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Farewelling Dr No: The Sacking of John Bolton

Every time the president, or Pompeo, or anyone in the [Trump] administration came up with an idea, they had to face Dr No.” Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of the Eurasia Group, The Washington Post, Sep 11, 2011.

It was compelling viewing (one does not so much read Twitter as see it as a series of violent flashes). John Bolton, the armed-and-ready national security adviser who has been tiring of the US President’s jerks and adjustments, had floated the prospect of resignation. “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’” To the New York Times, Bolton reiterated the account. “Offered last night without [Trump] asking. Slept on it and gave it to him this morning.”

Hours are lethal in Trumpland; entire worlds can implode at that time, and new ones grow with equal violence. President Donald Trump was keen to set the record crooked. “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed in the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was certainly one of them. “There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed; that’s for sure.” It pays, however, to qualify: “But that’s true for lots of people with whom I interact.”

What matters in a Trump sacking is less the normality of its occurrence but its manner of execution. The axe is always held aloft, and, as with any court run by a fickle despot, may fall at any given time. On Tuesday morning, the signs of any movement regarding Bolton were entirely absent. At 11, a news briefing was announced by the White House for 1.30 that afternoon. Bolton would keep company with Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a chat on terrorism. Bolton never appeared, leaving Pompeo and Mnuchin to chuckle before the cameras.

Pompeo, unlike Bolton, has certainly found it easier keeping up appearances. Disagreements with the President are kept close to his broad chest. He is the manager of Trump’s ever-changing approach to policy, and capable articulating foreign policy swerves. But do not be fooled, suggest the talking heads. “Pompeo is as much a hawk on Iran as Bolton,” claims John Glaser, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. Glaser’s diagnosis of it all? “It mostly boils down to Bolton’s reputation as a bureaucratic manipulator who makes enemies within the executive branch as a matter of habit.”

The manipulation had been placed in another register over the US-Taliban peace agreement. Trump was happy with the detail; Bolton wanted the agreement sunk as textbook example of capitulation. Trump’s circle of aides had gotten irate as Bolton’s public dissatisfaction grew. There were leaks into the atmosphere, and not very pleasant ones at that.

The decision to evict Bolton could easily have been caused by something else, the straw that tantalisingly, and destructively, broke the camel’s back. On Monday, the possibility of easing sanctions against Iran as part of a preliminary step to meeting Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani, was mooted by the President and aides. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was certainly open to the suggestion. Trump tested the water and concluded that “they’d like to make a deal.” A far cry from June, when Bolton’s apocalyptic fantasy was being entertained: a possible airstrike on Iran. With 10 minutes to spare, Trump called it off.

On Wednesday, the president attempted to add more light and shine to the canvas.  Areas of disagreement with Bolton were articulated. The former adviser had not been “getting along with people” in the administration; he had been “way out of line” on Venezuela. Such points merely underscore the difficulties Bolton was always going to face: from his moustache, which Trump detests, to his priestly dogmatism in international relations.

North Korea was always a case in point: for Trump, a moment for the picture books, the firm handshake for history, and promises for rosy readjustments; for Bolton, a chance to cause a flutter of terror in Pyongyang, airing the view that a “Libya” solution for nuclear disarmament might be in the offing. (That corker eventually assisted the toppling of the Qaddafi regime, hardly a recipe for smooth talking and deal making).

The point was something Trump did not miss. “We were set back very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model! And he made a mistake! As soon as he mentioned that, the Libyan model, what a disaster! Take a look at what happened to Qaddafi with the Libyan model.”

Bolton’s sabre-rattling enthusiasts were bound to see things differently. “While John Bolton was national security adviser for the last 17 months, there have been no bad deals,” claimed a Bolton confidante. In another take, Bolton has been portrayed as the less mad of the two. Jay Nordlinger, senior editor at The National Review, saw JB as a model of consistency. Trump, on the other hand, had been dancing merrily off queue, breaking much fine china on the way. Certainly on Russia; certainly on Ukraine. At the last G7 meeting in Biarritz, Trump expressed his desire that Russia be readmitted to the club. He sported a curious account of Crimea, which was “sort of taken away from President Obama.” It was “embarrassing” for him, being “outsmarted by Putin” as he was.

Trump had put a halt on military aid to Ukraine and shown a coldness to the newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky. His idea here is to push for a Ukrainian investigation of Joe Biden, the stuff of side-splitting hilarity. Bolton, on the other hand, was in Kiev paying respect to Ukrainians felled “in the defence of their nation against Russian aggression.” In saluting “the Stache” Nordlinger was hoping for his return. The chicken hawks will have their day.

