Trump fires key adviser Bolton after Taliban row
Donald Trump has fired his national security adviser, John Bolton, in a pair of tweets that laid bare searing divisions in his inner circle.
Trump’s firing of his third national security adviser in as many years, with a tweet that revealed he had “disagreed strongly” with his top aide, is said to have caught even the White House by surprise.
The explosive messages were posted barely an hour after it was announced that Bolton would be appearing at a press conference alongside the secretaries of state and the US treasury. Bolton himself added to the confusion, commenting minutes after his public dismissal that he had offered to resign on Monday, but that Trump had replied: “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
The revelation was interpreted by critics as an indication that the US president had lacked the courage to fire a senior adviser to his face. Bolton continued to
press his case that he had resigned rather than being fired. He sent out a battery of texts, including to Fox News presenters on air, as well as the Washington Post, protesting: “I resigned, having offered to do so last night.”
The sacking-cum-resignation of Bolton, an ultra-hawk on foreign policy who under George Bush was a key architect of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, brings to a head mounting tensions within Trump’s team.
His removal had been a long time coming, with Trump making little effort to disguise his dissatisfaction over many months.
The growing distrust was mutual, by all accounts. Trump’s maverick approach to dealing with tough men and adversaries, in which he has emphasised a willingness to deal directly with America’s traditional enemies, such as Vladimir Putin in Russia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea – and most recently the Taliban in Afghanistan – was increasingly at odds with Bolton’s hardline belief that US military might is right. Bolton was also reported to have a testy relationship with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. They are said to have been at loggerheads for months to the extent that recently they were not speaking other than at official engagements.
Trump was unusually candid about the rift in his inner team. In the tweets he posted yesterday announcing Bolton’s departure he wrote: “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.”
He said he would name his fourth national security adviser next week.
Reaction to Bolton’s removal was predictably sharp given the controversy that has followed him throughout his political career. Commentators interpreted the news as further evidence of chaos and con- fusion within Trump’s White House, but there were also loud sighs of relief from those who were delighted to see such a hawkish influence excised from the heart of government.
Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said: “Bolton trashed nuclear treaties. He warmongered and threatened regime change. He should never have been appointed.” Elizabeth Warren, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, agreed, saying: “The American people are better off with John Bolton out of the White House.”
The National Iranian American Council, the largest body of USIranians, heralded the decision as the best of Trump’s presidency. The group’s chief, Jamal Abdi, said in a statement: “This single move dramatically reduces the chances of a new, catastrophic war in the Middle East.” Trump appointed Bolton in March 2018 having been impressed by the former US ambassador to the UN’s performances as a commentator on Fox News. Even then there was no ambiguity about Bolton’s hawkishness – in the months running up to his return to the White House, Bolton had advocated a first strike on North Korea and pushed for regime change in Tehran.
The tension between such a militaristic stance and Trump’s hesitancy about being drawn into another major conflict broke into public view this summer as Bolton was increasingly pushed into the shadows. The division was plain to see when Trump made a surprise visit in June to meet Kim Jong-un, in the absence of his adviser.
In June Trump came close to ordering airstrikes on Iran in response to the shooting down of a US surveillance drone but stopped short at the eleventh hour. It was a blow to Bolton.
The changing of the guard yesterday appears to have been triggered by Afghanistan. Bolton was openly unconvinced by efforts by Trump and Pompeo to do a deal with the Taliban.
Trump had been prepared to invite Taliban leaders to the US just ahead of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The talks were cancelled – but by then the gulf between the president and his aide had become unbridgeable.
‘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. I thank John very much for his service.’ Donald Trump yesterday
‘I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”’ John Bolton’s response
▼ John Bolton, pictured with Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump in February, said he quit, rather than being fired