by Morgan Chalfant · September 10, 2019
President Trump abruptly ousted John Bolton as his national security adviser on Tuesday, sending Washington reeling with a particularly messy staff breakup.
Trump in a series of tweets said he told Bolton on Monday night that his services were “no longer needed at the White House,” adding pointedly that he “strongly disagreed with many of his suggestions, as did others in the administration.”
The content of the tweets and the manner in which Trump dismissed with Bolton pointed to the harsh feelings between the two sides.
The president said Bolton submitted his resignation Tuesday, but the ex-aide offered a different accounting, writing on Twitter minutes after Trump that he had offered to resign Monday and that the president had responded that they should “talk about it” Tuesday.
The break-up came days after Trump stunned Washington with the news that he had canceled a planned meeting with the Taliban at Camp David to discuss peace overtures in Afghanistan.
Bolton reportedly disagreed vehemently with the decision to invite the people who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden to Camp David days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Democrats, who disagreed with the hawkish Bolton on most points, pounced on his firing as the latest sign of instability in Trump’s foreign policy.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who expressed concerns over Bolton’s appointment last year, called his ouster “just the latest example of [Trump's] government-by-chaos approach and his rudderless national security policy.”
“When Ambassador Bolton’s extreme views aren’t enough for you, the United States is headed for even more chaotic times,” Schumer said.
A few Republicans were also critical. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, said Bolton’s departure was a loss for the nation.
White House aides declined to address the specific circumstances surrounding Bolton’s exit.
“John Bolton’s priorities and policies just don’t line up with the president’s,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Any sitting president has the right to put someone in that position to carry out an agenda. It became no longer tenable, and the president made a change.”
Deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman will take over Bolton’s role in the interim, and Trump has said he plans to announce a permanent replacement for the position — which does not require Senate confirmation — next week.
Bolton was tapped as national security adviser in spring 2018 but saw his influence wane over the course of his tenure as he clashed with Trump on various fronts.
Bolton’s ouster comes after he was reportedly sidelined from the administration’s policy discussions on Afghanistan. Trump has long pushed for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan to end the 18-year-old war, thrusting him out of step with Bolton, who has advocated for an expansive military presence around the globe.
Trump’s pairing with Bolton, a national security hawk who held roles in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, was always an odd-duck relationship given the president’s transactional tendencies with foreign affairs and his aversion to getting involved in foreign conflicts.
Bolton, a fierce Iran hawk who advocated for regime change there, and his influence initially coincided with the administration hammering Tehran with sanctions.
But in recent months, Trump has expressed an openness to meeting with Iranian leaders, a clear contrast to Bolton. Following Bolton’s ouster, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had also clashed with the national security adviser, suggested a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York was likely.
“The president has made very clear he is prepared to meet with no preconditions,” Pompeo told reporters at the White House.
Pompeo acknowledged he disagreed with Bolton on many points but downplayed talk his resignation could foretell a softening of the administration’s policy toward Iran.
Bolton’s tenure was marked by an early stumble when he spoke about a “Libya model” for North Korea nuclear negotiations, which prompted Pyongyang to threaten to cut off talks.
For a while after that, Bolton receded into the background of the administration. But more recently, Trump publicly rebuked him during a trip to Japan earlier this year when he said he was not bothered by North Korea testing missile projectiles shortly after Bolton cited it as a violation of a United Nations resolution.
Bolton was also a leading voice in the effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. But months after the U.S. backed an opposition leader, Maduro remains in power and Trump has reportedly grown frustrated with the stagnant situation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, suggested the proposed Taliban meeting was the breaking point between Trump and Bolton.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) similarly speculated differences over Afghanistan contributed to Bolton’s downfall, but stressed he didn’t have “inside information.”
“The president has a great desire to bring America’s longest war to an end. I don’t think that’s been the position of Mr. Bolton, and I think that maybe that brought things to a head,” Paul said.
Paul, an isolationist, hailed Bolton’s departure, saying the “threat of war worldwide goes down exponentially with John Bolton out of the White House.”
“I think his advocacy for regime change around the world is a naive world view and I think the world will be a much better place with new advisers to the president and hopefully somebody who’s actually listening to what the president says over and over again: that he wants to bring America’s longest war to a close,” Paul said.
Notwithstanding Romney’s criticism, most Republicans argued Trump has the right to a more compatible national security adviser, even as they praised Bolton.
“In my view he did a good job, but ultimately that’s the president’s decision to make,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “He worked for the president, so ultimately the president has a right to people working for him that he’s comfortable with.”
Bolton is the third national security adviser to be jettisoned in the Trump administration, meaning Trump will have four national security advisers within less than three years as commander in chief. Bolton was preceded by H.R. McMaster and, very briefly, Michael Flynn.
Brett Samuels and Jordain Carney contributed.
The Hill · by Morgan Chalfant · September 10, 2019