: Based on the fact that dialogue has changed pertaining to North Korea and its denuclearization, I have respectfully asked my representatives to inform North Korea to terminate the June 12th meeting in Singapore. While I very much look forward to meeting and negotiating with Kim Jong Un, perhaps we will get another chance in the future. In the meantime, I greatly appreciate the release of the 3 Americans who are now at home with their families. A follow-up tweet would say: I am disappointed that China has been unable to do what is necessary, primarily at the border [meaning sanctions enforcement], to help us obtain peace. The Oval was then filling with staffers to prepare Trump for a dinner with state governors. As he left, Trump said he would probably tweet after dinner at eight or nine oclock. I returned to my office to brief Pompeo, and he said, I get it, lets go with the strategy. I walked to Pences office to tell him about the tweets; both of us were very confident Trump would cancel Singapore that evening. But when we awoke the next morning, no tweets had emerged. Trump explained to Kelly later that his cell phone had not been working the night before, but he told me he wanted to let Moon have his say before canceling. So, it was with a distinct lack of enthusiasm that I met Chung and his colleagues for breakfast in the Ward Room, to discuss the Moon-Trump meeting later in the day. The South still wanted Moon in Singapore for a trilateral after the Trump-Kim meeting. Another important topic in our discussion was a declaration ending the Korean War. I originally thought the end-of-war declaration was the Norths idea, but I later started to suspect that it was Moons, emanating from and supporting his reunification agenda, another good reason not to buy it. Substantively, the end of war idea had no rationale except that it sounded good. With the possibility nothing much else would emerge in Singapore, we risked legitimizing Kim Jong Un not only by having him meet with a US President, but also by holding a gauzy peace summit undermining economic sanctions by suggesting the North was no longer dangerous, and not just at the nuclear level. I was determined to stop anything legally binding, and also to minimize the damage of whatever objectionable document Trump might agree to. I worried about Moons pitching Trump on these bad ideas, but, after all, I couldnt stop it. I walked to Blair House to meet Pompeo ahead of our ten a.m. meeting with Moon, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, and Chung. Moon was characteristically optimistic about Singapore, and after an hour, I returned to the White House (Pompeo headed to State) to tell Trump what we had discussed. I joined one of the intelligence briefings Trump had every week from Director of National Intelligence Coats, CIA Director Haspel, and briefers who accompanied them. I didnt think these briefings were terribly useful, and neither did the intelligence community, since much of the time was spent listening to Trump, rather than Trump listening to the briefers. I made several tries to improve the transmission of intelligence to Trump but failed repeatedly. It was what it was. When I arrived from Blair House, Trump was telling the briefers he had written tweets about canceling Singapore the night before but concluded he could wait a little bit longer because there was still some chance it might come off, and he didnt want to cancel before the absolute last minute. It made me feel worse to see just how close we had come. Moon arrived, and the two leaders soon thereafter greeted the press hordes in the Oval. The extended questioning, mostly on China issues, substantially shortened Moons one-on-one with Trump. After the two leaders entered the Cabinet Room, Trump opened by saying there was about a 25 percent chance the Singapore meeting would happen, which I suspect he also told Moon privately. In response, Moon stressed his support for complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, and his optimistic view there was a zero percent chance Singapore wouldnt happen. Trump was worried about appearing too anxious, but Moon hastened to assure him it was really North Korea that was anxious, since nothing like this had ever happened before. Trump said he wanted a structured meeting in Singapore, which shocked me (and which didnt happen in any event). He asked why no experts were being allowed to visit Punggye-ri, and we explained that many believed, myself included, that Kim had made a verbal commitment to close the test site without really understanding what he was saying. As if things were not already messy, Nick Ayers, the VPs Chief of Staff, phoned in the late evening to say North Koreas Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui had issued a stinging attack on Pence, calling him a political dummy and basically threatening nuclear war because of Pences remarks in a recent interview with Foxs Martha MacCallum.19 Pence came on the line to suggest I tell Trump, which I set out to do immediately. After quickly obtaining and reviewing Pyongyangs full screed, I reached Trump at ten p.m. I explained the situation and suggested we demand an apology, at least implying Singapore would be canceled without one. Trump wanted to sleep on it, which I relayed back to Pence (and which Trump also did himself). I called Pompeo at 10:25 to brief him, suggesting he join us early the next morning. As Vice President, Pence maintained the strong views on national security that hed had during his years in the House of Representatives, and I regarded him as a consistent ally. At the same time, he followed the prudent example of other Vice Presidents who were circumspect in their advocacy of policies without knowing first where Trump was headed. I respected the inherent difficulties of his job, believing he did much of his best work in private conversations with Trump. I went in even earlier than usual the next day, surveying the extensive Asian press coverage of the North Korean blast but noting little US coverage, probably because of the hour the statement was released. I told Kelly what had happened and said we had an eight a.m. call with Trump in the Residence. Ayers entered to say both he and Pence thought Singapore should be canceled; Kelly agreed, as did Pompeo, who had come over. We were all around the speakerphone to call Trump, and I gave a full description of the Norths attack on Pence, and the international and US press coverage. Trump asked me to read the full text of Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Huis remarks, which I did. Jesus, said Trump, thats strong. We all agreed that so vitriolic a statement could have come only with Kim Jong Uns express approval; this was not just some rogue official sounding off. Our critics would likely accuse us of overreacting, because, after all, North Korea frequently spoke in vitriolic terms. That was true, but it was also true prior US Administrations had simply accepted North Koreas rhetoric without imposing consequences. That had to stop, and this was the time to do it. Trump didnt hesitate to cancel the Singapore meeting. He dictated a letter, which we took through several iterations but which emerged as truly Trumps. The final version, edited for small corrections, went public about nine forty-five a.m., followed by two presidential tweets. We also drafted a statement he could read at an already-scheduled bill-signing ceremony that morning, emphasizing that maximum pressure on North Korea would continue. I called Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan to tell him what was happening, catching him in Dubai while changing planes. He took the news very graciously, as he had a few weeks earlier taken the initial news that Singapore had won the prize of hosting the Trump-Kim summit. The South Koreans werent so gracious. Chung called me in the late morning to say our cancellation was a big political embarrassment to Moon, coming right after his return from Washington, a trip that had raised big expectations in South Korea. I told Chung to read carefully what Choe Son Hui had said about Americas Vice President, but he was not mollified, nor was Moon, who issued a watered-down version of Chungs remarks to me.20 Japans Yachi, by contrast, said they were greatly relieved Singapore had been canceled.21 While this drama was unfolding, the North presented a little theater of its own, closing Punggye-ri in exactly the Potemkin-village-in-reverse style we had expected. That very evening, less than twelve hours after announcing Singapores cancellation, the roof fell in. Trump seized on a slightly less belligerent statement by a different North Korean foreign ministry official to order us to get the June 12 meeting back on schedule. This was a clear mistake in my view, an open admission Trump was desperate to have the meeting at any price, which produced media reports of head-snapping diplomacy that unnerved our friends worldwide. Of course, the media had no clue we had also almost canceled Singapore on Monday before Trump backed away. In resurrecting the meeting, Pompeo talked to Kim Yong Chol, his counterpart in the USNorth Korea negotiations when he was CIA Director, and decided this Kim would come to New York for further preparations. Pompeo, Kelly, and I agreed we should insist on a public statement by Kim Jong Un himself, rather than relying on statements by foreign ministry officials, and that we should postpone Singapore for a month as insurance. We called Trump at about 8:50 a.m. to make these recommendations, but he wasnt having any. Instead, he rhapsodized about what an extremely warm letter (meaning North Koreas statement) we had received. He didnt want to risk the momentum we now had. I was tempted to respond, What momentum? but I stifled it. On he went: This is a big win here. If we make a deal, it will be one of the greatest deals in history. I want to make him [Kim] and North Korea very successful. It was depressing. We had come so close to escaping the trap. On Saturday, we learned to our collective surprise that Moon and Kim had met for two hours earlier that day at the DMZ.22 Foreign Minister Kang told Pompeo that Kim had requested the meeting, and Moon, predictably, had immediately agreed. Chung also debriefed me, saying he had not been at the DMZ but all had gone well, with the two leaders reaffirming agreement on complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization and other matters. Kim told Moon he expected to reach a comprehensive deal at Singapore, for which the North was making extensive preparations. Kim had been a bit surprised by Trumps decision to suspend the meeting and was very relieved the US had changed its position. Moon stressed that the US wouldnt accept action for action, although he then turned around and essentially implied there could be US political compensation if the North made substantial progress on our concept of denuclearization, thus demonstrating, in my view, why we needed to get Moon out of the business of negotiating the issue. At the same time, my concern grew that some State working-level types would revert predictably and quickly into the failed Six-Party Talks approach without even noticing the change from our present approach. Meanwhile, Trump was busy tweeting there was no division on his team: Unlike what the Failing and Corrupt New York Times would like people to believe, there is ZERO disagreement within the Trump Administration as to how to deal with North Korea and if there was, it wouldnt matter. The @nytimes has called me wrong right from the beginning! The next day at the DMZ, North Korea, led by the ever-pleasant Choe Son Hui, refused in bilateral talks with the US even to use the word denuclearization on the agenda for the Trump-Kim meeting. This was unhappily familiar territory and why I worried it was only a matter of time before State began to buckle, not to mention Trump, who was so eager for success in