TEHRAN (Basirat)-:On Tuesday, September 10, US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he had informed national security adviser John Bolton that his “services are no longer needed at the White House” and had “asked for his resignation,” citing that he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.”
Bolton had joined Trump’s national security team just over a year ago, and owing to his extensive ties within the American bureaucracy and ultra-belligerent, pro-war foreign policy outlook, had gained a reputation among the Washington, D.C. community for steering the President’s decisions toward hawkish causes of action, perceived as a huge detriment on a number of issues.
As a result, it is not surprising to see that his departure is being met with celebration among foreign policy analysts and scholars. Bolton was a notorious neoconservative, but what does his departure signal now for American foreign policy?
The former UN ambassador was blamed extensively for a range of Trump policy failures pertaining to Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan. As a result, Trump’s bid to jettison his influence may now (emphasis here) signal a shift toward reconciliation and diplomacy in these areas, setting the stage for him to “wrap things up” in the view of the 2020 election. However, one should not hold their breath: We don’t know who he will appoint next.
John Bolton was appointed to the position of US national security adviser 18 months ago, following the departure of General H.R McMaster. McMaster had been forced out of the job because of his disagreements with Trump, being deemed not hawkish enough, particularly on the matter of North Korea. Bolton was appointed his replacement and came with an established legacy and brand name. He was known and feared in Washington for his relentless pro-war views of foreign policy. Only months before his appointment, he had penned an op-ed setting out why the US ought to bomb North Korea to resolve the nuclear crisis.
In doing so, he was perceived as a man who did not follow orders but constantly sought to push his own agenda and exert influence over others. He was known for utilizing an extensively entrenched network of ties in the American bureaucracy to get his own way, including the usage of orchestrated tactics such as leaking information and undermining his colleagues, thus steering US foreign policy discourse. In every sense, he was a warmonger who knew how to oil the American machine to his own advantage. When appointing him, Trump sought to reassure supporters that he could control him, expressing the usual overconfidence in his own abilities.
However, that turned out not to be the case. Bolton’s role was both dramatic and extremely disruptive to US foreign policy. First, he pushed Washington to the verge of war with Iran by manipulating intelligence reports on Iran and subsequently advocating pre-emptive strikes on the country. Secondly, he drove US foreign policy into a botched regime change attempt in Venezuela, also aiming to push it toward military action.
Thirdly, he was infamously blamed for ruining Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, having urged the president to reject a deal abruptly in favor of demanding more unilateral terms on denuclearization, something which would receive the vocal condemnation of Pyongyang. After Bolton publicly vowed to place more pressure on North Korea, Trump began to marginalize him on the issue and even openly disagreed with him. Then finally, he was also perceived to be near the center of blame for the breakdown of talks with the Taliban, something which may have been the tipping point for his departure.
So that begs the question, what now? Bolton, like many other neocons, was in every instance, opposed to diplomacy and reconciliation and in favor of pressure, belligerence and confrontation. If his successor is in line with him, then the balance of opinion in the White House might never tilt even a bit, considering that policies are the product of the whole administration, most President Trump himself.
One must not hold his/her breath. While one of its worst offending members has gone, this is still as a whole a very erratic US administration which even prior to Bolton’s influence held a strong preference for unilateral and coercion-based foreign policy. Lest we forget, it was Trump who walked out of the Iran nuclear deal and proved untrustworthy of talks. In any sense, the unpredictability and chaotic character of the Trump White House will continue, albeit without Bolton.