Trump fires key ad­viser Bolton af­ter Tal­iban row

The Guardian - - Front Page - Ju­lian Borger Wash­ing­ton Ed Pilk­ing­ton New York

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

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AN­DREW HARNIK/AP

▼ John Bolton, pic­tured with Mike Pom­peo and Don­ald Trump in Fe­bru­ary, said he quit, rather than be­ing fired

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