Singapore. We were in near-constant contact with our South Korean counterparts, and the pace of our preparations rose dramatically. Abe and the Japanese were also pouring it on, hoping they could hold Trump in line with his previous commitments. Abe told Trump on Memorial Day that the way he handled the summit was completely different from the way other US presidents had handled them, and that Kim never expected he would dare to cancel the meeting. Trump, said Abe, was now in a position of strength, obviously hoping Trump wouldnt make his predecessors errors. Abe pressed Trump to advocate not just our concept of denuclearization but, reflecting Japans long-standing positions, also dismantling Pyongyangs biological and chemical-weapons programs, as well as all their ballistic missiles, whatever the ranges. I discussed the state of play with Trump the day after Memorial Day, and, unpredictably, Trump said, We cant have a bunch of doves take over the delegation. Tell Pompeo. Ill have to take this deal over. Weve got to discuss denuclearization [in the Singapore communiqu?], got to have it. Then he said, Get the leader of the delegation on the phone, which we did quickly, speaking to a very surprised American Foreign Service officer in Seoul. After initial pleasantries, Trump said, Im the one to sell the deal you shouldnt negotiate denuclearization, and you should tell them that. You have to say denuclearization, with no wiggle room. Trump allowed as how he didnt want a big, formal agenda and wanted no great formality. That was that. A few minutes later, Pompeo called, upset Trump had spoken directly with the delegation. I explained what had happened, including my concern about weak language in the draft communiqu?. Im right with you on that, said Pompeo, meaning we had to discuss denuclearization, but it was not clear he realized States negotiators were not right with us on holding the line in the negotiations. Pompeo then told me Trump wanted to bring Kim Yong Chol to meet in the Oval Office, which Trump thought was genius. We both thought it was a mistake, as did Kelly when I briefed him, although Pompeo seemed resigned to it. About then, I wondered if I should just recede from the North Korea issue and let Trump own it, instead of constantly fighting rearguard actions and wild Trump policy swings. On the other hand, we were dealing with nuclear weapons in the hands of a bizarre regime, as I saw it, so I was reluctant to turn my back on it or resign. Trump personally still seemed undecided about whether he wanted Singapore to happen. As we discussed strategy before Pompeo left for New York to meet Kim Yong Chol, he went back and forth before concluding, I would rather have it [Singapore] than not have it. But if we dont get denuclearization, we cant do anything else. He said, [If the meeting fails] I would impose massive tariffs [either he meant sanctions, or he was referring to China, not North Korea]. I have decided to delay them for now, but they are waiting. Then came the bottom line: I want to go. It will be great theater. There was no discussion of Kim Yong Chols coming to the White House, and Pompeo and I agreed as we walked out of the Oval that we might yet escape. That, unfortunately, overlooked the lesser Kim, who, as Pompeo said to Kelly and me shortly after nine p.m. that evening, was hell-bent on getting in front of Trump to hand him a letter from Kim Jong Un. Kim Yong Chol was also obdurate on all the substantive issues. The only good news was that he had no use for Moon and no interest in a trilateral summit. This was between us, with no need for the South Koreans. We got Trump on the line, Pompeo reported on the dinner, and we came finally to Kim Yong Chols desire to hand him Kim Jong Uns letter. Very elegant, Trump exclaimed, lets do it. Kelly and I explained why we opposed it, but to no avail. Neither arguments about the potential political impact nor about Kim Yong Chol himself (a brutal killer, and the man very likely personally responsible for the effectively fatal torture of Otto Warmbier) made a dent. We tried later, with the Vice Presidents agreement, at least to move the meeting out of the Oval Office, but that didnt work either. I dug out a picture of Bill Clinton sitting in the Oval with two North Korean generals, to show Pyongyang had played this game before, and even that didnt work. States Diplomatic Security people drove the lesser Kim from New York for the one p.m. Oval meeting with Trump. We met to brief Trump, and Pence tried again to persuade him to hold it somewhere else, such as the Diplomatic Reception Room. Trump wasnt listening. In fact, he began musing about taking Kim Yong Chol to the Lincoln Bedroom, which we also tried to talk him out of. I collected the US interpreter and walked over to the Residences South Entrance, where Kelly was already waiting to meet the North Koreans and escort them to the Oval. While we were there, a Secret Service agent told me the President wanted me back in the Oval. I was puzzled, but downright amazed when I walked into the Oval and ran into Pence, who said neither he nor I would be in the meeting with Kim. I could tell from both Pence and Ayers that they were somewhat in shock, and Ayers said Trump wanted to keep the meeting small; it would just be Trump, Pompeo, and the interpreter on the US side, and Kim and his interpreter on theirs. There would be the absolute minimum number of people present to hear what Trump said. By this time, Trump was in a near frenzy, piling up standard-issue White House gifts (such as cuff links) to give away. One box was slightly creased, and Trump told Madeleine Westerhout harshly, Youve ruined this one, get another one. He then berated the White House official photographer, whom he wanted to stay only briefly while Kim Yong Chol was there. I had never seen Trump so wrought up. Pence said to me, Why dont you hang out in my office? which was generous; neither of us thought that handing over Kim Jong Uns letter would take more than a few minutes. I was still stunned at being excluded, but not more stunned than Pence, who was stoical throughout. Kim Yong Chol arrived at one fifteen, and Kelly escorted him to the Oval along the colonnade. Kelly told us later that Kim seemed very nervous, and just as they entered the West Wing, he remembered he had left Kim Jong Uns letter in the car. The North Korean interpreter was sent racing back to retrieve it. One can only imagine Kim Yong Chol thinking about how to explain to the Great Successor that he had forgotten his letter. In the VPs office, we watched the television as the press on the South Lawn desperately tried to see what was happening inside. Time dragged, to say the least. We had one light moment when Don McGahn came to tell us that Trumps gifts were almost certainly sanctions violations, which he would have to retroactively waive. As McGahn said frequently, this was not the Bush White House. The meeting finally ended at two forty-five. Trump and Pompeo emerged from the Oval with Kim Yong Chol and walked him to the driveway where his cars were waiting, and then Trump spoke to the press on his way back to the Oval. Once we saw that Kim had left the Oval, Pence and I went in, and Kelly gave me the original and a rough translation of Kim Jong Uns letter to Trump, saying, This is the only copy. The letter was pure puffery, written probably by some clerk in North Koreas agitprop bureau, but Trump loved it. This was the beginning of the Trump-Kim bromance. The First Family was going to Camp David for the weekend, and they had all assembled to walk to Marine One, which had landed in the interim. Trump smiled and gave me a thumbs-up as he left the Oval again. The rest of us repaired to Pences office, where Kelly and Pompeo debriefed us. Kim Yong Chol had said nothing new or different about the Norths position. Clearly, what they wanted were political assurances before agreeing to any denuclearization, and Trump had seemed inclined to give them just that. Strikingly, as in earlier discussions with the North, economic sanctions seemed to be secondary. This probably meant that North Korea feared US military power more than it feared economic pressure, and also quite likely indicated that sanctions werent as effective as we thought. Kelly said the North could have come away with any impression they wanted regarding what Trump might do. Trump had said he was willing to reduce the USSouth Korean military exercises and had gone off on a riff about how expensive and provocative they were. This may have been the worst point, because North Korea had now just heard from Americas Commander in Chief that our military capabilities on the Peninsula were up for negotiation, despite our earlier denials. This was a concession that could upset even Moon Jae-in and his Sunshine Policy advocates, whose calculations rested on a strong US presence. To many people, it was the US presence that allowed the South Korean political left to engage in the fantasy of the Sunshine Policy to begin with. If we ever left Korea, they would be effectively on their own and would feel the consequences of their foolishness, which I believed they themselves feared. As bad as it sounded, I felt we could walk Trump back off the ledge, so perhaps no real damage had been done. How could this meeting have lasted for an hour and fifteen minutes? Consecutive translation was one answer, but in truth any meeting with Trump could last that long or longer. Im a talker, I heard him say several times during my tenure. I like to talk. What to do next? Kelly said he thought Trump was ready for the possibility nothing would happen in Singapore. I thought that was optimistic. We talked about establishing a timeline to show we didnt have forever to play this out, all while North Korea was still developing and/or manufacturing nuclear components and ballistic missiles. We broke up around 3:45, and I returned to my office. To my surprise, at around 4:10, my phone rang and a voice said, This is the Camp David switchboard, the first time I had ever heard that greeting. The operator said the President wanted to speak to me. The letter was very friendly, dont you think? he asked, and I agreed, although I also said it was nonsubstantive. Its a process, said Trump. I understand that now. Well just have a meeting to get to know each other, and then well see what happens. It will take longer than I first thought. I stressed my view that neither sanctions relief nor an end of the Korea War declaration should come until complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization was concluded, which was what the Administrations policy always had been. He seemed to be amenable to this analysis and advice. I said that having the discussions play out over time was acceptable, with one major qualification. Time was almost always on the side of the proliferator, and simply running the clock had long been a central part of North Koreas strategy. Our time was not indefinite, which he seemed to accept. It was pretty good, he concluded, and the call ended. In fact, Trump got precisely what he wanted from the press; the headlines were, effectively, June 12 meeting in Singapore back on. Over the weekend, I briefed Chung about the Kim Yong Chol meeting, and he said Moon was just delighted by the outcome. Unknowingly echoing Trump, Chung also said that we were facing a process, not just one meeting in Singapore. That was exactly what I had feared their reaction would be. Meanwhile, at the bilateral USNorth Korea talks in the DMZ, the North rejected our draft approach to Singapore. The State Department, faced with rejection, wanted to offer a compromise, in effect saying, You dont like that one? How about this one? And if the North didnt like this one, the State negotiators would probably offer them another one, all the while, in reality, negotiating with themselves to see if they could produce a smile from the North Koreans. I had seen it many times