WASHINGTON — National Security Adviser John Bolton, a foreign policy hawk, resigned last week in protest over President Trump’s plans to meet with extremist Taliban leaders at Camp David.
The White House maintained that Trump had fired Bolton, but it soon became clear that Bolton had clearly offered his resignation Monday night, after months of irreconcilable differences on foreign policy matters.
This latest resignation has served to focus renewed attention on the chaotic history of Trump’s inability to retain high-level appointees throughout his presidency.
A New York Times “analysis of 21 top White House and cabinet positions back to President Bill Clinton’s first term shows how unusual the Trump administration’s upheaval was through the first 14 months of a presidency,” the newspaper said.
“Nine of these positions had turned over at least once during the Trump administration, compared with three at the same point of the Clinton administration, two under President Barack Obama and one under President George W. Bush.”
Bolton, Trump’s third national security adviser, and the president had bitterly fought over the administration’s toughest foreign policy challenges, including Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan, among other issues.
At the root of their differences was how they viewed the worst dictators on the planet.
Trump continues to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and its seizure of the Crimean Peninsula that was condemned by America’s allies.
Bolton believes, as U.S. intelligence agencies have shown, that Moscow was behind the cyberwar during the 2016 elections. Trump said Putin told him Russia had no part in it, and the president believes him.
Bolton wouldn’t trust North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as far as he could throw him. Trump described their talks as a “love” affair. At his second summit with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, Trump ordered that Bolton not be included.
Bolton has argued that the Taliban are cutthroats and cannot be trusted, opposing the U.S.-Taliban negotiations that Trump has been seeking.
He has good reason not to trust any agreement with the Taliban.
“It gets worse,” The Washington Post’s Marc A. Thiessen wrote this week. “The Taliban team with whom the Trump administration has been negotiating included five senior Taliban commanders — the ‘Taliban Five’ — who were held at Guantanamo for 13 years before Obama freed them in exchange for U.S. Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. They include Mullah Fazell Mazloom, who, according to his Guantanamo military file is ‘wanted by the UN for possible war crimes while serving as a Taliban Army Chief of Staff’ and has ‘operational associations with significant al-Qaeda and other extremist personnel.’”
Bolton is the celebrated “fire bell in the night” who was warning Trump not to deal with bad actors because they will double-cross you up one side and down the other.
Both he and others in the administration argued that Trump didn’t have to negotiate with Taliban extremists to pull out of Afghanistan, or at least draw down our forces there.
Bolton’s criticism of Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip style, without knowing what or who he is dealing with across the table, or their subversive motivations, was often spot-on.
He leaves office the same way he entered it, with both guns blazing, offering a clear-eyed assessment of our enemies and trying to keep Trump from giving away the store.
He leaves behind him some pretty good reviews from his critics.
“Perversely, considering how out of sync he was with Mr. Trump’s priorities, Mr. Bolton managed to accomplish a fair amount,” a Post editorial said Wednesday.
“Last week he helped persuade Mr. Trump to torpedo an agreement with the Afghan Taliban ... just before it was to be signed,” the newspaper said. “Earlier this year, he induced the president to set aside State’s work on a possible interim deal with North Korea on its nuclear program, and instead demand that dictator Kim Jong Un immediately commit to giving up all weapons of mass destruction.”
It’s not a stellar record, but one that for the time being kept us from going down the wrong road.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.