It's not just the mustache! Donald Trump had hard reasons to get rid of NSA John Bolton

The president's pick of the ultra-hawk as NSA had raised quite a few eyebrows as the duo's stands on many foreign policy matters were never compatible.

                            It's not just the mustache! Donald Trump had hard reasons to get rid of NSA John Bolton
John Bolton (Getty Images)

Donald Trump did it again on Tuesday. The mercurial president sacked his third National Security Adviser (NSA) John Bolton on the eve of the September 11 attacks and confirmed the news on Twitter. Trump said he had strongly differed with Bolton’s suggestions over a number of issues, as did his other administrative officials, and told him that his services were no longer needed. Bolton was the third NSA the Trump administration had in just over two-and-half-years time.

In the past, Trump has been flayed for his frequent changes in the government set-up. However, this time, his step was more welcomed than criticized both at home and abroad for many had feared Bolton’s stay in the current American administration. The mustachioed Bolton was never a proponent of peaceful actions, and combined with Trump’s unpredictable ways, the world always expected the worst to unfold.

Former US National Security Adviser John Bolton with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono ahead of the G-20 summit in Osaka, western Japan, Thursday, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)

But while the coexistence of Trump and Bolton in the same administration gave rise to fears, insiders knew that it was never a workable marriage. Trump might be a man of reckless talks and actions but is certainly not a war-monger like ultra-hawkish Bolton.

And hence, the last 17 months saw a widening gap between the two men over their styles of viewing the world and ended up in Bolton’s ouster. Trump always had a dislike for Bolton's bushy moustache and found him intolerable in the corridors of foreign-policy-making.

Pompeo was 'never surprised'

That Bolton’s days were fast coming to a close was understandable when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a press briefing that he wasn’t surprised by the news of the NSA’s ouster. He said they (meaning himself along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who was with him) work “very closely with the president of the United States” and have a “pretty good understanding of how he’s thinking about things.” He said it is not their work to discuss about “inner workings and the palace intrigue” but those that matter for the country’s foreign policy.

Bolton, 70, was set to meet Pompeo and Mnuchin at a news conference on Tuesday but was sacked just hours before.

Though the two men were losing connection over a time (Trump had even called up Bolton’s immediate predecessor HR McMaster and told him he missed him after his frustration with Bolton went on growing), it was Trump’s decision to call secret talks with the Taliban at Camp David that became the trigger.

Bolton was always against the plan to pursue a peace plan with the Taliban which Trump and Pompeo did with a goal of withdrawing American troops from the Afghanistan war. Bolton felt the US could still do that without entering into a pact with the Taliban. Trump eventually cancelled the meeting but officials who backed the talks slammed Bolton for making his opposition public.



Conflicts over North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Russia

North Korea is another country over which Trump and Bolton clashed. While the president did not want to shut the doors on Pyongyang after they continued to test weapons and expressed optimism over negotiations, Bolton was more unforgiving and always felt that any progress in Washington-Pyongyang talks could only happen after the hermit state dismantled its entire nuclear infrastructure. When Trump became the first president to set foot on North Korean territory in June, Bolton was in Mongolia and not happy with the development.

Over Iran, too, the two didn’t find a common platform. Bolton has been in favour of a regime change in Iran even before becoming the NSA. Trump too has taken a strong stance with the Iranian regime over its nuclear ambitions and issued warnings time and again but has never favored a violent regime change.

Recently, he even focused on a diplomatic engagement with Tehran and wished to meet its president Hassan Rouhani. The two also differed over the idea of hitting back at Iran with military might after its Revolutionary Guards shot down an American surveillance drone. On Iran, Trump and Bolton agreed to pull out of the nuclear deal but that’s where the convergence ended. 

In Venezuela, too, Trump and Bolton failed to unite over a policy. While both were aghast with the Nicolas Maduro government, but their means to change it differed. The US and its allies backed Juan Guaido -- Maduro’s rival -- but yet there was no instant success in Venezuela and that made Trump understand that the challenge was not as easy as it seemed. The Maduro regime couldn’t be toppled as easily because of diverse reasons and as Trump felt upset with his administration’s strategy, Bolton continued to push for action.

Conventional take on Russia didn't impress Trump

Even on Russia, Bolton’s more conventional wisdom did not win him Trump’s vote. While the former NSA strategized by promising Ukraine assistance in its fight with Russian separatists, Trump felt the government in Kiev was too corrupt to be given military assistance. Besides, Bolton took on Russia over its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections but that was not to Trump’s liking as the latter feels a mere discussion about it throws a challenge to his administration’s good name. 

Bolton’s firing doesn’t make it unique. He is the third NSA and one of the innumerable officials of the Trump administration to have lost their jobs. It shows that in Trump’s daily show, he is the central character who calls all the shots. Whoever enters his orbit will be no less threatened by the president and would have to practice some real survival skills to last the distance. 

However, Bolton’s departure will certainly bring the temperature in the foreign-policy-making quarters down by quite a few notch. The US can’t really afford to see itself involved in more bleeding wars abroad and Trump’s 'America First' policy is not concomitant with such adventurism.

Bolton also rendered the National Security Council as a glorious extra with his unilateralist approaches until he found himself in a fateful opposition with Trump, also a man of ultimate individualist ambitions. Trump did well by disallowing Bolton have his free way and the world just heaved a sigh of relief, albeit it came through a clash of personalities and not a proper democratic redressal.

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