News Brief: John Bolton's National Security Views, Chinese Tariffs, Gun Control March

Mar 23, 2018
Originally published on March 23, 2018 9:55 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump has picked a new national security adviser for a third time.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This time it's former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, who will replace H.R. McMaster next month. Now, Bolton is a longtime commentator on Fox News, which the president often watches and tweets about. Bolton has in the past written of his desire for regime change in North Korea and of bombing Iran. He's also a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal.

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JOHN BOLTON: This deal was a strategic debacle. I think the only thing that we can do to try and get back on the right track is to say the deal's over. Unless you're content to have Iran on an unimpeded path to deliverable nuclear weapons, this deal has to be scrapped.

INSKEEP: That's Bolton on Fox News a couple of years ago. He would also like to scrap the whole Iranian government.

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BOLTON: The regime in Tehran needs to be overthrown at the earliest opportunity.

INSKEEP: That remark was at an event at which Bolton addressed the MEK, an Iranian opposition group in exile which has paid him to speak in the past.

KING: All right. To understand how John Bolton might shape this administration's foreign policy, we've got NPR's Scott Horsley on the line. He covers the White House. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So as we heard there, Bolton takes a very hard line against Iran. What other foreign policy views will he bring into the White House?

HORSLEY: He is a hawk. Recall that during the George W. Bush administration, John Bolton was a cheerleader for the Iraq War, a war that candidate Donald Trump claimed to have opposed from the get go, despite evidence to the contrary. More recently, Bolton has been an advocate for using military force in a first strike against North Korea, an idea that U.S. military commanders have resisted strongly.

KING: How different is Bolton, though, from the outgoing national security adviser, H.R. McMaster?

HORSLEY: He's quite different. He is very much an American-Firster. While H.R. McMaster stressed international alliances and often pointed out that America First does not mean America alone, Bolton is more skeptical of sort of dealing in international institutions, even though he was U.N. ambassador, which he was not confirmed by the Senate. Bolton famously joked that you could lop 10 stories off the U.N. building in New York and it wouldn't make any difference. John Bolton is a polarizing figure with strong views. That is sort of an ideal qualification if you want to be a talking head on Fox News. It's going to be an interesting background for someone who serves as national security adviser where the job is really to sort of be a clearinghouse and an honest broker for all the different factions of the foreign policy apparatus.

INSKEEP: John Bolton is interesting for one reason that you mentioned, Scott Horsley, because you mentioned the Iraq War. This is a man who believes in the use of American power. And it is true he's correct that the United States has immense power, although the Iraq War is an example of a case where that power was used and there were some, let us say, unintended consequences.

HORSLEY: That's right. You know, when when Donald Trump unceremoniously fired his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, way back 10 days ago, he said he was close to getting the cabinet that he wanted. We have now seen the departure of Tillerson, economic adviser Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster, all in the last couple of weeks. All three of those were part of the internationalist wing at the White House that often served as a check on the president's more nationalistic instincts. John Bolton and Tillerson's replacement, Mike Pompeo, on the other hand, will encourage those instincts.

INSKEEP: Busy couple weeks.

KING: And one last interesting thing. Bolton wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal, titled, "The Legal Case For Striking North Korea First." The president, of course, has agreed to meet with North Korea's leader for direct talks. Scott Horsley, thank you so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

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KING: President Trump has long accused China of unfair trade practices.

INSKEEP: So it wasn't that surprising that he announced an aggressive package of tariffs yesterday aimed at Chinese imports. The list of products has not been made public yet, but China has already responded by announcing its own set of proposed tariffs on more than 100 United States products, items ranging from wine to pork.

KING: NPR's Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz is with us live. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So how exactly do we think China's going to retaliate?

SCHMITZ: Well, China's commerce ministry released a list this morning of 128 U.S. products that may get slapped with tariffs. This includes things like wine, fresh fruit, steel pipes and lots of other goods that China imports from the United States. When you total them all up, they account for $3 billion worth of goods. And while we don't know the fine print yet, the ministry did say it would propose a 25 percent tariff on imports of pork and recycled aluminum, as well.

KING: That is a diverse group of products there. Is there a reason why China is going after these specific things?

