resigned as White House national security adviser on Tuesday, which must delight North Korea’s
Kim Jong Un,
America’s adversaries lost a rare internal restraint on President
’s inconstant and transactional security instincts. The world is now a more dangerous place.
Start with the fact that Mr. Trump didn’t tell the truth about firing Mr. Bolton. “I asked John for his resignation” due to policy disagreements, Mr. Trump tweeted. The disagreements were real. But Mr. Bolton says he offered to resign Monday during a conversation with the President on Afghanistan. Mr. Trump said they’d talk again in the morning.
Mr. Bolton went home on what was the 17-month anniversary of taking the job and decided to resign. He submitted his resignation letter Tuesday morning, even as the White House announced he’d be briefing the media on antiterror measures. Shortly thereafter Mr. Trump tried to spin the resignation as his idea with his tweet.
None of this speaks well of the President, who fears looking bad for having lost his third NSC adviser in three years.
resigned last year as Secretary of Defense, only to have Mr. Trump force him out two months early out of spite. Mr. Trump ousted
as Secretary of State via tweet after months of publicly undercutting him. Mr. Trump is a hard man to work for.
A President deserves advisers who will implement his policies, but there’s no doubt Mr. Bolton did that even when he disagreed. The troubling implication of Mr. Bolton’s departure is that Mr. Trump doesn’t really want to hear opposing points of view. He says he does, but he makes work intolerable for those who give him contrary advice.
The difference isn’t the simplistic media line—from the left and also on the isolationist right—that Mr. Bolton is a hawk who prevented Mr. Trump from pursuing peace around the world. The real issue is that Mr. Trump thinks every security issue can be boiled down to a negotiation, and that every other head of state wants to do a deal like he does.
The terms matter less to Mr. Trump than the art of the deal. Mr. Bolton had the thankless task of telling Mr. Trump that a bad deal is worse than no deal, and that strategic ground must be prepared in advance and over time if you want to get a good deal.
In this role Mr. Bolton saved Mr. Trump more than once from his worst negotiating instincts. Mr. Bolton was one of those who argued in February that Mr. Trump should walk away from a bad deal with North Korea’s Kim in Hanoi.
He also was a lone Administration voice advising against signing a deal with the Afghan Taliban. Mr. Trump wants to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and it was the President’s idea to invite the Taliban to Camp David on the week of the anniversary of 9/11. Mr. Trump spared himself substantial embarrassment by cancelling the talks at the last minute, thanks in part to Mr. Bolton’s counsel.
For all of his tough talk, Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to want a tough foreign policy. His desire for deals is the reason he flatters dictators and strongmen on the other side of the negotiating table despite their records.
Mr. Trump has told his advisers to tone down criticism of China’s
on Hong Kong and the re-education camps in Xinjiang. Mr. Trump is reluctant to impose sanctions on Turkey for buying Russia’s S-400 missile system, despite a clear violation of NATO commitments. He’d like to loosen sanctions on Mr. Putin’s Russia, and he’d be pleased to sit down with Messrs. Rouhani or Maduro.
As he heads into a difficult re-election campaign, Mr. Trump should be sending a signal of reassurance and steadiness. Instead the world sees disarray inside the Administration and a President given to policy-making as impulsive as his
The question now is what Mr. Bolton’s departure means for U.S. foreign policy for the next 14 months. The political pressure will build for some foreign-policy achievement as Election Day approaches. Yet to get North Korea, Iran or Russia to agree may require concessions that damage U.S. interests.
Another danger is that Mr. Trump’s behavior is increasingly self-isolating. He thinks individuals are expendable, but the advisers he has lost represent constituencies that ought to be on his side. Generals Mattis and
his second NSC adviser, represent the military. Mr. Bolton speaks for the Jacksonian wing of U.S. foreign policy that believes in a strong defense of American interests around the world. Mr. Trump should be cementing these loyalties, not undercutting them.
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