- Saul Loeb/Getty Images
- President Donald Trump fired John Bolton as national security adviser on Sept. 10 and cited strong disagreements between them and others in his administration.
- Throughout his presidency, Trump has quickly grown impatient with anyone who criticizes or opposes him, and he reportedly became paranoid that Bolton was leaking negative things to the press.
- Unlike Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who’s emerged as one of Trump’s most trusted and loyal advisers, Bolton never wanted to get along with the president and be the “yes man” he desired.
- Trump on Wednesday tapped Robert C. O’Brien, his top hostage negotiator, as national security adviser. O’Brien has a documented history of praising the president.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump is transparently driven by a desire for loyalty, and routinely lashes out at critics and virtually anyone who opposes him.
This is precisely why many veteran diplomats and foreign policy experts have said an experienced bureaucratic infighter and ideologue like John Bolton was never going to last in Trump’s administration.
The president on Wednesday announced he’s picked Robert C. O’Brien, his top hostage negotiator, to be the new national security adviser. O’Brien has a history of praising Trump, and this type of flattery likely aided in his ascension.
Trump abruptly dismissed Bolton as national security adviser on Sept. 10, and the president made it clear it was due to myriad disagreements between them.
“I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration,” Trump said as he dismissed his third national security adviser in a single term via tweet.
And Trump on Thursday tweeted that his views were actually “far stronger than those” of Bolton, adding, “He was holding me back!”
….I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2019
The two have even been at odds over the circumstances of Bolton’s dismissal. Trump said he requested Bolton’s resignation, but Bolton said that “never” happened and he’d offered to resign.
Unlike Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who’s emerged as one of Trump’s most trusted and loyal advisers, Bolton never wanted to get along with the president and be the “yes man” he desired.
Aaron David Miller, who helped shape US foreign policy for decades advising secretaries of state across Republican and Democratic administrations, on Tuesday told The Washington Post: “Bolton was out of sync with Trump on Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and Venezuela … Pompeo played the game of Trump whisperer better than Bolton.”
Trump likes to make deals – he’s referred to dealmaking as his art form. But Bolton, who’s known as one of the most hawkish figures in Washington, was not on the same page as Trump when it came to holding talks with US adversaries like North Korea and Iran.
When Trump met with Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in late June, Bolton dodged the entire thing and went to Mongolia instead.
Bolton’s aversion to diplomacy quite clearly peeved the president.
“John Bolton is absolutely a hawk,” Trump told NBC in June. “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.”
Trump: “I have some hawks. John Bolton is absolutely a hawk. If it was up to him he'd take on the whole world at one time.“ pic.twitter.com/JKVB2IvMVU
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) June 23, 2019
Bolton was too obstinate for Trump’s taste
Multiple reports also suggest the president became increasingly worried Bolton and his team were leaking negative information to the press.
Trump earlier this month left Washington rattled after suddenly revealing he’d invited the Taliban to Camp David for a secret meeting to finalize peace talks, only to cancel it at the last minute due to a recent Taliban attack that killed a US soldier.
In the aftermath, it was reported Trump had overruled top advisers – including Vice President Mike Pence – in inviting the Taliban to the presidential retreat. Trump took to Twitter and called this coverage “fake,” and reportedly blamed Bolton for leaking it to the media.
Trump in recent weeks has floated the possibility of speaking with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming UN General Assembly. Bolton, whose made his anti-Iran sentiments no secret, was reportedly staunchly against this and his obstinance was apparently the final straw for Trump.
The Iranians have been celebrating Bolton’s demise. Rouhani adviser Hesameddin Ashena on Tuesday tweeted that Bolton’s ousting is a “decisive sign of the failure of the U.S. maximum pressure strategy in the face of the constructive resistance from Iran.”
It seems that that Trump saw Bolton as a fundamental obstacle to diplomatic efforts with other countries as he seeks a win on the global stage ahead of an election year. As he spoke about Bolton’s departure last Wednesday, Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “wanted nothing to do with” him during talks with the US. The president went on to say, “I don’t blame Kim Jong Un.”
But not everyone in Washington is convinced that Bolton’s stubbornness is what let to his departure. James Carafano, a national security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Insider, “I don’t think it’s fair to say that Trump fired him because he wasn’t a yes man … Trump doesn’t mind people disagreeing with him.”
“Trump has a different approach to diplomacy than Bolton does,” Carafano added, going on to say that the president saw this as the time to transition away from Bolton’s “muscular” foreign policy.
A little over a week after Bolton left the White House, Trump has his new national security adviser.
O’Brien is a team player who has showered Trump with praise.
O’Brien, unlike Bolton, has a reputation for being affable and a team player. He’s also made a habit of flattering the president, which Trump evidently appreciates.
Trump in April tweeted a quote that said “President Donald J. Trump is the greatest hostage negotiator that I know of in the history of the United States.” At the time, then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attributed the words to O’Brien. More recently, O’Brien confirmed to a New York Times reporter that he said this.
The president on Tuesday reportedly referenced this praise while speaking to reporters on Air Force One. He said, “Robert O’Brien said, ‘Trump is the greatest hostage negotiator in history.’ He happens to be right.”
O’Brien also flattered Trump in March as he said the president has had “unparalleled success” in hostage negotiations.
During a news conference after the return of Danny Burch, a hostage who was held in Yemen, O’Brien said: “The President has had unparalleled success in bringing Americans home without paying concessions, without prisoner exchanges, but through force of will and the goodwill that he’s generated around the world.”
Trump replied, “Thank you. That’s so nice.”
Even before Trump officially entered the White House, O’Brien was offering public praise. In December 2016, he wrote an op-ed titled: “Trump Just Keeps Winning: America’s Allies Are Boosting Defense Spending.”
Over the summer, Trump sent O’Brien to Sweden for an unusual assignment. He was asked to monitor the assault trial of rapper A$AP Rocky, which is not something a diplomat who handles hostage negotiations in war-torn countries usually deals with. Critics saw it as an unnecessary and unprofessional attempt to intervene in the domestic affairs of a US ally.
Now that O’Brien’s been tapped to be national security adviser, foreign policy experts and critics of the president are raising questions as to whether he’s qualified. Trump’s previous national security advisers had decades of military and diplomatic experience under their belts. Comparatively, O’Brien is a lawyer who hasn’t spent much time in government, though he did serve in the Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
In appointing O’Brien, it seems Trump was primarily interested in having an obedient, rather than qualified, national security adviser.