National Security Advisor John Bolton resigned (or was fired, depending on whose version you believe) Tuesday after one too many tussles with President Donald Trump. The key takeaway here is that Bolton was Trump’s “bad cop” — the one who talked exceedingly tough to keep the suspect (or, in this case, the foreign power) on his heels during interrogation, only to back off and let the “good cop” (Trump) step in to make a deal. Perhaps Bolton wasn’t taking his cue to back off, so Trump, ever eager for that deal, forced him out.
Trump is no foreign-policy hawk, so it was somewhat of a surprise to see him hire Bolton in the first place. As The Heritage Foundation’s Nile Gardiner summed up, “Bolton advanced a clear-eyed approach to dealing with the myriad threats facing the United States today and was uncompromising in his view that the U.S. must project strength and resolve in confronting its enemies.” That was true whether it was with China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, or the Islamic State.
It certainly seems the last straw was Bolton’s vehement objection to Trump’s talks with the Taliban, whose negotiators had been invited to Camp David — yes, the same Camp David where George W. Bush and his team huddled to determine the response to the 9/11 assault on our nation launched by al-Qaida from its safe haven in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — before the president canceled those negotiations.
We only hope Bolton’s ouster on Sept. 10 does not reflect a return to a Sept. 10 mindset in American foreign policy.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who supported and directed Trump’s attempt for a deal with the Taliban, is still generally a reliable voice for American national security. He spoke yesterday of new actions designed to ratchet up pressure on Iran and various terrorist groups such as ISIS. Pompeo warned, “I don’t think any leader around the world should make any assumption that because some one of us departs that President Trump’s foreign policy will change in a material way.”
And yet the revolving carousel of White House personnel continues to spin, and with 14 months to go until the 2020 election, Trump will be looking for his fourth national security advisor. Sometimes Trump’s strategy of governing through chaos works to keep opponents on the ropes. Other times it’s just chaos. Which will Bolton’s departure be?