President Trump Fires John Bolton
President Trump took to Twitter late this morning to fire his third National Security Adviser.
President Trump has used Twitter to once again up-end his national security team, this time by firing his National Security Adviser John Bolton, apparently in response to disagreements over this week’s aborted meeting with the Taliban at Camp David:
WASHINGTON — President Trump fired John R. Bolton, his third national security adviser, on Tuesday amid fundamental disagreements over how to handle major foreign policy challenges like Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.
Mr. Trump announced the decision on Twitter. “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”
His departure comes as Mr. Trump is pursuing diplomatic openings with two of the United States’ most intractable enemies, efforts that have troubled hard-liners in the administration, like Mr. Bolton, who view North Korea and Iran as profoundly untrustworthy.
The president has continued to court Kim Jong-un, the repressive leader of North Korea, despite Mr. Kim’s refusal to surrender his nuclear program and despite repeated short-range missile tests by the North that have rattled its neighbors. In recent days, Mr. Trump has expressed a willingness to meet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran under the right circumstances, and even to extend short-term financing to Tehran, although the offer has so far been rebuffed.
To his admirers, Mr. Bolton was supposed to be a check on what they feared would be naïve diplomacy, a cleareyed realist who would keep a president without prior experience in foreign affairs from giving away the store to wily adversaries. But Mr. Trump has long complained privately that Mr. Bolton was too willing to get the United States into another war.
The tension between the men was aggravated in recent months by the president’s decisions to call off a planned airstrike on Iran in retaliation for the downing of an American surveillance drone and to meet with Mr. Kim at the Demilitarized Zone and cross over into North Korea.
Mr. Bolton favored the strike on Iran and publicly criticized recent North Korean missile tests that Mr. Trump brushed off. After the president arranged the DMZ meeting with Mr. Kim via a last-minute Twitter message, Mr. Bolton opted not to accompany him and instead proceeded on a previously scheduled trip to Mongolia.
The rift between the president and his national security adviser owed as much to personality as to policy. The president never warmed to him, a dynamic that is often fatal in this White House. Mr. Bolton also clashed with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
At its core, the schism reflected a deep-seated philosophical difference that has characterized the Trump presidency. While given to bellicose language, Mr. Trump came to office deeply skeptical of overseas military adventures and promising negotiations to resolve volatile conflicts. Mr. Bolton, however, has been one of Washington’s most outspoken hawks and unapologetic advocates of American power to defend the country’s interests.
President Trump announced Tuesday that he had fired his national security adviser, John Bolton, saying in tweets that he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.”
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” Trump said.”I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service.”
Trump said he would name a replacement next week.
Bolton, a former diplomat and political commentator who came on board in April 2018, was Trump’s third national security adviser.
Trump’s harshly worded tweet made clear that long-simmering frustration with Bolton had boiled over. Bolton immediately took issue with Trump’s assertion that he was fired, saying that he had offered his resignation. “Let’s be clear, I resigned, having offered to do so last night,” Bolton told The Washington Post.
He also responded to Trump on Twitter. “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.'” Bolton wrote.
Bolton was scheduled to appear alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a White House briefing later Tuesday. Trump’s announcement came less than two hours before that event.
Here are the President’s tweets:
And here’s a tweet from John Bolton that makes it clear that his departure was not voluntary:
Bolton’s departure from the Administration appears to be connected primarily to the fact that the National Security Adviser was strenuously against the idea of inviting the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. It also appears that there are deeper-seated reasons for the departure related to Bolton’s support for a more aggressive foreign policy with regard to Iran, Afghanistan and other issues. Finally, there appears to have been a struggle for power between Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over who would have the most sway over American foreign policy. Clearly this indicates that Pompeo has won that fight.
What this means for the future direction of American foreign policy, but it will clearly have an impact in every part of the world from North Korea to Venezuela. On the surface, one might say that getting rid of Bolton is a positive development due to his more hawkish position on issues such as our policy toward Iran and other issues. At the same time, though, there is an argument to be made that Bolton was serving as a necessary counterweight to a President who seems inclined to engage in foreign policy stunts that accomplish nothing and only tend to elevate American enemies such as Kim Jong Un. In another universe, the dismissal of a foreign policy hardliner like Bolton is something that would be seen as a positive development. Given the haphazard nature of foreign policy under this President, though, and his tendency toward meaningless gestures like the meetings Given that, whether Bolton’s departure will be for ill or for good remains to be seen.
For his part, Daniel Larison is glad to see him go:
Whoever takes over as Bolton’s replacement will have a difficult job of repairing the damage that he did. Bolton presided over the most dysfunctional national security process in recent memory by design, and that compounded the administration’s existing foreign policy dysfunction. He pushed an extremely hawkish agenda that has led the U.S. closer to unnecessary war with Iran, disastrously committed the U.S. to regime change in Venezuela, and effectively torpedoed diplomatic engagement with North Korea. Most recently, he prevailed on Trump to kill the negotiations with the Taliban. He was a leading supporter of the cruel economic warfare that the U.S. has waged against Iran and Venezuela over the last year. The Trump administration’s foreign policy will still be a failed mess without him, but it will have one less fanatic involved in setting policy.
As a matter of instinct, I tend to agree with Larison. Bolton’s long history as a neocon who pushed for a confrontation around the world is well-known, but it’s also true that in some cases he served as a counterweight to a naive and dangerous foreign policy on the President’s part. This is especially true with respect to the Administration’s obsequious policy toward Noth Korea and the strategically stupid idea that was at the root of the aborted meeting with the Taliban. As for other areas, it’s fairly clear that President Trump didn’t need John Bolton to push him toward aggression toward Venezuela and Iran in particular.
In any case, the question now is who will replace Bolton and whether they will be any better or worse than Bolton, or McMaster, or Michael Flynn, the three National Security Advisers that this President has gone through in the past three years.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins is reporting Trump and Bolton “got into a bitter argument” last night about Trump’s plan to meet with Taliban leaders at Camp David over the weekend, just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This meeting ultimately did not take place, with Trump saying he called it off after an attack in Kabul.
John Bolton and President Trump got into a bitter argument last night over the president’s plan to host Taliban leaders at Camp David, two people tell me.— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) September 10, 2019
It’s unclear if it was on the phone or in person.
NBC News previously reported that Bolton “vehemently opposed” this idea, as did Vice President Mike Pence. Pence subsequently denied this report. CNN’s Jim Acosta reports a “factor in Bolton’s firing was that Trump and Pence were upset that Bolton’s team had made it sound as though the VP opposed the Taliban meeting at Camp David.”
More details as they become available.