The turnover in this administration has been stunning and is emblematic of an administration where governance is not a top priority. The Bolton firing is not the last one that we will be experiencing. The only question is whether voters will apply the same logic to President Trump himself come November 2020.
Many of Trump’s most ardent critics won’t be upset about Bolton’s departure. Bolton, one of the neoconservatives from the George W. Bush era who liked to bang the drums of war, is extremely unpopular among Democrats and considered by many a dangerous voice in Washington.
Trump and the America First crowd in the GOP also detested him as a prime example of what went wrong in the early 2000s when Republicans supported George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.
Few tears are being shed for Bolton. The internet has lit up with jibes about this whole story. “We found the one person who liked John Bolton,” tweeted
author Molly Jong-Fast in response to the conservative Ben Shapiro lamenting what happened.
There is lots of speculation about what went down. Stories have already emerged about the clashes that have taken place between the President and Bolton over the past few weeks on issues like North Korea and Iran. Others are looking into whether the President was upset about concerns that Bolton’s aides were circulating stories of Vice President Mike Pence having opposed the now canceled summit with the Taliban at Camp David.
Or, some say, Trump just didn’t like his personality.
In certain respects, it is surprising that Bolton’s tenure even lasted this long. Bolton, who began the White House job in April, 2018, represents a fundamental contradiction within the Trump administration. The President, who has championed an America First policy, could never really square the fact that he had brought a neoconservative hawk, from the Republican administration he has kept criticizing, to give him advice. Not only was Bolton a neoconservative, but he didn’t even dress in the kind of military garb that President Trump loves to have photographed around him.
But at some level the decision has nothing to do with Bolton. The bottom line is that Trump really doesn’t value expertise. He likes to take his Sharpie, virtual or real, and tell the world what he thinks and what he wants to do without having others get in his way.
For Trump, the advisers around him are props to be displayed on television. One of the biggest stories of the Trump presidency is the unprecedented
level of turnover that we have seen among high level officials in the Trump White House. Most people don’t stay for very long and the President does not value having knowledgeable people in the room.
Trump likes to make his own decisions and doesn’t deal well with opposing voices. Even people who are on the same page with him can’t feel very secure. This causes immense risks. Handling international relations well, for instance, requires deep knowledge. Making foreign policy is not about good meetings with people you like or appearing to be tough in front of the cameras.
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Good foreign policy requires deep knowledge about history, overseas politics and culture, and the complex dynamics at work around the globe. The lesson of Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq was not that expertise is not needed but just the opposite. We entered into a bad war, with widespread support, because first-rate experts were not influential enough in these decisions or were too scared in the aftermath of 9/11 to voice their concerns.
Thus far the results of Trump’s approach to foreign policy have not been great. While we are not in the middle of a hot war, there has been minimal progress on a number of key issues, including North Korea’s nuclear program, and in Afghanistan the prospect for an effective deal to end America’s longest war seems bleak. The possibility of more violence looms on the horizon. And Trump doesn’t have an effective team in place to handle it.