President Trump on Tuesday jettisoned John R. Bolton, his third national security adviser in three years, after multiple clashes over policy and tactics even as the White House grapples foreign policy challenges with Venezuelan and North Korean strongmen, Iran’s nuclear defiance and fears of renewed violence in the endless Afghanistan War.
The confusion of the day extended to the process that led to the hawkish, mustachioed adviser’s downfall. Mr. Bolton insisted he had tendered his resignation before Mr. Trump announced, via Twitter at midday, that he was letting him go.
“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,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Mr. Bolton’s deputy, Charles Kupperman, a former executive of defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin who served in the Reagan administration, will fill in as interim national security adviser, according to the White House, which swiftly subtracted Mr. Bolton from a scheduled Tuesday briefing at the White House alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
“The president is entitled to the staff that he wants at any moment,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters. “When the president makes a decision like this, he’s well within his rights.”
Mr. Bolton’s ouster created shock waves through Washington, though there had been multiple reports of tension between the security adviser and Mr. Pompeo on some of Mr. Trump’s biggest foreign policy initiatives, including the now-collapsed peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the personal outreach to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.
A longtime policy hawk skeptical of international institutions such as the United Nations, Mr. Bolton was always something of an unlikely choice for a president who ran on an “America First” agenda, criticized foreign military interventions such as the Iraq War and made it plain that he wanted to wind down U.S. military commitments in places such as Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula. The image-conscious Mr. Trump was even said to not be a fan of Mr. Bolton’s signature brushy white mustache and was angered when the national security adviser begged off defending certain White House policies on television news shows.
Signs of strain have been growing in recent months between Mr. Trump and his top security adviser. Mr. Bolton was touring in Mongolia when Mr. Trump made a surprise visit with North Korea’s Mr. Kim this summer at the border between North and South Korea.
Mr. Bolton, 70, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations and became a noted Fox News pundit, also reportedly argued against the proposed deal “in principle” that Mr. Trump was weighing with the Taliban, saying the Pentagon could begin Mr. Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan without striking a deal with the radical Islamist militant movement. Mr. Trump was said to have believed Mr. Bolton was responsible for leaks questioning the Taliban deal and the wisdom of staging a signing ceremony at Camp David as the president claimed he originally planned.
Mr. Bolton was one of the administration’s most reliably hawkish voices, urging a tough line against the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the theocratic government in Iran. He had a reputation as a feared bureaucratic infighter but in the end found few allies in Mr. Trump’s inner circle of advisers.
“I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow,’” Mr. Bolton tweeted Tuesday, directly contradicting the president. His two-sentence resignation letter to Mr. Trump noted tersely: “Thank you for having afforded me this opportunity to serve our country.”
Ironically, Mr. Bolton was swept out on the same day Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, received a sentencing date stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
It was the latest in a string of topsy-turvy firings and resignations in Mr. Trump’s first term, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s departure over pricey air travel in 2017 and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who never recovered after recusing himself from the investigation into Russian election meddling.
Mr. Trump’s first secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson, was fired in a tweet a year into the job. He and the president got off on the wrong foot from the start, and his second national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, lasted just 14 months before the relationship “petered out,” said James Carafano, a national security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“The president just reaches a point where he says this isn’t working,” Mr. Carafano said. “Unlike a lot of other presidencies, you don’t have this kind of team that you bring in and is with you the whole way.”
“John Bolton is absolutely a hawk,” Mr. Trump said in a June interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “If it was up to him, he’d take on the whole world at one time, OK? But that doesn’t matter, because I want both sides.”
It was unclear whom Mr. Trump will select as a replacement, though security analysts started mentioning names.
Among them were Stephen E. Biegun, a former National Security Council staffer and the U.S. special representative for North Korea; Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel who frequently appears on Fox News; Brian Hook, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s point man on Iran, and retired Gen. Keith Kellogg, currently national security adviser for Vice President Mike Pence.
Others mentioned Fred Fleitz, president and CEO of the conservative Center for Security Policy. He tweeted a photo of himself with Mr. Trump on Tuesday.
“President Trump, like every other president, has the right to a national security adviser of his own choosing,” he said.
“John Bolton is the architect of the Iraq War, the reason for our lack of an Iran strategy, and responsible for the pointless deaths of thousands of Americans. Good riddance. I hope his replacement is less incompetent,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, Arizona Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Twitter post.
“Today’s action by the president is just the latest example of his government-by-chaos approach and his rudderless national security policy,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “When Ambassador Bolton’s extreme views aren’t enough for you, the United States is headed for even more chaotic times.”
⦁ Lauren Meier contributed to this report.
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