I’ve known John Bolton for years, and his sacking didn’t surprise me. President Trump’s former national security advisor never understood the true value of diplomacy, making him an awkward fit for this administration.
Although a Trump supporter on paper, Bolton was completely out of sync with the president’s pragmatic foreign policy vision, advocating military interventionism at every opportunity.
But don’t take my word for it—just consider what Bolton himself reportedly had to say about
Trump’s foreign policy doctrine at a private lunch last week.
According to Politico, Bolton repeatedly criticized the Trump Administration for negotiating with Iran and North Korea, arguing that peaceful talks with both regimes were “doomed to failure.” He also reportedly suggested that Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields could have been prevented if Washington had been tougher on Tehran in the past.
Of course, President Trump has a very different approach to foreign affairs—it’s guided by diplomacy and economic leverage. Unlike Bolton, Donald Trump understands that military conflict does not always advance American interests—especially when it comes to dealing with authoritarian regimes that command powerful militaries.
Contrary to Bolton’s assertion, the president’s foreign policy has been remarkably successful over the past two and a half years.
President Trump has managed to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, forcing Pyongyang to negotiate terms for potential denuclearization. Likewise, the president used diplomatic leverage to get a bilateral immigration enforcement agreement with Mexico—a crucial step in alleviating the ongoing national security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Diplomacy and economic pressure are also proving to be effective with China—Washington is now closer than ever to reaching a genuinely fair, free-trade agreement with Beijing.
President Trump is right—“diplomacy first” is the only responsible approach to any foreign policy challenge. Shockingly, Bolton—who once served as a top diplomat at the State Department—has always overlooked this basic concept.
But what really made Bolton’s position at the White House even more precarious was his undiplomatic demeanor.
The former national security advisor aggressively defended his interventionist ideology, provoking internal spats that all too often became public. He also clearly and publicly didn’t get along with foreign policy experts in the administration, creating negative perceptions about the White House national security apparatus in the media.
To make matters worse, U.S. allies were also getting mixed signals from Washington because of Bolton—if the Trump Administration appeared to be divided on core foreign policy issues, how could our allies around the world trust the president’s promises?
For these reasons, President Trump simply had no choice but to fire Bolton. The job of a national security advisor is to advise, not undermine, the commander-in-chief.