before. Fortunately, Pompeo agreed with my view that we should produce no new drafts but wait for Pyongyang to respond to ours. The North finally commented verbally on our draft and said they would provide written comments the next day. Amazing how that works. I also pushed to get the negotiations moved to Singapore, to get the North Koreans out of their DMZ comfort zone. After a struggle with the US delegation more than with the North, we did so. Even Chung agreed it was time this moveable feast arrived in Singapore. I then decided to confront the growing press speculation I was being cut out of North Korea matters and would not go to Singapore. I told Kelly, Ive been around this track a few times before, and I didnt think my exclusion from the Kim Yong Chol meeting was accidental. Kelly said he was surprised I wasnt in the room when he walked into the Oval with Kim in tow. I explained what Pence had said and why we had gone to the VPs office without my asking Trump directly why we wouldnt be included. Kelly said he hadnt expected to be in the meeting either, but Trump had asked him to stay. I recounted the speculation I would not be going to Singapore, which, if true, meant I couldnt do my job and would accordingly resign. Kelly said, I wouldnt have expected you to say anything else, and said he would talk to Trump, which I accepted as a first step. Later that morning, Kelly reported that Trump had meant nothing by not having me in the Kim Yong Chol meeting and that I would be in all the Singapore meetings. That satisfied me for the moment. Immediately after his lunch with Trump that day, June 4, Mattis came in to discuss the Trump-Kim summit, stressing he was worried about the squishiness of our position on the Norths nuclear program, and asked, given the press speculation, if I was going to Singapore. When I said Yes, Mattis said, Good, emphatically, explaining he was sure, in his assessment, that Japan and several other key states in the region all supported my position not to lift sanctions before complete denuclearization, which showed the extent of backing for our approach. I wondered at this conversation, because, for the first time, I sensed Mattis was uncertain and nervous. I didnt understand why until Ayers told me a few days later that Trump had spent much of the lunch with Mattis, according to what he had heard, beating up on himfor, among other things, being a Democratin ways no one had ever seen before. Mattis had to know what that meant. This was something to watch. On Tuesday, June 5, Pompeo and I had lunch with Trump, one important topic of which was Moons continuing desire to be present in Singapore, which was a topic that had already broken out into the Asian press because of leaks in South Korea.23 Both Pompeo and I explained to our counterparts in Seoul what our thinking was. The bad news at lunch was Trumps fascination with the prospect he could say he had ended the Korean War. I didnt mind selling that concession to the North at some point, but I thought we certainly shouldnt give it away for free, which Trump was ready to do. It simply didnt matter to him. He thought it was just a gesture, a huge media score, and didnt see any international consequences. After lunch Pompeo and I walked to my office. We decided we had to develop something to offer as an alternative, but no good ideas popped up. I knew that Japan would be particularly disturbed that we might make this concession, so I couldnt wait to hear what Yachi would say to me during yet another Washington visit that afternoon. I also took the opportunity to ask Pompeo if he had some issue with me, as media stories were alleging. He said flatly that he did not, recalling how, just in the past few days, I had helped him stop an errant US Ambassador from making an appointment with Trump directly without seeking permission from him. Pompeo, at the time, had said, Bless you, John, at which we both laughed. Whether even at this early stage there was more to it than that, I cant say, but there didnt appear to be. When Pompeo and I had breakfast in the Ward Room the next morning (Mattis being out of the country yet again), we discussed what to extract from North Korea in return for an end of war communiqu?, including perhaps a baseline declaration of their nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs. I doubted the North would agree, or agree on any of our other ideas, but it might at least prevent a gratuitous US concession ending the Korean War. Later that day, Prime Minister Abe stopped briefly in Washington on his way to the annual G7 summit, held that year in Charlevoix, Canada, to press Trump one more time not to give away the store. Abe stressed that the North Koreans are survivors, saying, They have staked their lives on their system. They are very tough, very shrewd politicians if they think this is business as usual, they will go back to their old ways. Although the two leaders had a good conversation on Pyongyang, trade issues were not so sunny, with long riffs by Trump on the unfair trade deficits, especially since the US had agreed to defend Japan: We defend you, by treaty. We defend you, but not the other way around. We had bad negotiators, right, John? he asked, looking at me. Well defend you without a treaty, Trump continued, but said, Its not fair. With that, our attention turned from meeting Kim Jong Un to attending the G7. It turned out the road to Singapore was paved with the ruins of Charlevoix. The G7 meetings and similar international gatherings had a rhyme and reason at one point in history, and at times do good work, but in many respects, they have simply become self-licking ice-cream cones. Theyre there because theyre there. On June 8, Trump was over an hour late leaving the White House on Marine One for Andrews. Air Force One landed at the Bagotville Canadian Air Force base, from which we helicoptered to the summit location, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie, Quebec, still about an hour late. It seemed like a nice location, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Not that it mattered; as usual, we only saw the inside of the spacious hotel where all seven heads of government and their delegations stayed. Trump arrived fixated on inviting Russia to rejoin the G7, from which it was expelled in 2014 after invading and annexing Crimea. He found an ally in Italys new Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, on the job less than a week before arriving at Charlevoix.24 Conte was in office because of an unusual left-right populist coalition that made Italian politics some of the most unstable in Europe. The G7 opening plenary sessions were contentious, with Trump under siege for his trade policies, until he fired back: the G7 should abolish all tariffs, all non-tariff trade barriers, and all subsidies. That subdued the Europeans in particular, who had no intention of doing any such thing. The discussion really showed the rampant hypocrisy of international trade talks, where free trade was invariably good for everyone else but not for favored domestic sectors, particularly farmers in places like France and Japan, not to mention the US and Canada. Trump had bilateral meetings with Canadas Trudeau and Frances Macron, where the conversations on bilateral trade were far from amicable. Trump didnt really like either Trudeau or Macron, but he tolerated them, mockingly crossing swords with them in meetings, kidding on the straight. I assume they understood what he was doing, and they responded in kind, playing along because it suited their larger interests not to be in a permanent tiff with the US President. Trump rightly complained to both that China did not play by the applicable rules in international trade and had gotten away with it far too long. With Canada, Trump wanted the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ratified, which would largely satisfy his trade objectives with Mexico and Canada. With France, Trumps real target was the EU. As usual, he trotted out that old stand-by, The EU is worse than China, only smaller. Trump also complained about China and many other WTO members that called themselves developing in order to take advantage of more favorable trade treatment. This was only one of many areas where the WTO could stand thorough reform, which the other G7 states professed to support but never quite got around to. Trump ended the Macron meeting by saying, You know, Johns been preparing all his life for this job. He was a genius on Fox TV, you know, and now hes got to make hard decisions, which he didnt have to do on TV, but hes doing a great job. The French got a kick out of that. So did I for that matter. In true G7 fashion, there was then an elaborate dinner for the leaders, followed by a Cirque du Soleil performance. I skipped all the fun to continue preparations for Singapore. Unfortunately, also in true G7 fashion, the sherpas, the senior officials responsible for the substance of the summit, were gridlocked on the traditional final communiqu?. The Europeans loved playing games with these communiqu?s, forcing the US into the unpleasant choice of either compromising on core policy principles or appearing isolated from the others. For most professional diplomats, being isolated is worse than death, so compromising principles looked good by comparison. Another fate the Europeans couldnt contemplate was not having a final communiqu? at all, because if there was no final statement, maybe the meeting never took place, and how terrible that would be for mankind. Therefore, instead of enjoying Cirque du Soleil, the other leaders began harassing Trump, complaining that the US sherpa was being hard-line. The dinner had also been contentious, with the other leaders opposing Trumps ill-conceived idea of bringing Russia back into the G7, and the mood had grown somewhat churlish. Since the G7 was originally conceived in the 1970s as a forum to discuss economic issues, most of the work fell to National Economic Council Chairman Larry Kudlow. The US sherpa and his international economics staff reported jointly to Kudlow and me. Trump should have said, Leave it to the sherpas, and let them work all night. He concluded, however, since he was a closer, he and the other leaders would gather in one of the lounges and negotiate themselves. By this point, Kudlow had joined the group, with the aim of being friends with the European leaders on international economic issues. Kelly, sensing trouble, sent for me at about ten thirty p.m. As I was walking in, Kelly was walking out, saying, This is a disaster, which, after a few minutes of observation, was clear. The leaders were on plush couches and chairs, with several dozen aides hovering around. No good could come of this. Trump himself seemed very tired; in fairness, so were many others, but not Macron and Trudeau, and certainly not their aides, who were pushing policy agendas contrary to ours. This was d?j? vu for me; I had engaged in scores of these slow-moving debacles over the years. I tried to judge whether Trump really wanted a G7 communiqu? and would therefore make more concessions, or whether he was indifferent. I couldnt tell, but Trump (who had not troubled to prepare himself) didnt really have much of an idea what was at stake. By the time I arrived, Trump and Kudlow had already given away a number of hard-fought positions. I intervened on one point against a German idea on the WTO, but no one really seemed to understand what was at issue, reflecting that it was not Trump alone who didnt grasp the specifics of what the sherpas were debating. Finally, at about eleven oclock, the leaders agreed the sherpas should continue on their own, which they dutifully did until five thirty a.m. Saturday. I would have said, Why bother? Lets just not have a communiqu?, which might have brought Europe and Canada up short. But as Jim Baker would have reminded me, I was not the guy who got elected. I found Kudlow and our sherpa