Bolton Plans to Oust Remaining Sane People from NSC

The incoming National Security Advisor reportedly wants to purge those who aren't sycophants.

Foreign Policy (“Bolton Expected to ‘Clean House’“):

Incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton and people close to him are expected to launch a massive shake-up at the National Security Council, aiming to remove dozens of current White House officials, starting with holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration, according to multiple sources.

Those targeted for removal include officials believed to have been disloyal to President Donald Trump, those who have leaked about the president to the media, his predecessor’s team, and those who came in under Obama.

“Bolton can and will clean house,” one former White House official said.

Another source said, “He is going to remove almost all the political [appointees] McMaster brought in.”

A second former White House official offered a blunt assessment of former Obama officials currently detailed or appointed to the NSC: “Everyone who was there during Obama years should start packing their shit.”

[…]

Among the officials Bolton’s allies are urging him to fire is Nadia Schadlow, currently the deputy national security advisor for strategy. Schadlow was the primary author of the administration’s recently released National Security Strategy, which was viewed as a surprisingly mainstream document that reaffirmed many traditional U.S. foreign-policy positions. Another official likely to be targeted in a Bolton purge is McMaster’s deputy, Ricky Waddell.

It wouldn’t be the first purge to follow a change in Trump’s national security advisor. When Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster replaced retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in the job last year, McMaster systematically eliminated officials seen as loyal to his predecessor. According to four sources close to the White House, those so-called “Flynnstones” — advisors loyal to Flynn — are believed to be plotting their return to the NSC.

Whether Bolton will sign off on the staff purge his allies and advisors are pushing is less clear, though he has been insistent about ousting so-called Obama holdovers. “You could easily say that people close to Bolton want these people to go,” one source said. Other sources stress that Bolton, a veteran bureaucratic infighter, makes his own decisions.

A source close to Bolton cautioned that any staffing changes would take time, given the need to process security clearances. That means Bolton will likely be stuck with his current staff for the May summit meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

As with McMaster before him, Bolton is absolutely entitled to surround himself with top deputies who share his vision of national security policy and with whom he is personally comfortable. But much of this is just silly.

First off, as Loren DeJonge Shulman correctly points out, “There are no holdovers from the Obama admin on the NSC staff. There are career civil servants and military who, that being the point of their jobs, serve across admins.” The various departments and agencies detail career professionals—usually their top people and up-and-comers—to the NSC to perform staffing and liaison functions. While most of them doubtless have personal political views, they’re not partisan operatives. Their service is vital.

Second, it’s simply a mistake to try and get rid of people who aren’t “loyalists” and acolytes. The President and his top foreign policy advisors should have a coherent worldview. But they absolutely need to hear contrary views and get information about the risks associated with the preferred courses of action. They’re free to assume those risks. But it’s crucial that they understand them.

Third, none of this matters if in fact Trump and Bolton don’t care about process. If they’re bound and determined to pursue bellicose policies with respect to Iran and North Korea, there’s nothing even the most capable NSC staff can do to stop them.

FILED UNDER: National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    I served 20 years in the Air Force, and thought my son might follow in my footsteps, but there’s no way in hell I’ll encourage him to join the military as long as there are people like Bolton who are all too ready to send good young men and women off to die for no good reason. Again.

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  2. Mu says:

    Bolton “ok, lets have some coffee and get started”
    Staff “sorry sir, the coffee guy was a holdover, and the new guy doesn’t have a clearance yet”
    B “soda, water?” “Same situation, sir”
    B “Ok, lets start with North Korea, who has that desk?” “Now, funny that you mention that …”

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  3. MBunge says:

    I know Trump is bad and all but how do you write something like this without acknowledging that the NSA staff appears to be full of people actively and publicly undermining the elected President of the United States? They just leaked the contents of a classified Presidential briefing, not to try and prevent some ill-conceived policy but simply to embarrass the President and feed the flames of a loony conspiracy theory. Is it really so hard to see where tolerating and even celebrating this sort of thing will lead? How do you reconcile venerating “process” while tacitly condoning those who are subverting it?

    I know “NeverTrump” is a cute slogan for wounded egos but refusing to accept the President of the United States is actually the President of the United States is going to end in a place you won’t want to be.

    Mike

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  4. wr says:

    @MBunge: So basically you believe that every government job should be staffed with an incompetent sycophant because Trump is such a terrible manager he’s incapable of leading a single professional with years of experience?

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  5. Mikey says:

    @MBunge:

    refusing to accept the President of the United States is actually the President of the United States is going to end in a place you won’t want to be

    You support Trump, who was a leader of the racist “birther” movement that was specifically meant to delegitimize a President of the United States with the loony conspiracy theory he wasn’t born here and his birth certificate was faked.

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  6. labman57 says:

    Mr. Preemptive Strike has an urge … an urge to purge all level-headed members from the NSC.

    5
  7. Blue Galangal says:

    @Mikey: I’d take it one step further… I think it’s becoming clearer each day that Trump actually may be illegitimate, that is, may not in fact be the legitimately elected president; and, further, that it has long been known and is now self evident that he was never remotely qualified for the job. So this may well be a path which Mr. Bouncing Bunge ought to want to leave untrodden.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge:

    [T]he NSA staff appears to be full of people actively and publicly undermining the elected President of the United States? They just leaked the contents of a classified Presidential briefing, not to try and prevent some ill-conceived policy but simply to embarrass the President and feed the flames of a loony conspiracy theory.

