It’s no secret that national security adviser John Bolton and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are increasingly at odds with each other. Disagreements are fine, even encouraged, but new revelations that Bolton was behind rumors about Mattis leaving are a better fit in the script of "Mean Girls" than in the White House.
Although it might seem like the rumors are just more evidence of an increasing rift between two of President Trump's most important advisers, they are far more insidious than open disagreements. Rumors, leaked to the press as those about Mattis were, undermine trust between senior advisers and inhibit the ability of the White House to present a united front on crucial foreign policy topics.
This backstabbing from within the White House undermines the credibility of the United States and its officials on the world stage. If top advisers are willing to casually throw each other under the bus, how will foreign powers view us?
Indeed, this could be part of the reason that China has been hesitant to take Washington at its word, holding up trade talks and escalating punishing tariffs.
Worse, such rumors signal a deep distrust among advisers, preventing robust and honest discussion and action on key policy priorities.
That’s no small problem as the Trump administration is currently trying to navigate such fraught issues as denuclearization in North Korea, trade hostilities with China, NATO alliances, and Russia. To make good on his promise for better deals, President Trump needs advisers who are more interested in workable solutions than in undermining each other.
For all of the good that Bolton is doing with those rumors, he might as well write it down in a burn book and photocopy the pages. Except he’s not a high school girl and the whisper campaign will ruin far more than friendships.