President Trump will be appointing his record fifth National Security Advisor, within just over two and half years of his tenure. John R Bolton is the latest casualty in the revolving door of the White House that has witnessed high profile exits like that of Lieutenants General Michael Flynn and HR McMaster. Like all crucial appointments made by President Trump, the appointees had mirrored the sensibilities, perceptions and personalities that are close to that of Mr Trump. In a private memo that was leaked online, Colin Powel had noted that Michael Flynn was fired from his earlier job in the Defence Intelligence Agency because he was, “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc.”
Later as National Security Adviser, Flynn was declared a convicted felon who had made “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He had also misled the Vice-President. Similarly, HR McMaster had a hawkish bent of mind and was known to possess an irreconcilably violent and unpredictable temper, who did not get along with the larger team including the-then Secretary of Defence, James Mattis. However like Mr Bolton, bothl Flynn and McMaster were informed of their dismissal from the Trump administration via the President’s very public and inelegant twitter posts.
The profile and publicly known positions held by John R Bolton, too had a predatory slant that endeared him to getting picked by President Donald Trump as the chief in-house adviser i.e. National Security Adviser. Bolton like Trump had ‘managed’ to avoid serving in the Vietnam war and yet maintained stridently hawkish views on regime change in Iran, Syria, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela etc. Bolton had previously served in openly ‘anti-Muslim’ organisations like Gatestone Institute and shared a brazen disdain for multilateral institutions like the International Criminal Court and the United Nations, even though he was the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations (2005-2006).
In a statement that is eerily reminiscent of President Trump’s scornfulness, Mr Bolton had once remarked, “There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along” and that “The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference”! Post the entry of Donald Trump into the White House, Mr Bolton articulated his views about preferring pre-emptive strikes over negotiations with North Korea, scrapping the Iran Nuclear Deal and bombing Tehran.
The appointment of the firebrand Bolton as the National Security Adviser was likened to the assembly of a ‘war cabinet’, and his appointment had given the sort of policy-muscularity that Trump desperately sought to appropriate and own ~ and exactly the sort of rabidity that experienced professionals like James Mattis were trying to control. He too was sacked. Mr Trump is caught in an electoral frenzy with his bid to seek re-election in 2020. Unlike Barack Obama, who had ‘taken out’ Osama bin Laden, signed the Paris Declaration, ushered path-breaking rapprochement with Cuba and inked the Iran Nuclear Deal, the achievement shelf of Mr Trump in terms of global affairs is rather barren.
The initial hooplah surrounding the negotiations with the North Korean leadership and with the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, have come a cropper. The blow-hot-blow-cold whimsy of the Trump leadership has harmed equations in dealing with the wily North Koreans, the Pakistan-Taliban combine and even in the Middle East. It is the joint forces of Bashar Al Assad’s forces and the Iran-Shia militias that have gained ground at the cost of US supported militias and the Arab forces. Morally, the Khashoggi murder has exposed the Trump pusillanimity in dealing with the retrograde Sheikhdoms and the other ‘allies’ of the United States like the European Union, Canada, Mexico.
There is a degree of pettiness and unpredictability about Trump. Electorally, the only silver lining for the US President has been the statistical recovery of economic parameters in the United States and the relative disarray and lack of charismatic Democratic opposition to the Trump bluster. But this may not be enough for 2020. President Trump has a colourful history of managing perceptions. In doing so, anything and anyone is par for course. The self-proclaimed billionaire has filed for bankruptcy several times, and his ruthless path to success is littered with selfishness, false statements and grandstanding, in equal measure. He is now short on time and needs certain scapegoats to attribute geopolitical failure.
In doing so, John R Bolton who personified the opinions and spirit of Donald Trump to the hilt has been a convenient sacrifice. True to his cavalier style, the President tweeted: “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, and therefore .I asked John for his resignation, which he gave me this morning.” Meanwhile Bolton could only politely disagree with the actual narrative by countertweeting, “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow”, but effectively Bolton was made the face of failures and the sacrificial lamb.
Trump is the disputed author of the bestseller The Art of the Deal. As co-author Tony Schwartz claims, Trump did not write a single word of the same and yet says that writing the book has been the ‘greatest regret in life’. Historically Trump has always put ‘deals’ over any values, morality or sensitivities. He is a megalomaniac who remains the biggest hero in his own life and can go to any extent to protect that image, including disowning those whom he handpicked. John Bolton was always aligned to Trump. His exit provides a crucial window to deflect Trump’s own missteps, mistakes and miscalculations, whilst protecting his own image. The core Trump constituents in the Midlands (Rednecks) have an expression for fate such as John Bolton’s ~ a ‘Fall Guy’.
(The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)