    The memo was almost certainly leaked by an appointee who didn’t get his way rather than a professional bureaucrat. Jonathan Turley speculates:

    This is not the usual type of leaks that we have seen from the White House and it is not “deep state” actors. These are likely his appointees who are secretly working for his demise even at the risk of a criminal charge. The motivation is not clear but multiple people appear to have taken on a mission of either alerting the public of problematic conduct or hastening the end of this presidency. Since these are people who were affirmatively selected by the President or his closest aides, it is a remarkable role to take on after only a year of governance.

    Sounds about right to me.

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  9. michael reynolds says:

    Hitler invaded Poland on the pretext of self-defense despite the fact that Poland was a far weaker state with zero intention or capability of attacking Germany, the superpower of its day.

    How would a Trump attack on Iran or North Korea be any different, morally?

    If this jackass in the White House starts a war the American people will not back him. There will be no ‘rally-round’ effect. It will further divide the US. It will mean mass demonstrations and strikes and possibly riots. I don’t think even the coal miners in Kentucky will want their kids coming home in a wheelchair or a box so that Trump can distract from his ongoing criminality and incompetence. If he starts a war before November the Republican party will be decimated.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    Exactly right. People once loyal to Trump are now clearly terrified by him.

    Trump has to get rid of Mattis. He may use the transgender issue to rationalize it, but Mattis stands between Trump-Bolton and a stupid, immoral and illegal war they both desperately need. Trump’ll appoint some abject toady like Devin Nunes, because Trump has learned that at least some of our generals have spines. If you want a real floor-crawling worm you need to look to the GOP Congress.

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  11. al-Ameda says:

    @MBunge:

    I know Trump is bad and all but how do you write something like this without acknowledging that the NSA staff appears to be full of people actively and publicly undermining the elected President of the United States?

    More “deep state” bulls**.

    As James points out above, it appears that Trump’s hand-picked appointed staff is selling him out with leaks. It’s good to know the appalling ongoing truth about this president.

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  12. Todd says:

    Sadly, none of this matters all that much, as James alludes to in his last paragraph. We currently live in a world where the guest lists for the Sean Hannity show or Fox & Friends have more potential to influence U.S. policy than who staffs the NSC. It’s mind boggling that this is reality.

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  13. Todd says:

    If the deep state really does exist, their primary mission should be to try to insert sleeper agents as Fox “News” producers. 😉

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  14. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: I don’t concern myself with the morality of what nations do. Nations exist in a “state of nature” similar to that of lions, antelopes, and people who live under anarchy–either adopted or imposed. Rather, I concern myself with the wisdom and utility of actions. Germany’s invasion of Poland had both (but possibly only utility); invading Iran or NK has neither. It’s the stupidity that bothers me (and the possibility of ruining a future trip to the Hermit Kingdom, but that’s not a policy-based concern). I do hope you’re right about the coal miner in Kentucky–or the one’s in West Virginia and Pennsyltucky for that matter–but I have my doubts. Consider how many “po’ white trash” boys died for the glory of the Confederacy and the economic benefit of plantation owners. This group among, tribalism strong is.

    Second, it’s simply a mistake to try and get rid of people who aren’t “loyalists” and acolytes. The President and his top foreign policy advisors should have a coherent worldview. But they absolutely need to hear contrary views and get information about the risks associated with the preferred courses of action. They’re free to assume those risks. But it’s crucial that they understand them.

    We do get that the above statement contains no factors that match Trump’s personality, leadership history, or modus operendi, right?

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    We do get that the above statement contains no factors that match Trump’s personality, leadership history, or modus operendi, right?

    Sure. I’m just pointing out the real danger in that approach. We’ve had bullheaded presidents before. This is something different.

    3
  16. Charon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Wars of aggression and preventive war are, technically, war crimes by current international law. The Nuremberg precedent is that “just following orders” is not a good defense. (In fact, our military is supposed to refuse illegal orders).

    Given that our military really does not want these wars, I wonder about the mechanics of how Trump/Bolton go about getting their wars going.

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  17. Charon says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Bolton does not care about public opinion, and Trump only cares what his MAGA deplorables think.

    1
  18. teve tory says:

    “There are no holdovers from the Obama admin on the NSC staff. There are career civil servants and military who, that being the point of their jobs, serve across admins.” The various departments and agencies detail career professionals—usually their top people and up-and-comers—to the NSC to perform staffing and liaison functions. While most of them doubtless have personal political views, they’re not partisan operatives. Their service is vital.

    Pfft. You and your Stupid LIEbral “facts”. HiLIEary LOST GET OVAR IT

    /tard

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  19. CSK says:

    @teve tory:

    Please. That would be “Killary” or “Hellary.” Get your epithets straight, man.

    3
  20. teve tory says:

    I think Hillary Killton is the dumbest one i’ve heard.

    3
  21. al-Ameda says:

    @Todd:

    If the deep state really does exist, their primary mission should be to try to insert sleeper agents as Fox “News” producers.

    Thanks for that pro tip!

    3
  22. An Interested Party says:

    Given that our military really does not want these wars, I wonder about the mechanics of how Trump/Bolton go about getting their wars going.

    This is a very important point…I wonder what those who have more knowledge of the military think of this…what happens when so many in the military, particularly among its leadership, don’t want to go down the crazy invade/bomb rat hole…

  23. Barry says:

    @MBunge: Blah blah blah.

    2
  24. Lounsbury says:

    @wr: Whatever ad hoc justification he needs to feed the Trolling / Dezinformatsia needs.

    Have not seen any sign of actual considered thinking over the past year or more – although one can suspect he is indeed a genuine orange cretin supporter.

  25. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: Indeed it is.

    For the love of God I hope you lot have a Wave to end all Wave elections in November.

    A President Pence would be perfectly tolerable to the world (and while I am sure the more Left of the commentators here would be horrified by his actual policies, perfectly tolerable to the USA), the Orange Cretin is a third rater not even worthy of running Honduras, let alone the USA.

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