Trump sacks John Bolton as NSA: Here are the top names who could replace him

Trump has now removed three NSAs in two-and-half years of his tenure and the next post-holder could be one having a personal rapport with the president.

                            Trump sacks John Bolton as NSA: Here are the top names who could replace him
Donald Trump and John Bolton (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump sacked National Security Adviser (NSA) John Bolton on the eve of the 18th anniversary of 9/11 attacks. He later shared the update on Twitter saying that he had “disagreed strongly” with many of the suggestions that Bolton had come up with. The 70-year-old Bolton, known for his ultra-hawkish approaches in foreign policy, said in his tweet that he himself wanted to quit. Bolton was in office since April 2008 after he was picked to replace Lt Gen H R McMaster.

Whoever might have made the first move, there is no denying the fact that President Trump is quick to dispatch with anyone who fails to toe the line. In little over two-and-half years since he assumed office, the Republican president has sacked as many as three NSAs and the speculation is on over who would succeed the mustachioed Bolton. Going by the record of Trump’s dealing with Bolton and his predecessors, whoever replaces the latest NSA must have a rapport with the president at a personal level more than a comprehensive grip over foreign policy issues. 


A number of names have surfaced as probable replacement of Bolton, who had a tough stance on countries like Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela and found himself at odds with the president over them. Even the name of Charles M Kupperman, who is serving as the acting NSA after Bolton’s ouster, is not out of contention. Here are some names that are doing the rounds as Trump’s probable fourth NSA even as the president has said in a tweet that the decision will be announced next week.

Stephen E Biegun, US Special Representative for North Korea

Fifty-six-year-old Stephen Biegun is another name that could succeed Bolton. He has been an individual close to the conflicts that the foreign policy establishment has witnessed between Trump and Mike Pompeo on one hand and Bolton on the other. Known to be a sound technocrat and not a person with ideological baggage like Bolton, Biegun has found himself closer to Trump and Pompeo on the North Korean question. 

Biegun’s name was in the fray this year as the next American ambassador to Russia but John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, was picked for the job eventually.  In his current job since August last year, Biegun was a frontrunner in the race to become the NSA after Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster's term ended but Bolton pipped him to the spot. Biegun has also served as the executive secretary of the National Security Council in the George W Bush presidency. 

Charles Kupperman, acting NSA

A former official of the Ronald Reagan administration, Charles Kupperman is a key member in the race to replace Bolton. A longtime associate of Bolton, Kupperman is known for his blandness and is even nicknamed "Kupperware". The 68-year-old was appointed as the deputy NSA in January this year. Though being a man belonging to Bolton’s inner circle all this time could go against Kupperman’s appointment as the next NSA, yet he has hope. Trump preferred the man’s just-the-facts style more than Bolton’s one and reportedly wanted to have briefings on long-term planning more from him. 

Critics, however, feel apprehensive about Kupperman saying he too is a right-wing extremist and said it was of little qualitative change if 'one Islamophobe replaced another'.


Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran

A key member of the Trump administration given the fact that Iran constitutes a significant part of its foreign policy-making, Brian Hook is also said to be in the run to replace Bolton. A special representative for Iran and senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a man known for his proximity to the president, Hook has a positive impression on Trump’s mind with his work on Iran. The 51-year-old official was brought under former state secretary Rex Tillerson and is one of the remaining members of the first-generation administrative set-up of the Trump era.

Hook, a former director of policy planning in the state department who was made the head of the Iran Action Group by Pompeo last year, is likely to have the backing of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. However, as this New York Times article has said, Hook has already stepped up to take on Kushner’s Middle East portfolio since Jason Greenblatt, the designer of the Trump’s administration Middle East Peace Plan has decided to quit.

Besides these three top names, some others are also being floated. Washington Examiner’s Steve Nelson reported citing sources that retired army man Col Douglas Macgregor and assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ricky Waddell, are also being considered for the plum post. 

Richard Grenell, US Ambassador to Germany

Fifty-two-year-old Grenell is the American ambassador to Germany and is liked by Trump personally. A gay, Grenell has even copied Trump’s unique style at work. He had even slammed German firms doing business with Iran soon after taking office in May 2008. 

Grenell, who served as the director of communications and public diplomacy for the  US Permanent Representative to the United Nations between 2001-08, is known for defending Trump’s position on gay rights even as his administration has decided to roll back civil rights for gay and transgender people. Grenell has also taken an initiative to decriminalize homosexuality across the planet. Grenell’s name also surfaced as a prospective nominee for the US ambassador to the United Nations, though the position went to Kelly Kraft.

Grenell is expected to be interviewed for the vacant post of the NSA.

Douglas Macgregor, retired Army colonel

A retired army veteran and an author, Douglas Macgregor is known to Trump and even makes frequent appearances on one of Trump’s favorite programs on Fox “Tucker Carlson Tonight”. Even in June, while Trump had a difference of opinion with Bolton over the question of retaliating against Iran after its Revolutionary Guard Corps gunned down an American drone, he was influenced by Macgregor’s view on the show that week that a military step could be politically counterproductive. 

Ricky Waddell, former deputy NSA:

Major General Ricky Waddell served as a former NSA in the Trump administration between May 2017 and May 2018. The 60-year-old currently serves as the assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and could be a surprise pick as Bolton’s deputy. That his case is under consideration was understood from the words of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham during an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, September 10. He cited Trump as telling him the names of Waddell along with Hook and retired general Keith Kellogg. Waddell has been backed for he has the experience of working in the National Security Council when McMaster was the NSA.

H R McMaster, former NSA:

Yes, McMaster’s name is also doing the rounds although it might carry the least weight. According to a report in NBC News, Trump called up the former NSA (2017-18) last fall and said he missed him after his frustration with Bolton only became bigger. Trump even sought advice from the retired army lieutenant general on matters of national security as well as on the best available talent to lead the Pentagon. However, to expect McMaster as the NSA might be too stretched an expectation. 

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