at about 7:20 a.m., and they confirmed not much had happened overnight. Because Trump woke late, however, we did not have a briefing session before G7 events resumed. I still didnt mind leaving Charlevoix with no communiqu?, but I wanted to be sure Trump understood the implications. We never had that conversation. Instead, I suggested we advance the time of our departure from Canada to ten thirty a.m. in order to force a decision. We were already leaving well before the G7s scheduled end so we could arrive Sunday evening in Singapore at a reasonable hour, and I was just suggesting leaving a bit earlier. My theory was that once out of the summits hothouse atmosphere, Trump could decide more calmly how to handle the communiqu?. Kelly and Kudlow agreed. Trump was already bored, tired, and late for a breakfast on gender equality. Upon hearing of his accelerated departure, the Europeans, who had other ideas, descended before we could spirit him from the room. The now-famous picture (taken by Germany) shows we didnt get him out in time: It felt like Custers Last Stand. The whole thing was a waste of time, but on and on the discussions went, with Kudlow and me doing most of the negotiating. We picked up nickels and dimes (eliminating a European provision that Iran was in compliance with the nuclear deal, which it was not). But basically all we did was produce carbon emissions that simply contributed to global warming, which the Europeans professed to be concerned about. Trump was still bored, but we agreed on a final document, and off we went for a press conference before boarding Marine One and heading back to Bagotville air force base, leaving Kudlow behind to hold the fort. We joined up with Pompeo, and Air Force One left for Singapore, twelve hours ahead in time zones, via NATOs Souda Bay base on Crete for a refueling stop. We were done with the G7, I thought. Trump was delighted to be on his way to meet Kim Jong Un. Once we were airborne, I explained to Pompeo what happened at Charlevoix. I tried to nap to adjust to Singapore time and awoke on Sunday Greek time, shortly before landing at Souda Bay. Except for POTUS, Air Force One is not designed for luxury travel, with no lie-flat seats, and many people simply stretched out on the floor. While I was asleep, Trump had fired off two tweets withdrawing support for the G7 communiqu?, which was unprecedented. He had had Pompeo awakened some hours earlier to come to his office, where he was throwing a fit about Trudeaus using his closing press conference to score points against him. Trump had been gracious to Trudeau in his press event, and he was infuriated Trudeau had not reciprocated. The communiqu? was collateral damage. No one rousted me, and when I did wake, I obviously couldnt recall the tweets, which predictably dominated the news until we landed in Singapore. I called Kudlow to find out what had happened, and he said things had ended in good order but for Trudeaus press conference. The immediate issue was what Kudlow should say on the Sunday talk shows, and Trumps direction was clear: Just go after Trudeau. Dont knock the others. Trudeaus a behind your back guy. Trump also wanted to invoke the coming Kim Jong Un meeting, saying that rejecting the G7 communiqu? showed we dont take any shit, a point definitely worth making. There was no doubt Trump wanted Kudlow and Peter Navarro (another Assistant to the President, whom I briefed) unleashed, as well as Lindsey Graham (whom I also briefed). Navarro said there [was] a special place in hell for Trudeau because of the way he had treated Trump; Navarro was criticized, but it was just what Trump wanted. Looking more tired than before, as if he had not slept much on the flight, Trump was now obsessed with watching press coverage of Kim Jong Uns arrival in Singapore and what coverage of his own arrival early Sunday evening would be. After landing, Trump decided he didnt want to wait until Tuesday to meet Kim but wanted to meet on Monday. I agreed. Although we had scheduled downtime for Trump to prepare and recover from jet lag before coming face-to-face with Kim, the less time we spent in Singapore, the less time there was to make concessions. If we could escape Singapore without complete disaster, we might be able to get things back on track. On Monday, Trump met with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana [Palace], former residence of British Governors General and now the Prime Ministers residence and main office. Pompeo and I rode with Trump in the Beast (the presidential limos informal name) and found him in a bad mood. He thought the Kim meeting would fail, and he attributed that to Chinese pressure. Trump and Lee had a one-on-one, and then Lee hosted a working lunch. Singaporean Foreign Minister Balakrishnan had just visited Pyongyang to prepare for the summit and said North Korea was not hurting economically and believed they were a nuclear-weapons state. Trump replied that he had taken a long flight for a short meeting. Balakrishnan said the US had already given away three things: first, having the meeting to begin with, a give that everyone except Trump saw; second, the difficulty in returning to our maximum pressure campaign, also obvious to everyone but Trump; and third, to China, because we were focusing on North Korea when China was the real strategic game. Balakrishnan was very convincing, and Trump couldnt have been happy to hear any of it. After lunch, back at our hotel, Pompeo briefed us on the state of negotiations with North Korea, where we were at an impasse. This is an exercise in publicity, said Trump, which is how he saw the entire summit. Kelly said to me while Trump did a meet-and-greet with the Singapore US embassy staff, The psychology here is that Trump wants to walk out in order to preempt Kim Jong Un. I agreed, and became somewhat hopeful we could avoid major concessions. After the meet-and-greet, Trump told Sanders, Kelly, and me he was prepared to sign a substance-free communiqu?, have his press conference to declare victory, and then get out of town. Trump complained that Kim Jong Un had been meeting with China and Russia to put us at a disadvantage, but he said Singapore would be a success no matter what, saying, We just need to put on more sanctions, including on China for opening up the border.25 Kim is full of shit, we have three hundred more sanctions we can impose on Friday. This all threw logistics back into disarray (not that they had been in much array since we left Canada), but Kelly and I said wed get back to him with options later that day. Trump spoke to Moon Jae-in, who still wanted to come to Singapore, but it should have been apparent to Moon by then that there wasnt going to be a trilateral meeting: he wasnt even in the right country. We also showed Trump the brief recruitment video the NSC staff and others had produced to lure Kim with the promise of economic success for Pyongyang if he gave up nuclear weapons. Trump agreed to show it to Kim on Tuesday (and he later played it at his closing press conference). Negotiations with the North continued through the day, purportedly reaching near-agreement. I reviewed what was marked as the six p.m. text shortly thereafter with a group of State, Defense, and NSC officials. I told them flatly I would not recommend Trump sign it. Pompeo and other State people then arrived, and we met in the White House staff area to discuss the text. I explained again why I wouldnt sign it, even if all the language still in dispute were resolved favorably to the US, which was unlikely. North Korea was refusing to agree to complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, even though they had repeatedly done so before. They werent rejecting just magic words but the entire concept, which rendered the whole summit meaningless to me. I said we shouldnt agree to any language about the end of the war without getting something concrete in return. Pompeo grew increasingly agitated, as he had over the phone to me in Mar-a-Lago in April discussing withdrawal from the Iran deal. I made the point that congressional Democrats would rip us to pieces on this text because thats what they did, and congressional Republicans would rip us because they knew it was inconsistent with everything they and we believed. Pompeo didnt defend the language I criticized, and he understood we were better off not signing any document rather than signing a bad one. All Pompeo knew was that Trump wanted to sign something. He couldnt bring himself to admit, at least in front of the State staffers, what we both knew: that they had led us into a cul-de-sac, where we conceded one point after another and got nothing in return. Now here we were at the very last moment, with few options, none of them good. There was a second or two of silence, and then, as if by unspoken consent, everyone else exited, leaving just Pompeo and me in the room. After going back and forth for a while, we agreed we would insist on including references to our notion of denuclearization and Security Council Resolution 1718 (requiring North Korea not to conduct nuclear tests or ballistic-missile launches), adding new paragraphs on the Japanese-abductee issue, and pledging the return of US Korean War remains. If this didnt work, we would revert to a very brief statement, the principal virtue of which was that it would be short. Pompeo and I explained this to the State, Defense, and NSC officials, all knowing they were likely to go long into the night negotiating. Trump had already crashed earlier, for his own good, frankly, and would sleep until Tuesday morning. NSC Asia Senior Director Matt Pottinger woke me at one a.m. to say the negotiations had stalled, no surprise, and that Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol would meet at seven a.m. at the Capella hotel, the venue for the later Trump-Kim meeting, to see what could be done. Trump finally emerged at eight a.m., and we left for the Capella. Trump declared himself satisfied with the short statement that we had come up with, which surprised me because it came nowhere near declaring an end to the Korean War. In fact, it didnt say much of anything. We had dodged another bullet. During all this, Trump was preparing a tweet on a 54 Supreme Court victory in an Ohio voting case, and also wishing a speedy recovery to Kudlow, who had had a heart incident, fortunately minor, possibly brought on by the G7. Then we were off to the Trump-Kim arrival ceremony and meeting, then their one-on-one, followed by Kim Jong Un and four aides entering the room where the main meeting was to take place. He shook hands with the US side, including yours truly, and we sat down and let the press take pictures for what seemed like an eternity. When the mob finally departed, Kim speculated (all through interpreters) what kinds of stories they would try to cook up, and Trump objected to the tremendous dishonesty in the press. Trump said he thought the one-on-one meeting had been very positive, and anticipated that the two leaders would have direct contact over the telephone thereafter. Laughing, Kim distinguished Trump from his three predecessors, saying they would not have shown the leadership to hold the summit. Trump preened, saying that Obama had been ready to make significant mistakes on North Korea, without even talking first, alluding to their initial meeting (presumably during the transition). Trump said he knew he and Kim were going to get along almost immediately. In response, Kim asked how Trump assessed him, and Trump answered that he loved that question. He saw Kim as really smart, quite secretive, a very good person, totally sincere, with a great personality. Kim said that in politics, people are like actors. Trump was correct on one point. Kim Jong Un knew just what he was doing when he asked what Trump thought of him; it was a question designed to elicit a positive response, or risk ending the meeting right there. By asking a seemingly