McMaster Out, Bolton In

Uh oh.

NYT (“McMaster to Resign as National Security Adviser, and Will Be Replaced by John Bolton“):

Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the battle-tested Army officer tapped as President Trump’s national security adviser last year to stabilize a turbulent foreign policy operation, will resign and be replaced by John R. Bolton, a hard-line former United States ambassador to the United Nations, White House officials said Thursday.

General McMaster will retire from the military, the officials said. He has been discussing his departure with President Trump for several weeks, they said, but decided to speed up his departure, in part because questions about his status were casting a shadow over his conversations with foreign officials.

The officials also said that Mr. Trump wanted to fill out his national security team before his meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. He replaced Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson with the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, last week.

Officials emphasized that General McMaster’s departure was a mutual decision and amicable, with none of the recrimination that marked Mr. Tillerson’s exit. They said it was not related to a leak on Tuesday of briefing materials for Mr. Trump’s phone call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

In the materials, Mr. Trump was advised not to congratulate Mr. Putin on his re-election, which the president went ahead and did during the call.

Mr. Bolton, who will take office April 9, has met regularly with Mr. Trump to discuss foreign policy, and was on a list of candidates for national security adviser. He was in the West Wing with Mr. Trump to discuss the job on Thursday.

“H.R. McMaster has served his country with distinction for more than 30 years. He has won many battles and his bravery and toughness are legendary,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “General McMaster’s leadership of the National Security Council staff has helped my administration accomplish great things to bolster America’s national security.”

General McMaster had struggled for months to impose order not only on a fractious national security team but on a president who resisted the sort of discipline customary in the military. Although General McMaster has been a maverick voice at times during a long military career, the Washington foreign policy establishment had hoped he would keep the president from making rash decisions.

Rumors had this happening for quite some time, with Trump trying to find a graceful landing for McMaster. The problem was that McMaster, who hasn’t had a field command since he was a colonel, was never going to get a four-star job before Trump plucked him for his current post. And, acting as a political spokesman, he was pretty much useless to the Army in that capacity post this job, anyway.

Colin Powell managed to survive holding the National Security Advisor post as a three-star, moving on command V Corps, the Army’s Forces Command, and then become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But Powell served Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Further, Powell was much more shrewd in protecting his future career than McMaster, who rankled many by lending the prestige of his uniform to a controversial President.

John Bolton is, by resume, more qualified to be National Security Advisor than McMaster ever was. But he’s extraordinarily controversial. He’s the neocon’s neocon. And that’s not at all what this President, who desperately needs someone to calm his rash instincts and complete lack of preparation to run the nation’s foreign policy, needs.

UPDATE (1856): Oh, goody: another Russia connection.

NPR (“John Bolton’s Curious Appearance In A Russian Gun Rights Video“):

Incoming White House national security adviser John Bolton recorded a video used by the Russian gun rights group The Right to Bear Arms in 2013 to encourage the Russian government to loosen gun laws.

The episode, which has not been previously reported, illustrates the common cause that Russian and American gun rights groups were forming in the years leading up to the 2016 election through former National Rifle Association president David Keene. Keene appointed Bolton to the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee in 2011.

Russian politician Alexander Torshin helped establish The Right to Bear Arms and cultivate ties with American gun rights groups including the NRA. As a Putin ally, Torshin served as the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament for more than a decade, and also spent time on Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee, a state body that includes the director of Russia’s internal security service.

The Bolton video appears to be another plank in a bridge built by Russia to conservative political organizations inside the United States. It’s unclear why Russian leaders wanted to curry favor with the NRA, but Torshin and Keene appeared to have developed close ties over in the years prior to the 2016 election.

It’s a relationship that has outsized importance now that the FBI is reportedly investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016, as McClatchy reported in January. The NRA has denied wrongdoing.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, National Security, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. de stijl says:

    The probability of Korean War II just went waaay up.

  2. CSK says:

    Swell. Terrific. So when does the Korean War redux commence?

    And in other news, Victoria Toensing has joined her husband Joe diGenova on Trump’s legal team.

  3. mattb says:


    So again, reports were right on all counts except for the timeline.

    I look forward to seeing how Trump defenders reconcile one of the worst of the Bush administration being brought on to this critical position. I’m pretty sure Bolton qualifies as “one of those people who get everything wrong and are never punished for it.”

  4. Kathy says:

    Aw, shit.

    Will the attacks on Iran begin before or after the mid term elections?

  5. MBunge says:

    Not a fan of this move at all but when the National Security establishment repeatedly proves that Trump cannot trust them, this is pretty much all we could expect. It’s yet another example of people who mock the President’s intelligence demonstrating they can’t see even one move ahead.


  6. Mister Bluster says:

    March 3,2018

    Lindsey Graham: War with North Korea would be ‘worth it’ in the long run

    Bolton is insane.
    Crack pots were forcasting $5.00/gal gas 6-7 years ago.
    We can only hope it will be that cheap.

    I wonder if Putin has some sort of treaty with North Korea to nuke Florida if Bolton gets Trump to declare war on Kim Jung un.
    Anyone want to make book on how long that will take?

