President Trump’s foreign policy appointments have frequently been difficult to reconcile with the views he has often expressed. The most disappointing was the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.
Bolton is a long-time and very vocal advocate of regime change and military initiatives overseas - particularly in the Middle East and certainly regarding our presence in Syria. He signed the Project for the New American Century’s 1998 letter advocating the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In spite of subsequent events, he continues to support the decision to invade Iraq. He has also sought the preemptive bombing of both Iran and North Korea.
As the President’s closest foreign policy advisor, much of a National Security Advisor’s advice is confidential. Prevarication, poor advice, or failure to bring important issues to the President’s attention are not always apparent to outside observers.
Two important Bolton failures have recently been widely reported.
In the first instance, President Trump was meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 in early December to discuss trade policy. At the same time, and unbeknownst to President Trump, Bolton asked Canada to arrest Meng Wanzouh, one of China’s most important business executives, as she changed planes in Vancouver. The Chinese have reacted furiously to her arrest and have begun to arrest Canadians in retaliation. At a minimum, Bolton’s failure to make the President aware of his actions denied the President the option of delaying any request for her arrest until a later date.
The second incident was President Trump’s telephone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan discussing the situation in Syria. Ending our presence in Syria has been among President Trump’s most important foreign policy objectives and is, presumably, a subject he and Bolton frequently discuss. It is telling that, when President Erdogan asked why American troops were still in Syria even after ISIS had been defeated, President Trump turned to Bolton, who was listening to the call, and asked if that was true. Bolton (knowing that President Erdogan was listening) was forced to respond that it was.
President Trump was elected, at least in part, because he was seen as a decisive leader who could, at the very least, fire someone who wasn’t doing a satisfactory job. Since becoming President, however, he has appeared reluctant to fire those he’s been unhappy with. Trump’s recent decision to hasten Secretary Mattis’ departure is a welcome sign that the President recognizes he’s in charge.
Bolton may have been very careful until recently, but it is now clear that he has little regard for the President and the President’s priorities. It is difficult to believe he didn’t recognize his obligation to keep the President informed during delicate trade talks. Failing to share the knowledge, recognized by most of the world’s armed forces, that ISIS had been defeated in Syria can only have been intentional.
John Bolton’s already had two strikes. With the stakes so high, why wait for a third? President Trump should fire Bolton. It’s difficult to imagine any successor not being an improvement.