na?ve or edgy question, Kim actually threw the burden and risk of answering on the other person. It showed he had Trump hooked. Kim claimed strenuously that he was committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Even though he knew there were people who doubted his sincerity, those people were mistakenly judging him by the actions of his predecessors. He was different. Trump agreed that Kim had changed things totally. Following the decades-old, standard North Korean line, however, Kim blamed the troubled USNorth Korea history on the hostile policies of past US Administrations. He said that as he and Trump met frequently, they could work to dispel mistrust and accelerate the pace of denuclearization. I had heard all this before, but Trump had not, and he agreed with Kims assessment, noting that there were some very militant people on the US side, especially with regard to Kims criticism of past US Administrations. Interestingly, Trump said he would seek Senate approval of any nuclear agreement with North Korea, contrasting his approach positively with Obamas unwillingness to seek ratification of the Iran nuclear deal. At this point, Pompeo passed me his note pad, on which he had written, he is so full of shit. I agreed. Kim promised there would be no further nuclear tests, and that their nuclear program would be dismantled in an irreversible manner. Then came the catch, perfected by Joseph Stalin in his wartime summits with Franklin Roosevelt, when hardliners were first discovered in the Soviet Politburo. Kim confessed that he had domestic political hurdles he could not easily overcome, because there were hardliners in North Korea as well as America. Kim needed a way to build public support in North Korea, he said, actually maintaining a straight face, and he bored in on the South KoreanUS joint exercises, which, he said, got on peoples nerves. Kim wanted us to reduce the scope or eliminate the exercises altogether. He said he had raised the military exercises with Moon in their first Summit (which produced the Panmunjom Declaration), and Moon had said that only the US could make the decision. Trump answered exactly as I feared, reiterating to Kim his constant refrain that the exercises were provocative and a waste of time and money. He said he would override his generals, who could never make a deal, and decide that there would be no exercises as long as the two sides were negotiating in good faith. He said brightly that Kim had saved the United States a lot of money. Kim was smiling broadly, laughing from time to time, joined by Kim Yong Chol. You bet. We certainly were having fun. In later US press coverage, there were leaks, obviously from DoD, that Mattis was displeased he was not consulted before Trump made this concession. Of course, neither were Kelly, Pompeo, nor I, and we were sitting right there. Trump said he had known from his first day in office that, for him, deal-making or negotiating such as this summit would be easy. Trump asked Kelly and Pompeo if they agreed. Both said yes. Luckily, he didnt ask me. Kim said the hardliners in North Korea would be impressed by Trumps decision on the exercises, and that further steps could be taken in the next phase of the negotiations. He joked that there would be no more comparisons of the sizes of their respective nuclear buttons, because the US was no longer under threat from North Korea, agreeing to dismantle a rocket-engine test facility. As the meeting continued, Kim congratulated himself and Trump for all that they had accomplished in just one hour, and Trump agreed that others couldnt have done it. They both laughed. Trump then pointed to Kim, and said he was the only one that mattered. Kim agreed he was doing things his way, and that he and Trump would get along. Trump returned to the military exercises, again criticizing his generals, whom he was overruling to give the point to Kim at this meeting. Kim laughed again. Trump mused that six months earlier, he was calling Kim little rocket man, and asked if Kim knew who Elton John was. He thought rocket man was a compliment. Kim kept laughing. At this point, Trump asked that we play the Korean-language version of the recruitment film, which the North Korean side watched very intently on the iPads we gave them. When it ended, Trump and Kim wanted to sign the joint statement as soon as possible, but it turned out that translation inconsistencies were holding it up, so the conversation continued. Kim repeated that they had had a good discussion, saying he was glad that he and Trump had agreed to follow the action for action approach. Somehow, I had missed Trump making that concession, but those were indeed magic words, exactly the ones I wanted to avoid, but which Kim thought he was walking away with. Kim asked if UN sanctions would be the next step, and Trump said he was open to it and wanted to think about it, noting that we had literally hundreds of new sanctions poised to announce. Pompeo and I had no idea what he meant. Trump handed out mints to the North Koreans. Kim was optimistic about moving forward quickly, and wondered why their predecessors had been unable to do so. Trump answered quickly that they had been stupid. Kim agreed that it took the likes of him and Trump to accomplish all this. Then, a delicate moment. Kim looked across the table and asked what the others on our side of the table thought. Trump asked Pompeo to start, and Pompeo said that only the two leaders could agree on the days historic document. Trump said happily that the US couldnt have made the deal with Tillerson, who was like a block of granite. Fortunately, Kim changed the subject to returning American war remains, and I didnt have to speak. A second bullet dodged. Official photographers from both sides then entered, and the meeting ended at about 11:10. After stopping briefly in a holding room for Trump to check out the massive, ongoing television coverage, we started a working lunch at 11:30. Another press mob stumbled in and then out, and Kim said, Its like a day in fantasy land. Finally, something I completely agreed with. The opening conversation was light, with Kims describing his visit the night before to Sheldon Adelsons Sands casino and hotel complex, one of the standouts of Singapores nightlife. Kim and Trump talked about golf, Dennis Rodman, and the US womens soccer teams defeating North Korea in the 2016 Olympics. The conversation drifted around, and then Trump turned to me and said, John was once a hawk, but now hes a dove. Anything to say after that introduction? Fortunately, everyone laughed. Trying to keep a straight face, I said, The President was elected in large part because he was different from other politicians. Hes a disrupter. I look forward to visiting Pyongyang, it will certainly be interesting. Kim thought that was funny for some reason and said, You will be warmly welcomed. You may find this hard to answer, but do you think you can trust me? This was tricky, one of those questions he was good at asking. I couldnt either tell the truth or lie, so I said, The President has a finely tuned sense of people from his days in business. If he can trust you, we will move forward from there. Trump added that I was on Fox News all the time, calling for war with Russia, China, and North Korea, but it was a lot different on the inside. This really had all the North Koreans in stitches. Kim said, I heard a lot about Ambassador Bolton saying not good things about us. At the end, we must have a picture so I can show the hard-liners that you are not such a bad guy. Can I go to Yongbyon? I asked. More laughter. Trump said, John is a big believer in this, I can tell you, showing just how far the truth could be stretched. I added, Mr. Chairman, Im delighted you watch Fox News, and everyone laughed. (Trump told me on the flight back to Washington, I rehabilitated you with them. Just what I needed.) The lunch ended shortly thereafter, at twelve thirty, but we were still stuck because the joint statements werent ready. Trump and Kim decided to walk in the hotel garden, which produced endlessly rebroadcast television footage but nothing else. Finally, we held the signing ceremony. The North Korean delegation was very impressive. They all clapped in perfect unison, loud and hard, for example whenever Kim said or did something noteworthy, which was quite a contrast with the raggedy performance of the US delegation. Trump did several one-on-one press interviews before the huge media event began shortly after four p.m., when he unexpectedly played our recruitment video. The coverage was extraordinary, and then we were off to Washington, my fondest wish, before anything else went wrong. Shortly after Air Force One was airborne, Trump called Moon and then Abe to brief them. (Pompeo stayed in Singapore, traveling on to Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo to provide more-detailed readouts of what had happened.) Trump told Moon that things could not have gone better, and they both spoke glowingly of what was accomplished. Trump asked Moon, a little belatedly, about how to implement the agreement. repeating what he said in the press conference, that he had been up for twenty-seven straight hours, something Kelly and I knew for sure was not true. Moon stressed, as Seouls representatives did subsequently in public statements, that Kim had made a clear commitment to denuclearization. Abe expressed gratitude that Trump had brought up the abductee issue in his one-on-one with Kim, not wanting to rain on the parade. Trump said he believed Kim wanted to make a deal; it was time to close on one. I also made briefing calls, speaking particularly to Pence to discuss the war games point, which congressional Republicans were already criticizing. Pompeo, stuck in Singapore because his plane had engine problems, said Mattis had called him, quite worried about the concession. Pompeo and I agreed the two of us, Mattis, and Dunford should talk once we all returned to Washington, to think through what to do to avoid dangerous impairments to US readiness on the Peninsula. Our approach should be, Dont just do something; sit there, until we assessed what was necessary. This point was proven when I was in Trumps Air Force One office with him watching Fox News. A reporter, citing an unnamed Pentagon spokesman, said planning for exercises was continuing as before, sending Trump through the roof. Trump wanted me to call Mattis and have him stop everything, but I instead asked Mira Ricardel, also on Air Force One, to call others at the Pentagon to tell them to avoid public statements until told otherwise. We landed at Andrews a little after five thirty a.m. on Wednesday, June 13, and Trump motorcaded back to the White House. My Secret Service detail drove around the Washington Beltway to my home, and I noticed on the way that Trump tweeted out: Just landeda long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future! There was no stopping it. I spoke with Yachi the next day, and the Japanese, in my judgment, were clearly concerned about what we had given away and how little we had gotten in return. I tried to keep things calm, but the Singapore outcome was ambiguous enough that we needed to reel things back in or risk rapidly losing control of events. Both Japan and South Korea were particularly confused about the approach Trump seemed to take in his conversations with Moon and Abe, saying Moon in particular would be the closer on the nuclear deal. What exactly did the President have in mind? they wanted to know. Neither Pompeo nor I had the slightest idea, but we were also both certain neither did Trump. In fact, I was revising my earlier view, wondering if greater South Korean involvement in denuclearization might not complicate things so much that we could prevent a total collapse of both our nuclear nonproliferation policy and our conventional deterrence strategy on the Peninsula and in East Asia more broadly. I also