  7. gVOR08 says:

    We’re hosed.

  8. James Pearce says:

    I give him 8 months before he’s fired.

    Also, for what’s it’s worth, I wouldn’t freak out about his nomination. Yes, it’s bad. But it’s incumbent on Trump and Bolton now to come up with some decent results. They won’t.

  9. Todd says:

    Scary as this is, Bolton is almost certainly a much better fit for Trump’s governing style. Unfortunately, I think we are long past the point where we can continue to delude ourselves with the fantasy that “adults in the room” might be able to control Trump anyway.

    If we lived in a rational world, I would expect another big stock market plunge again tomorrow. Attacking Iran or North Korea would be both economically and strategically disastrous … and both scenarios have become at least marginally more likely tonight.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    Trump needs a war because the stupid fck thinks the country will rally.

    Bolton needs a war to come fully into his own as a man.

    It will be a miracle if we don’t start a war, either with Iran or North Korea. My money’s on Iran. So that’ll be great, we can get a whole new wave of terrorists, slaughter a bunch of Iranians just minding their own business, piss away a trillion or two, fill out Arlington cemetery, and best of all, the Emiratis and the Saudis will pay off Jared’s building. MAGA!

  11. CSK says:

    @James Pearce:
    If Bolton encourages an unfettered Trump, we could see a lot of damage in eight months.

  12. inhumans99 says:


    Oh my gosh, so you are that guy who believes President Trump is playing 3D Chess while everyone else is playing checkers. Oh man, thanks for this post as a good laugh was needed after hearing the news. Since your post was good for a chuckle or two I have given it a thumbs up.

  13. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @MBunge: This is a “strategic move?” Really? WA!

  14. Kathy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    My money’s on Iran.

    It’s the soft target (ie no nukes). And Bolton and his pet Trump can pretend the populace secretly loves America.

    I won’t hazard to guess at the aftermath, but I will guess support among America’s allies will be even more tepid than what there was for going after Iraq 15 years ago.

  15. mattb says:

    BTW, not only did Bolton recently author an editorial calling for an illegal preemptive strike on North Korea (, but this essay on his lobbying for a war with Iran is worth a read:

  16. michael reynolds says:

    Our allies are going to tell us to fck ourselves. No way in hell the UK or France is getting in on this. Iraq is child’s play next to Iran and the whole country is deeply sick of this sh!t.

  17. Kathy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If it were anyone else, I’d say I hope he’ll listen to his allies. but then if it were anyone else, war wouldn’t be a desirable possibility.

    We can try another tack. A war against Iran would disrupt global oil supplies and raise crude prices. One of the beneficiaries of such an eventuality would be Mexico

  18. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Our allies? I wasn’t sure we still had any.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Was Yosemite Sam unavailable? Meanwhile…

    And in other news, Victoria Toensing has joined her husband Joe diGenova on Trump’s legal team.

    In other words, the swamp is getting larger and larger…

    @MBunge: If you’d like, perhaps we could take up a collection for you, as you exhibit all the signs of someone who needs a new jaw…the one you currently possess must be exhausted…

  20. Hal_10000 says:


    Bolton *is* a part of the establishment. He’s done the most establishment thing ever: parlay being spectacularly wrong about everything into money, fame and more power.

  21. Hal_10000 says:


    The Iranian population is sympathetic to the US. They held vigils on 9/11 and have been relatively friendly to Americans. They are a more natural ally to us than Saudi Arabia. But I’m sure a few bombings will fix that.

  22. James Pearce says:


    If Bolton encourages an unfettered Trump, we could see a lot of damage in eight months.

    Perhaps. But I don’t think Trump picked Bolton because he wants advice on national security matters. Trump’s going to do what he wants regardless of who’s trying to put a bug in his ear. He needs to be managed, but that doesn’t mean he wants to be. If anything, I think this move is bad…for Bolton.

    He has no idea the amount of abuse he’s about to receive.

    I also suspect that this is yet more presidential trolling. For supper tonight, Trump will dine on our misery. The wine is already being made of our tears. He’s scrolling through Twitter right now, laughing his ass off.

    And really, we should be the ones laughing our asses off. “You picked John Bolton as your national security adviser? And he said yes?” That’s funny.

    Trump is going to crap on the Iran deal with or without Bolton. He’s going to poke at NK with or without Bolton. And –this will really make Bolton’s mustache bristle– he’s going to be weak on Russia with or without Bolton.

  23. Davebo says:

    @An Interested Party: Mike could swallow a broomstick if the straws were properly coiffed.

  24. Grumpy Realist says:

    The only thing the Iranians have to do is mine the Staits of Hormuz

  25. Davebo says:

    @Hal_10000: Amazing that Bolton has been able to monetize his ineptitude.

  26. mattb says:

    @James Pearce:

    Trump is going to crap on the Iran deal with or without Bolton. He’s going to poke at NK with or without Bolton.

    The issue with both is that Trump has signaled that he isn’t simply interested in “crapping on” in a verbal or diplomatic sense.