SCHMITZ: Well, it's interesting. A lot of these products on the list are produced in rural or working-class regions of the U.S., areas that voted for Trump in the 2016 election. So it's clear that China is going after his base to try and hurt him. You know, what's also interesting about this preliminary list is that $3 billion worth of U.S. imports really isn't that much in the scheme of things. The big-ticket items that the U.S. exports to China, like soybeans and Boeing jets, they aren't included in this. There could be a couple reasons for that. It's possible that China simply depends on U.S. soybeans and jets so much that there just aren't many other places where they could find alternative supplies of these products and that it really couldn't afford to target them. Another possible reason is that China is taking a wait-and-see approach and may announce more painful actions later. Remember here that Beijing's preliminary list of tariffs would only happen if it cannot reach an agreement with the Trump administration on its tariffs on Chinese imports.

KING: Yes. And of course it's worth pointing out here that the Trump administration hasn't actually imposed the tariffs yet. It's announced that it will go forward with them after a 15-day period. In the meantime, do you think both sides are going to be meeting to try to avert a trade war?

SCHMITZ: Well, no official meetings have been announced yet, but it's clear from the language China's using that it would prefer to negotiate directly with the Trump administration before any shots are fired on trade. And of course it's possible that once the two sides actually sit down, Trump may actually pull back on these tariffs. We did see signs earlier this week that China is willing to do something to appease Trump. At the closing of China's annual National Congress, Premier Li Keqiang promised that China would no longer require foreign companies to transfer their key technology to local partners. And he also said that foreign companies would compete on a fair playing field in the China market. But he has said this before and, you know, nothing's really changed.

KING: All right. So some mixed signals there. In the meantime, though, yesterday global markets plunged on this news. What has them spooked?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. The Shanghai Composite was down 3 1/2 percent. Japan's Nikkei was down 4 1/2 points. You know, when the world's two largest economies are preparing for a trade war, that means potentially severe ramifications for global trade, supply chains, you name it. Investors are understandably very anxious about a threat to the global trade order and what this may mean for companies throughout the world.

INSKEEP: So this creates something that President Trump likes very much, an opportunity for negotiation, but something that businesses generally do not like at all, which is uncertainty.

SCHMITZ: Prepare for choppy waters.

KING: NPR's Rob Schmitz from Shanghai. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks.

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KING: Thousands of students will lead an anti-gun-violence rally in Washington on Saturday.

INSKEEP: They're calling it March For Our Lives, and it's the latest call to action from the students who survived the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. They will be joined by other students in cities like New York and Boston and Los Angeles and Chicago, all marching for gun control and school safety.

KING: NPR's Brakkton Booker has been following these students since the school shooting. Good morning, Brakkton.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What are we expecting to see tomorrow?

BOOKER: Well, you know, Noel, I've been following these students in Parkland after the shooting and in Tallahassee when they were bringing their demands to the state legislature. Now they're coming to D.C., where they say ending gun violence and demanding school safety should be made a top priority in this country. And, as you know, these students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the student survivors, are the ones spearheading this. And when the big event coming to D.C. takes place on Saturday, there are expected to be large crowds. Officially the National Park Service says that their permit that was issued for the rally was for 500,000 participants, but that number could swell. So we're expecting celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, the host of "The Tonight Show," and Broadway stars Lin-Manuel Miranda Ben Platt are also set to perform.

KING: We spoke yesterday to Cameron Kasky. He's a student who survived the shooting, and he's helping organize the march. And he said, look, you know, this movement needs to appeal to a broad and diverse group of students.

CAMERON KASKY: Our story was told because we are an affluent white community. Students who are in lower-income communities don't get to speak out the way we do because people don't listen. We have to connect with these students.

KING: You've been following these young people. What kind of students have been involved in the marches and rallies so far?

BOOKER: Well, it's all kinds of students, to answer your question really, really quickly. But, Noel, it's an interesting point that Cameron made there. This story about the Parkland students is as much about activism as it is a class issue. You know, gun violence impacts black and Latinos' communities at alarming rates, especially those that don't have the financial means and aren't as well off as Parkland. Now, when you see some of these discrepancies that Cameron pointed out, it's important to note that these students from Parkland are shining a light on it, and that's why you will see a wide variety of races and ethnicities taking part in the March For Our Lives event on Saturday.

KING: All right. So how will the organizers know if this has been a success? I imagine numbers are one way. What else are they looking for?

BOOKER: Well, look. I think it's easy to forget how quickly this movement has taken off. It's only been five weeks since the Parkland shooting. And, you know, the Go Fund Me page that was started by some of these Parkland students has already amassed $3.3 million in donations. Now, I think the real test is going to be not just the sheer numbers, but how well they get voters to the ballot box in November for the midterm elections and beyond that.

KING: NPR's Brakkton Booker. Thanks so much, Brakkton.

BOOKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.