spoke with Mattis regarding the war games and explained how I thought we should proceed. Mattis said his Japanese and South Korean counterparts were already calling him, understandably very concerned. He also said, which I had not heard before, that six months earlier, Trump had also almost canceled the exercises because Russia and China complained about them, which was disturbing, to say the least. Dunford was compiling a list of exercises that might be affected, and we agreed to meet back in Washington. But Mattis wouldnt leave well enough alone, saying later that day he wanted to issue a press statement. Whatever it said, in my view, risked another presidential edict, the substance of which Mattis would doubtless dislike. Why roll the dice? Probably because it was a Defense Department bureaucratic ploy: if the Pentagon could produce enough blowback in Congress, it could avoid responsibility for any degradation in readiness in Korea. But it was a risky strategy, given the danger Trump might make his exercises prohibition even more sweeping and stringent. Mattis, finally, agreed his department would remain silent, but it was an effort. Pompeo, Mattis, and I met for breakfast in the Ward Room on Monday, June 18, by which time Dunfords list of exercises was complete. Mattis argued that readiness started to deteriorate when any exercises were canceled, and the decline would accelerate the more time passed. We were all concerned about the objective, both near- and long-term, of not degrading readiness on the Peninsula. As regularly scheduled officer rotations began to ripple through the ranks and new people replaced more experienced people, the lack of exercises could take its toll. This discussion made September 1 a potentially important date. Mattis was worried about canceling too few exercises and incurring Trumps wrath, but I thought it was ridiculous to cancel too many, provoking unnecessary confrontations with Hill Republicans and only making things worse. We finally agreed the Pentagon would issue a statement that the two biggest annual exercises would be suspended, a key word we thought (i.e., not canceled). Overall, however, and remembering that the Chinese had suggested to Pompeo in Beijing that we press very hard in the next two months to make progress with Pyongyang, we set September 1 as a date by which to assess whether the negotiations were in fact productive. During the rest of the week after returning from Singapore, Trump was euphoric. On Friday, during an intel briefing, he exclaimed, I never could have gotten this done with McMaster and Tillerson. Pompeos doing a great job. This guys doing great too, he said, pointing at me. Trump was happy there would be no more war games and said he was glad he had been overruled in his previous efforts to cancel them because otherwise, he wouldnt have had something to give away! Trump also said Kim Jong Un has a vicious streak in him, and that he could be mercurial, remembering an irritated look Kim Jong Un shot at one of his officials during the talks. Trump had signed notes and pictures and newspaper articles for Kim Jong Un to remember the glow of Singapore, which couldnt fade rapidly enough for me. One important point Trump made at the end of June underscored the potential of a division growing between the US and Moon Jae-in, which increasingly concerned us. Having watched Moon in action, Trump came to understand that Moon had a different agenda from ours, as any government prioritizes its national interest. For Moon, this likely meant emphasizing inter-Korean relations over denuclearization. Moreover, Trump wanted good news on North Korea before the 2018 congressional election. To that end, he wanted the South to ease up on pushing for reunification with North Korea, because denuclearization was the US priority. That had always been an accurate statement of US interests. Having it fixed in Trumps mind gave us at least one guardrail to keep us from completely losing our perspective. I worried that Trump only wanted to hear good news before the election, which was, of course, impossible to guarantee. I also worried that Pompeo particularly didnt want to be the bearer of bad news, a role too easily avoided by making concessions to North Korea. In what passed for speed in diplomacy with North Korea, Pompeo scheduled a return to Pyongyang on July 6. I worried that States bureaucracy was so delighted negotiations were resuming that, as in the Six-Party Talks, each new meeting was an opportunity to give things away. Indeed, State was already drafting charts with fallback positions for the US delegation before they even sat down with real, live North Koreans post-Singapore. I stressed vigorously to Pompeo that no serious negotiations should begin until we had Pyongyangs commitment to provide a full, baseline declaration on their nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. For arms controllers, this was a basic step, if hardly one that guaranteed success. It was elemental tradecraft that negotiators would compare what was being declared to what was already known about an adversarys weapons capabilities, and that such comparisons amounted to a test of good faith in the negotiations, and in the case of North Korea, the sincerity of their commitment to denuclearization. If a country grossly misstated its nuclear assets, that would show us exactly how serious these negotiations would be. I often said that unlike a lot of other people, I have faith in North Korea. They never let me down. I also pressed Pompeo on what NSC and IC nonproliferation experts agreed: if the North Koreans were serious on renouncing weapons of mass destruction, they would cooperate on the critical disarming work (another test of their seriousness), which could then be done in one year or less. State staffers wanted a much longer period for disarmament, which was a prescription for trouble. Pompeo was not enthusiastic about a rapid denuclearization schedule, perhaps because he worried that the North would resist, thus meaning bad news for Trump, who wanted none before the election, thus causing potential headaches for Pompeo. Pompeo left for Pyongyang after the Fourth of July fireworks on the Mall, which he viewed from the State Department, hosting the traditional reception for foreign Ambassadors. He called back to Washington on Friday evening at six thirty p.m. (Saturday morning Korea time) to speak with Trump, Kelly, and me. Pompeo said he had spent five hours in two separate meetings with Kim Yong Chol, which had been incredibly frustrating, producing almost no progress. Pompeo had meetings again on Saturday, and he called back to Washington at five fifteen p.m. to report he had seen Kim Yong Chol again, but not Kim Jong Un, which said a lot about who the North wanted to talk to. (South Koreas Chung told me a few days later even they were surprised and disappointed there had been no Kim Jong Un meeting.) After Pompeo left Pyongyang, the North described the talks as regrettable, presenting a unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization.26 So much for all the good news. Pompeo said North Korea wanted security guarantees before denuclearization, and there would be verification only after denuclearization, not before, meaning no baseline declaration, and thus no way to have a meaningful before and after comparison. This was a total nonstarter, in my view. Trump agreed, saying, This trust building is horseshit, the smartest thing on Pyongyang he had said in months. Pompeo added, Its all an effort to weaken the sanctions, a standard delaying tactic, which was correct. Trying to deliver some good news, Pompeo referred to an item in North Koreas press statement, saying something like Kim Jong Un still has trust in President Trump. In both the Friday and Saturday phone calls, Trump asked what impact China was having on North Korea. Pompeo downplayed Chinas influence, whereas Trump thought it was much more important. I thought Pompeos assessment the more accurate, though Chinas role was well worth watching. Then Trump was off riffing that he didnt understand why we had fought the Korean War and why we still had so many troops on the Peninsula, not to mention those war games. Were going to end being chumps, said Trump. Turning to North Korea, he said, This is a waste of time. Theyre basically saying they dont want to denuke, which was clearly right. Until the end of the call, Trump didnt seem to realize Pompeo hadnt actually seen Kim Jong Un, asking if Pompeo had handed over the Trump-autographed copy of Elton Johns Rocket Man CD, which Pompeo had not. Getting this CD to Kim remained a high priority for several months. Pompeo called me back separately after the Trump phone call to discuss how to handle the press in Japan, where he had stopped for refueling. The only thing that surprised me about North Koreas behavior was how quickly they became difficult after Singapore. They werent wasting any time. Trump obviously wanted to suppress bad news so it didnt become public in the middle of the congressional campaign, especially the lack of any evidence whatever that North Korea was serious about denuclearization. So instead, he stressed the North was not testing missiles or nuclear weapons. I tried to explain that delay worked in North Koreas favor, as it usually did for proliferators. In all probability, the North was moving its weapons, missiles, and production facilities into new, more secure locations, as it had for decades, and continuing production of weapons and delivery systems, having concluded that for now, at least, their testing programs had accomplished their missions.27 This was certainly Japans view, shared repeatedly, as in a phone call I had with Yachi on July 20. Perhaps some items were even stored in other countries. That didnt bother Trump, who said, Theyve been doing that for years. Of course they had; that was the very essence of the problem! But he again saw the contrast between the Souths reunification agenda and our goal of denuclearization, and he therefore decided against signing the KORUS trade deal until Seoul demonstrated it was still tightly enforcing sanctions against Pyongyang. Perhaps he thought he could use KORUS for bargaining leverage, but, while the deals signing was slightly delayed. it was ultimately signed on September 24, 2018.28 But you could ignore the risks from North Korea only so long, especially since Trump believed China was behind the Norths recalcitrance. He may have thought he would resolve the trade issues with China and then everything else would fall into place. If so, he was dreaming. On Friday, July 27, I convened a Principals Committee to discuss what had happened since Singapore, and there was no dissent that the conclusion was nothing much. Pompeo was emphatic that North Korea had made no significant steps toward denuclearization and that there was zero probability of success. My take exactly. There was general agreement on tightening sanctions in a variety of ways, diplomatically, economically, and militarily. Neither Mattis, Pompeo, nor I raised our September 1 target date, but it was certainly on my mind, with just five weeks to go. North Koreas approach was different. Kim sent Trump one of his famous love letters at the beginning of August, criticizing the lack of progress since Singapore and suggesting the two of them get together again soon.29 Pompeo and I agreed such a meeting needed to be avoided at any cost, and certainly not before the November election. Under such political pressure, who knew what Trump might give away? We also agreed the best response to the letter was to say Pompeo was ready to return to Pyongyang at any time. When I showed Trump Kim Jong Uns letter and explained our recommendation, however, Trump said immediately, I should meet with Kim Jong Un. We should invite him to the White House. This was a potential disaster of enormous magnitude. I suggested instead meeting in New York at Septembers