Such shuffling and bloodletting is normally the stuff that thrills political wonks and media vultures. Engineered in-house political assassinations are manna from heaven, and supply good copy in bureaucratic hot houses like Washington. But Trump has made political sacking the stuff of banal ritual, ceremonial inevitability made that much duller for its frequency. Bolton came in praise, worked in disagreement and discomfort, and was ejected. Time for the next mug to take his place.

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11 comments

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  1. Perking Wartneck

    Bolton is every peaceful human beings nightmare. He is the living, breathing reality of every Hollywood warmongering fantasy – probably watches “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” when other reprehensibles watch porn. Plus, to embellish the caricature that he is, he has the most risible moustache – ‘I am the walrus – coocoo ca choo’!

    George Dubya Bush, of course, allowed Bolton to live out his wet dream, and Blair and Howard went along with it.
    The Drumpf is undoubtedly an objectionable, contemptible buffoon, but he has- finally – done something right.
    However; there are millions of Boltons in the good ol’ US of A.

  2. Pere Duchesne

    Yes, be pretty revolting if even the Donald cant take him.

  3. Aortic

    I think it was the moustache.

  4. Aortic

    Just saw Trump say how tough Bolton was because he got them into Iraq, ” that’s tough” he said. How tough is it to commit service people into danger while those doing the committing pontificate on the supposed rightness of the decision in complete safety. Hey all you idiots protecting the anachronistic 2cnd amendment, take up the arms yourselves and fight for your precious flag and supposed democracy.

  5. Pere Duchesne

    Yes, the moustache. Make the mo skinnier and guess who he looks like.

  6. Jack sprat

    Bolton like George W arm chair warriors both supported Vietnam war and both avoided going by using loop holes ,bolton joiniing army reserve and george joining national guard but in his case not showing up to do his full tenure . Both men knew that by joining these organizations they could not be conscripted and sent to nam .Such hypocrites not willing to fight in war themselves but over eager to sent other peoples sons and daughters to fight the wars of their creation .

  7. Jack Cade

    Jack Sprat

    The most ardent warriors are draft dodgers like Menzies, Bush, Bolton, and Trump. Trump proclaims himself a brilliant military mind: just imagine how ‘great’ America would have been, how wide its empire, but for some fake heel spurs.
    Instead, he has just emphasised that the only GREAT that could apply to the world’s greatest rogue state is GRATE.

  8. Phil

    I knew Bolton was nuts years ago. Who could forget those interviews on Late Line during the Iraq war where they treated him like some kind of expert in everything concerning foreign affairs. FFS he was a lawyer. Many paragraphs will be written about this head case, that he was an insufferable creep will suffice. And the thing that grows under his nose, it apparently was a source of much amusement at the Whitehouse. And jealousy from Trump who doesn’t have enough testosterone in his balls to grow one.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Phil, not even GWB would touch him (after he was nominated as the US Ambassador to the UN). His attitude was that the US is the supreme ruler of the world and every other country had to treat them as such.

    In a previous life he probably wrote the screenplays for John Wayne movies.

    I’m pleased he’s gone.

  10. Phil

    In a previous life he probably wrote the screenplays for John Wayne movies.

    I’m pleased he’s gone.

    Indeed. So am I. That cretins like this exist in the world is a cause for concern. One down one more to go.
    Michael Richard Pompeo. Another head case. He oozes smarm I would like to see him gone as well.
    Lets all hope we get out of this period in our history alive. Every morning I wake up and think, what will
    today bring in the mad world of Trumpism?

  11. Aortic

    Patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel. They should not be fighting for a flag, but fighting under it for the so called American Dream, which you have to be asleep to believe in. Apart from the craziness that cause resulted in untold thousands of lives lost in parts of the world, including the Miidle East, what other western country ( note I don’t use the word civilisation) would live in fear of sending kids to school, visiting shopping malls, or firing somebody and not returning after the latest mass shooting. I just noted that Trumpo wants to ban e- cigarettes to protect the community from the curse of nicotine based products. Why doesn’t this idiotic bastard ban the sale of weapons, easily obtained, if not in your locale, simply apply on the Internet and off you go. Profit above all. Time long gone when their constitution, like many others devised in older different times, were brought up to date. Try that one on with the oh say can’t you sees, and sea to shining sea, and see how you go. Anyway time for another drinkie.
    .

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