US President Donald Trump on Tuesday forced out John Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser with whom he had significant disagreements on Iran, Afghanistan and a cascade of other global challenges.
The two men offered opposing accounts on Bolton’s less than friendly departure, a leave-taking example of what had been a fractious relationship almost from the start.
“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,” Trump tweeted.
“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,” he added.
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….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2019
Bolton, however, said in a tweet that he had offered his resignation on Monday night and Trump said, “let’s talk about it tomorrow”.
I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) September 10, 2019
The departure comes at a trying moment for the Trump administration on the world stage, weeks before the United Nations General Assembly and as the president faces pressing decisions on a host of foreign policy issues.
In recent months, tensions have risen between Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over influence in the president’s orbit and how to manage the president’s desire to negotiate with some of the world’s most unsavoury actors.
Bolton held a press briefing with Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin later on Tuesday.
During that briefing, Pompeo said there were definitely policy areas where he had different views from Bolton on how to proceed.
‘A bridge too far’
Bolton, a leading foreign policy hawk, was widely known to have pressed the president for a harder line on issues such as North Korea. Also a chief architect of Trump’s strong stance on Iran, Bolton had advocated a tougher approach on Russia and Afghanistan.
Most recently, there was reportedly significant disagreement within the administration over Trump’s decision to host a now-cancelled meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, who was travelling with Trump on Monday, said reports of Bolton’s dissent on the Taliban meeting was a “bridge too far” for Trump.
One Republican familiar with the disagreements between Trump and Bolton said the NSA’s opposition to a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a precipitating factor in the dismissal.
French President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to broker such a meeting, possibly on the sidelines of the upcoming UN General Assembly, in the hope of salvaging the international Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from.
Bolton and the National Security Council staff were also viewed warily by some in the White House who viewed them as more attuned to their own agendas than the president’s – and some administration aides have accused Bolton’s staff of being behind leaks of information embarrassing to Trump.
Bolton was Trump’s third NSA after Michael Flynn and HR McMaster.
He was a surprise pick at the time, with a world view seemingly ill-fit to the president’s isolationist “America First” pronouncements.
Trump had sometimes joked about Bolton’s image as a warmonger, reportedly saying in one Oval Office meeting that “John has never seen a war he doesn’t like”.
President Trump speaks during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau as Secretary of State Pompeo and NSA Bolton look on in the Oval Office [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
Bolton championed hawkish foreign policy views dating back to the Reagan administration and became a household name over his vociferous support for the Iraq war as the US ambassador to the UN under George W Bush. He briefly considered running for president in 2016, in part to make the case against the isolationism that Trump would come to embody.
“Bolton was a lame duck the day he was hired,” said Joel Rubin, a former deputy assistant secretary of state who served under former President Barack Obama.
“It made no sense that Trump, who ran against endless war, would hire one of its most famous architects,” Rubin told Al Jazeera.
Still, Trump has admired Bolton for years, praising him on Twitter as far back as 2014. Trump has told allies he thinks Bolton is “a killer” on television, where Bolton is a frequent face on Fox News.
‘Revolving door of US leadership’
In a further sign of an acrimonious relationship, a person close to Bolton told reporters on Tuesday that they had been authorised to say one thing – that since Bolton has been the NSA there have been no “bad deals” on Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria. The person, who did not divulge who had given the authorisation, was not allowed to discuss the issue by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
When asked to respond to the person’s comment, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told reporters: “I don’t know how to read” it. “Sounds like just somebody trying to protect him,” she added.
Senator Chris Murphy said Bolton’s dismissal was a cause for worry.
“I’m legitimately shaken by the grave instability of American foreign policy today,” Murphy tweeted. “I’m no Bolton fan, but the world is coming apart, and the revolving door of US leadership is disappearing America from the world just at the moment where a stable American hand is most needed.”
Rubin warned that he believes “the dysfunction across all American national security agencies is real and dangerous and not going away” with Bolton’s firing.
“At its core, Trump is responsible for the chaos,” Rubin said.