    Again, he rejected a diplomat to South Korea because that individual rejected the idea of a “bloody nose” attack. He has since made the decision to move the head of the CIA to State and moved a person into NatSec that just penned an article justifying a preemptive attack on North Korea and has been pushing for military action with Iran.

    In both cases it’s explicitly to find people whose worldview matches his (see most interviews about Pompeo).

    This is war footing stuff.

    And again, we find that the reports are true, just the time limes were off. BTW, did we mention all the reports that Kelly (who recently assured staff that no major changes were on the horizon) was on the way out as well? Give it a month or so, and who knows who is Chief of Staff.

    The best we can hope for is no military action is taken ahead of the midterms.

  27. NW-Steve says:

    @James Pearce:

    But it’s incumbent on Trump and Bolton now to come up with some decent results. They won’t.

    You’re almost certainly right. The trouble is that the indecent results that are more likely could really come with some rather serious repercussions. We won’t get off as easy as just getting to laugh at Trump and Bolton.

  28. CSK says:


    Trump apparently wants to have 4-5 Chiefs of Staff.

  29. James Pearce says:


    This is war footing stuff.

    Oh, it is. It is. Just wait till you see Trump’s uniform.

    Give it a month or so, and who knows who is Chief of Staff.

    There will be no chief of staff, from what I’ve been reading. This summer might be themed: Let Trump be Trump.

    So stay off Twitter.

    The best we can hope for is no military action is taken ahead of the midterms.

    Even after. History’s pretty clear on this one. American presidents gunning for a war usually get it.


    We won’t get off as easy as just getting to laugh at Trump and Bolton.

    No, but it is funny. The Trump Administration is starting to look like Spinal Tap. There’s Trump, Ivanka, Jared, and a bunch of dead drummers.

  30. rachel says:

    @NW-Steve: Serious repercussions indeed, up to and including getting Yours Truly killed.

  31. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m glad to hear you say Iran. I have friends in South Korea, many of whom live in Seoul. And Daejeon, where I lived for almost 5 years, is still at the perimeter of the artillery range for some of NKs batteries, from what I’ve been told.

    Iran is really good news, thanks! Not for the people of Iran, of course, but for me, definitely good news.

  32. Gustopher says:

    There are basically four types of Trump appointments:

    1. The Family Members: These can apparently hang around forever.

    2. Placeholders: Folks like Ben Carson, and Rick Perry who just kind of take up space. They can last for a while, possibly forever, so long as no one remembers they exist.

    3. The Solid C+/B- Level Folks: They want to make a difference. They arrive with their reputation in tact, and leave less than a year later with their reputation in tatters.

    4. The Pre-Soiled: They are their own biggest fans, they want to call the shots, and they flame out spectacularly at unpredictable intervals. Scaramucci, Flynn were fast, Bannon took a while, and Steve Miller stepped back from the brink.

    Bolton is definitely in the fourth group. I give him 137 days before he is gone, in slightly more disgrace then when he started.

    Can he start a war in 137 days? Yes, he can! Can he start two? That’s a little harder. But he should really hold out for getting North Korea and Iran in a war with each other — that’s the NeoCon dream, right there.

  33. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:


    The best we can hope for is no military action is taken ahead of the midterms.

    I wouldn’t count on this; the only way the war works to his advantage is by galvanizing the country to support “our troops and their leaders.”

  34. Lounsbury says:

    Dear God I hope you people get your voters bloody motivated.

  35. Franklin says:

    But, but, … the hardline approach brought North Korea to the bargaining table!

    Oh, that hasn’t happened yet? Look at my surprised face 😐

  36. Mikey says:

    Bolton’s foreign policy views, summarized.

  37. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Actually, I’m not sure this is a good fit for Trump. Loose cannons don’t suddenly stop popping just because they got moved into an office. Once Trump has a few meetings with Bolton hectoring him about all the gun-bomb-pow-pow-pow stuff Bolton knows and Trump doesn’t, the relationship will deteriorate pretty fast.

    Neither Bolton nor Trump realize what they’re really getting into here.

  38. Mister Bluster says:

    @Mister Bluster:..Crack pots were forcasting $5.00/gal gas 6-7 years ago.

    Now you remember.
    Gas prices were going to hit $5.00/gal. if Obama was reelected for a second term.

    April 30, 2012 OTB Voices of the Past

    One problem seems to be that the floor keeps rising. Gone are the days of $1.85 gas. Now we consider ourselves lucky at $3.00. How long before $3.75 seems cheap?

    Well, the gas companies got it above $3 now and they’re happy for now. It is below $4 a gallon
    and the public is apparently satisfied. Next year we go through the same thing with prices settling at $4.50 a gallon. Gas companies win, we lose every time.

    Seems like the first time I paid $1.00/gal. was Dec. 1979. Fifteen years later when I was working in Michigan Reg UL was 99cents/gal. for a few weeks. I’ve never seen it that low anywhere since then.
    I guess I should have stayed in the Wolverine State for a few more years.

  39. al-Ameda says:


    And in other news, Victoria Toensing has joined her husband Joe diGenova on Trump’s legal team.

    Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater would have been so proud.