UN General Assembly opening, but Trump wasnt having it: No, there are too many things going on then. By this time, others had come into the Oval, including Kelly, to whom I whispered on the way out, There is no way he should meet again with Kim. Kelly completely agreed. Pompeo, traveling in Asia, called in the late afternoon, and I explained what had happened. He said, I want to see the picture of the look on your face when POTUS said he wanted a White House visit! That would have been hard, I said, because they would first have had to peel me off the rug on the Oval Office floor. Trump tweeted to Kim that afternoon, Thank you for your nice letterI look forward to seeing you soon! Although it was dicey, we drafted a letter Trump signed the next day, offering up Pompeo in Pyongyang. Trump said he didnt like the idea, which he thought was insulting to Kim: I disagree with you and Pompeo. Its not fair to Kim Jong Un, and I hope it doesnt ruin things, he said as he wrote in his own hand at the bottom of the letter, I look forward to seeing you soon.30 At least he signed it. Despite plans for another Pompeo trip to North Korea, at the end of August, just before he was due to depart for Pyongyang, the North Koreans warned that Pompeo would not see Kim Jong Un on this trip, and shouldnt even bother coming unless he was bringing completely new proposals, including the end-of-war declaration. They basically warned denuclearization was not on the agenda, but Pompeo wanted to ignore the threat, and tweet that he was looking forward to meeting Kim Jong Un. Unexpectedly, Trump said Pompeo shouldnt go at all. Pence and Pompeo argued back, pushing for the trip, but Trump was still deciding how to send the message. He ultimately reverted to the comfortable Twitter mode, and, as he did so often, he began dictating a tweet. What do you think of that, John? he asked, and I immediately said, I agree. No way Mike should go to Pyongyang in the face of [all] that. Pence agreed we should show strength rather than weakness, and in short order, the tweets went out: I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula Additionally, because of our much tougher Trading stance with China, I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were (despite the UN Sanctions which are in place) Secretary Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved. In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon! I was delighted. Another bullet dodged. Shortly afterward, I spoke to Pompeo, who was reconciled to Trumps decision. Trump himself said a few days later, The sanctions should be as strong as you can make them. Dont give them any breathing room. Put more sanctions on. Trump still wondered what Xi Jinping was telling Kim Jong Un, and I told him for sure it wasnt helpful. I gave Trump a one-pager I had drafted entirely on my own speculating on what Xi might be saying, based on my years of involvement in these issues. I hoped it might wake him up or get him thinking; I had tried everything else, so I figured I had nothing to lose. Trump read the script but didnt react to it. At least he had heard what I believed was the real situation. The transcript of my version of Xis comments to Kim is as follows: Look, Jong Un, you cant trust Trump no matter how many nice letters he writes. Hes trying to sucker you, like all capitalist salesmen. Dont fall for it. What Trump really wants is to turn North Korea into South Korea. Trump, Pompeo and Bolton are all the same. They only appear different so they can mess with your head. Americans have short-term minds. They are erratic and inconsistent, and they cant be trusted. Whats more, Moon Jae-in thinks like they do, except hes even worse. Hes a pacifist. We can run all over Moon, but the Americans understand power. Thats why you have to stick with me. Its the only way for you to keep your nuclear-weapons program, get real financial aid, and hold on to power. If you proceed down this road of negotiations with the Americans, youre going to be hanging from a tree in Pyongyang before too long, I guarantee it. Stick with me. All you have to do is keep hiding your nuclear weapons, missiles, and production facilities. Our friends in Iran will continue testing your missiles as they have for two decades. In return, you can build them nuclear warheads in your hidden underground plants. I will buy more Iranian oil and increase our capital investment there, offsetting US sanctions. Iran will do what I say after that. To deceive the US, keep giving back their soldiers bones. They get very emotional about such things. Same with Japan. Send back the bodies of the people your father kidnapped. Abe will weep in public, and start giving you suitcases full of dollar bills. Right now, Im in a trade war with Trump. Hes inflicting some damage on Chinas economy, and if this trade war continues, it could hurt us badly. Fortunately, Trump is surrounded by Wall Street advisors who are just as short-term as most Americans and just as weak as Moon Jae-in. Ill agree to buy more of their precious soybeans and some of their technology (which I will then steal and sell back to their consumers at lower prices), and that will get them to back off. When we get together next month, Ill explain in more detail. Ill also lay out aid packages that even Japan cant match. I wont violate any UN sanctions because I wont have to. Ill provide supplies and assistance the sanctions dont cover, and Ill hold the Border Police up from watching too closely at whats going on. Youll be fine. Not only do you not have to give up your nukes, pretty soon, youll be able to have South Korea fall into your lap like ripe fruit. Think long-term, Jong Un. You want to be on the winning side of history, and thats China. The Americans are no friends of ours. On August 29, for some reason, Mattis and Dunford held a disastrous press conference, during which Mattis was asked about US Forces Koreas readiness in light of the war games being suspended. He gave a long, confused answer, the substance of which, however, taken fairly, indicated a split from Trump on the issue. That set Trump off, not surprisingly, riffing about what was wrong with Mattis, the generals, war games, and so on. I said Mattis was working to clear up the confusion, but Trump wanted to tweet, which he did later: STATEMENT FROM THE WHITE HOUSE President Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government. At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful! Nonetheless, the President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint US-South Korea war games. Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before. As for the US-China trade disputes, and other differences, they will be resolved in time by President Trump and Chinas great President Xi Jinping. Their relationship and bond remain very strong. I thought this was all mostly laughable, but it didnt undercut our basic positions. In Trump White House terms, this was a victory, a good day at the office. The next day, China criticized the tweetsmore progress in my view. Mattis told Pompeo and me at our weekly breakfast in the Ward Room on August 30 that he regretted even having the press conference that precipitated this, and I doubted he would hold another for a long time. Moon and Trump spoke on September 4. Trump complained that he had had a phenomenal meeting in Singapore, and that a good friendship with Kim had been built, and now suddenly theres no deal. He wondered what had happened. Of course, Singapore had not been phenomenal unless you were a North Korean; KJU didnt make friends with his enemies; and there wasnt a real deal. Other than that Moon was still singing the Sunshine Policy song, saying Kim was entirely committed to improving relations with the United States and denuclearizing, but Kim Yong Chol and others around him had rude manners, an interesting surmise. Moon suggested that Trump meet again with Kim Jong Un. Just what we needed. Moon was still pressing for his own summit with Kim in mid-September, something he likely wanted for domestic political reasons. Pompeo, Kelly, and I gave Trump another Kim Jong Un letter on September 10,31 which he read in the Oval, commenting as he went, This is a wonderful letter, This is a really nice letter, and Listen to what he says about me, followed by his reading one oleaginous passage after another. As Kelly and I said later, it was as if the letter had been written by Pavlovians who knew exactly how to touch the nerves enhancing Trumps self-esteem. Trump wanted to meet Kim, and he didnt want to hear anything contrary, which is probably why he didnt want to hear me explaining that another meeting soon was a bad idea: John, you have a lot of hostility, he said, to which I replied, The letter is written by the dictator of a rat-shit little country. He doesnt deserve another meeting with you until he has met with Pompeo, as he agreed to just a couple of weeks ago. You have such hostility, said Trump, of course, I have the most hostility, but you have a lot of hostility. On we went, until, out of nowhere, Trump said, I want the meeting the first week after the election, and Mike should call today and ask for it. You should say the [Kim] letter is extremely nice. The President has great affection for Chairman Kim. He wants to release the letter because its so good for the public to see the strength of the relationship, and he wants to have a meeting after the election. Where would he like to meet? Outside the Oval, Kelly said to me, Im sorry that meeting was so rough on you, and Pompeo seemed discouraged. I said I was ecstatic at the outcome. After all, we had just gained a five-week delay in any possible Trump-Kim meeting, during which time anything could happen in Trumpworld. We should take it and run. A continuing, very significant problem was Trumps relentless desire to withdraw US military assets from the Korean Peninsula, part of his general reduction of US forces worldwide. September 1 came and went, and Mattis reaffirmed in early October his concern for our military readiness on the Peninsula. He and Dunford would have to testify in Congress after January 1 during the budget process, and it seemed hard to imagine the problem wouldnt surface then. Pompeo finally obtained another meeting with Kim Jong Un in mid-October, where Kim complained at length about our economic sanctions but offered little in new ideas from his side. The main outcome of the meeting was to restart working-level discussions, which I considered inevitable but bad news nonetheless. Here is where the US concession train would really start steaming along. But we had at least survived past the November congressional elections without any major disasters and could now face the next round of Trump enthusiasm to meet with Kim Jong Un. CHAPTER 5 A TALE OF THREE CITIESSUMMITS IN BRUSSELS, LONDON, AND HELSINKI Coming a month after Junes Singapore encounter with Kim Jong Un were three back-to-back July summits: a long-scheduled NATO meeting in Brussels with our partners in Americas most important alliance; Trump and Theresa May in London, a special relationship bilateral; and Trump and Putin in Helsinki, neutral ground to meet with our once and current adversary Russia. Before leaving Washington, Trump said: So I have NATO, I have the UKwhich is somewhat in turmoil And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think? Who would think? Good question. As I realized during this busy July, if I hadnt seen it earlier, Trump was not following any international grand strategy, or even a consistent trajectory. His thinking was like an archipelago of dots (like individual real estate deals), leaving the rest of us to discernor createpolicy. That had its pros and cons. After Singapore, I traveled to various European capitals to prepare for the summits. One of my planned trips was to Moscow. That stop had its complications. When I told Trump about going there to lay the groundwork for his trip, he