Bolton’s Ousting As National Security Adviser May Open Door to Diplomacy

September 13, 2019 by HJ Mai
National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks to the media before the arrival of President Donald Trump during a rally at Florida International University on February 18, 2019 in Miami, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS) **FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY**

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump’s firing of National Security adviser John Bolton earlier this week could have big implications on the administration’s handling of its most challenging foreign policy issues. Bolton, described as a conservative hawk due to his hard-line and interventionist foreign policy approach, was Trump’s third national security adviser. 

“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. The president added that he would name a replacement next week.

Bolton’s dismissal came only days after Trump abruptly canceled secret peace talks with the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David. Bolton, who has been skeptical about ongoing peace negotiations, reportedly vehemently opposed hosting Taliban leaders at such a storied location.

While the disagreement over the Taliban talks at Camp David may have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back, Trump and Bolton have long been at odds over several critical foreign policy issues.

Bolton objected to Trump’s face-to-face meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he supported an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and he has aggressively advocated for regime change in Iran.

But even without Bolton in the picture, the Trump administration is not expected to make drastic and immediate changes to its foreign policy.

“I’m not convinced that it’s going to dramatically mean a major change in American foreign policy,” Garret Martin of American University’s School of International Service told The Well News. “By all accounts that we have, Bolton had already been sidelined on some of these important issues.”

Nevertheless, given the president’s reluctance to use military force, Bolton’s firing may have opened the door for more diplomacy within the administration.

“Will there be a few more voices speaking in favor of diplomacy? That’s quite possible,” Martin said, adding that he doesn’t think it will be a deciding factor of whether Trump pursues diplomacy.

Any hopes for a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly later this month in New York, however, were dashed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. 

“As of now, there is no plan for the president to meet with him, although the president has said that he is prepared to meet with no conditions,” Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday, adding that the administration will continue to execute its “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran. 

One of the few constants in Trump’s foreign policy has been his willingness to talk to anybody.  With arguably the biggest critic of this approach gone and an election around the corner, Trump might look to score a foreign policy victory in North Korea, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Russia or Iran.

Martin believes, however, that the one foreign policy area where a deal could be beneficial for the president’s reelection campaign is with China. “The one interesting area will be whether there will be pressure on him to make some kind of cosmetic deal with China, because trade and immigration were such key elements of Trump’s appeal in 2016,” he said. “I’m not convinced that a deal with Iran would be very popular with his base.”

While Iran dominates the headlines, the administration’s goals with regards to the Islamic State remain steadfast, ease the current tensions and keep Tehran from ever developing a nuclear weapon.

“When I speak to people in the Trump administration, they all assure me that their goal is to make a deal. What they’re waiting for is the moment when the Iranian government will be at its most flexible and willing to make the greatest concessions,”Jon B. Alterman, the director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. said in an interview on the nonprofit’s website. “The Trump administration is not trying to do something small; they’re trying to do something big.”

Trump said he’s considering more than a dozen candidates to replace Bolton. 

“A lot of people want the job. It’s a great job. It’s a lot of fun to work with Donald Trump. It’s easy because I make all the decisions,” Trump said Thursday.

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