asked, Do you have to go to Russia? Cant you do this in a telephone call? Ultimately, he didnt object when I explained why reviewing the issues in advance would help in our preparations. Shortly thereafter, I asked Kelly why Trump was complaining, and Kelly said, Thats easy. Hes worried youre going to upstage him. This would sound preposterous for any President other than Trump, and while it was flattering, if true, it was also dangerous. What exactly was I supposed to do now to overcome the problem? I obviously did not come up with a good answer. Trump really wanted Putin to visit Washington, which the Russians had no intention of doing, and we had been skirmishing over Helsinki and Vienna as possible meeting venues. Russia pushed Vienna, and we pushed Helsinki, but it turned out Trump didnt favor Helsinki. Isnt Finland kind of a satellite of Russia? he asked. (Later that same morning, Trump asked Kelly if Finland was part of Russia.) I tried to explain the history but didnt get very far before Trump said he too wanted Vienna. Whatever they [the Russians] want. Tell them well do whatever they want. After considerable further jockeying, however, we agreed on Helsinki. I landed at Moscows Vnukovo airport on Tuesday, June 26, and went the next morning to Spaso House, the longtime US Ambassadors residence in Moscow. Jon Huntsman had arranged a breakfast with Russian think-tankers and influencers, including former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, whom I had known and worked with during the Bush 43 Administration, and NSC and embassy officials. The Russians were near-unanimous in their pessimism about the prospects for improving US-Russia relations, notwithstanding what they read about Trump. They believed that fundamental American views, both in Congress and among the general public, on Russia had not changed, which was true. I pushed hard on the election-interference issue, knowing most of those present would promptly report to their contacts in the Kremlin and more broadly. I wanted the word out. Huntsman and our delegation then rode to the Russian Federation Security Councils offices on Staraya Ploshad, hard by the Kremlin, to meet our counterparts. My opposite number, Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the council, was out of the country, but we had full teams on both sides to cover all the issues, from Iran to arms control, that Putin and Trump might later discuss. Putin himself had once very briefly been Secretary of the Russian Security Council, and Patrushev, like Putin a veteran of the KGB (and the FSB, its successor handling domestic intelligence and security matters), had succeeded Putin in 1999 as FSB Director. Patrushev was reputedly still very close to Putin, not surprising given their common background. We had lunch with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Osobnyak guesthouse, an estate owned in pre-revolutionary times by a wealthy industrialist who sympathized with the Bolsheviks, and where I had been a frequent guest. I continued to press on the election-interference issue, which Lavrov dodged by saying that, while they couldnt rule out hackers, the Russian government hadnt had anything to do with it. From Osobnyak, we rode to the Kremlin to meet with Putin at two thirty. We arrived early, and while we were waiting, Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, there with a military delegation of some sort, came in to introduce himself (and later joined the Putin meeting). We were escorted into the room where the main event would occur, almost certainly the same room where I had first met Putin in October 2001, accompanying Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld immediately after the 9/11 attacks.1 The room was huge, painted in white and blue, with gold trim, and an impressive oval, white-and-blue conference table. The press mob was already present, ready to take pictures of Putin as he entered through a door at the far end of the room (and it was the far end). As instructed by Russian protocol officers, I waited in the center of the room for Putin to greet me, and we shook hands for the cameras. He seemed relaxed and very self-assured, more so than I remembered from that first meeting in 2001. I also greeted Lavrov, Shoygu, and Yuri Ushakov (Putins diplomatic advisor and former Ambassador to the US), and we sat down at the elegant conference table. The Russian press later reported (incorrectly) that Putin was on time for the meeting, contrary to his practice of keeping visitors waiting, including the Pope and the Queen of England. I didnt see any need to correct them. With the media present, Putin started by noting the decline in Russian-American relations, blaming US domestic politics. I didnt take the bait. I wasnt going to compete publicly with Putin when he had the home-court advantage. Since Moscow was then hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the US (with Mexico and Canada) had just won the games for 2026, I replied that I looked forward to hearing from him how to stage a successful World Cup. The press then cleared out in a disciplined way, and we got down to business. Putins style, at least at the start, was to read from index cards, pausing for the interpreter, but frequently he would put the cards down to say something like, You tell President Trump this. Ushakov, Shoygu, and Lavrov said nothing at the meeting except to answer Putins questions, nor did those on our side (Ambassador Huntsman, NSC Europe/Russia Senior Director Fiona Hill, NSC Russia Director Joe Wang, and our interpreter). Putin spoke for almost forty-five minutes, including consecutive translation, mostly on the Russian arms-control agenda (US national missile-defense capabilities, the INF Treaty, the New START agreement, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction). When my turn came, I said we could follow one of two conceptual approaches to arms control: negotiations between adversaries to constrain each other, or negotiations between competitors to deconflict activities that could lead to problems. I used Americas 2001 withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as an example of the latter, which set Putin off on a soliloquy about why he felt Bob Gates and Condi Rice had later shafted Russia on that issue. I responded that Putin had left out much of the history from 2001 to 2003, where we tried to induce Moscow also to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and cooperate mutually on national missile-defense capabilities, which Putin had declined to doquite likely, I had surmisedbecause they then had an effective missile-defense technology and we did not! Arms control was not an issue much discussed thus far in the Trump Administration. It clearly warranted much longer conversations before Trump would be ready to engage. On Syria, Putin asked, regarding our desire to see Iranian forces withdraw, who would accomplish that? This was one of those moments where Putin pointed at me and said I should tell Trump directly that the Russians didnt need Iranians in Syria, and that there was no advantage for Russia in having them there. Iran was pursuing its own agenda, given their goals in Lebanon and with the Shia, that had nothing to do with Russian goals, and was creating problems for them and Assad. Russias goal, said Putin, was to consolidate the Syrian state to prevent chaos like in Afghanistan, whereas Iran had broader goals. While Russia wanted Iran out of Syria, Putin didnt think he could ensure that complete withdrawal would happen, and he didnt want Russia to make promises it couldnt deliver on. And if the Iranians were withdrawn, what would protect Syrian forces against large-scale aggression, presumably meaning from the Syrian opposition and its Western supporters. Putin had no intention of substituting Russian for Iranian forces in the internal Syrian conflict while Iran sat back and said, You fight it out in Syria. He wanted a clear understanding with the US on Syria, then running through various aspects of the US and Russian military dispositions there, focusing especially on the At Tanf exclusion zone (near the tri-border area where Syria, Jordan, and Iraq come together). Putin said confidently, following a long-standing Russian propaganda line, that up to 5,000 locals near At Tanf were, in fact, ISIS fighters, who would ostensibly follow American direction, but then betray us when it suited them. (Putin said the ISIS fighters would kiss a certain part of our anatomy, although his interpreter didnt translate it that way!) I thought this exchange on the situation in Syria was the most interesting of the entire meeting. Referring to the Syrian Opposition, Putin pressed strongly that they were not reliable allies for us, and could not be trusted from one day to the next. Instead, he urged that we advance the Syrian peace process. I said our priorities were to destroy ISIS and remove all Iranian forces. We were not fighting Syrias civil war; our priority was Iran. Putin took a very hard line on Ukraine, discussing in detail the conflicts political and military aspects. Moving to a more confrontational tone, he said US military sales to Ukraine were illegal, and that such sales were not the best way to resolve the issue. He refused even to discuss Crimea, dismissing it as now simply part of the historical record. Then, in the meetings second most-interesting moment, he said that Obama had told him clearly in 2014 that if Russia went no further than annexing Crimea, the Ukraine confrontation could be settled. For whatever reason, however, Obama had changed his mind, and we arrived at the current impasse. By the time I responded, near the ninety-minute mark, sensing the meeting coming to its end, I said only that we were so far apart on Ukraine there was no time to address things in detail, so we should simply agree to disagree across the board. Putin also raised the subject of North Korea, where Russia supported the action for action approach the North wanted, but he basically seemed less than fully interested in the issue. On Iran, he scoffed at our withdrawal from the nuclear deal, wondering, now that the United States had withdrawn, what would happen if Iran withdrew? Israel, he said, could not conduct military action against Iran alone because it didnt have the resources or capabilities, especially if the Arabs united behind Iran, which was preposterous. I replied that Iran was not in compliance with the deal, noted the connection between Iran and North Korea on the reactor in Syria the Israelis had destroyed in 2007, and said we were carefully watching for evidence the two proliferators were cooperating even now. In any event, reimposing sanctions on Iran had already taken a heavy toll, both domestically and in terms of their international troublemaking. Because Trump was still euphoric about North Korea, I merely explained Xi Jinpings advice to proceed speedily in our negotiations. Putin hadnt raised election meddling, but I certainly did, stressing there was even more interest than before because of the approaching 2018 congressional elections. Every member of Congress running for reelection, and all their challengers, had a direct personal interest in the issue, which they had not fully appreciated in 2016, with the attention on allegations of meddling at the presidential level. I said it was politically toxic for Trump to meet with Putin, but he was doing so to safeguard US national interests regardless of the political consequences, and to see if he could advance the relationship. After a few closing pleasantries, the roughly ninety-minute meeting ended. Putin struck me as totally in control, calm, self-confident, whatever Russias domestic economic and political challenges might have been. He was totally knowledgeable on Moscows national-security priorities. I was not looking forward to leaving him alone in a room with Trump.

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