Planned Taliban Meeting Was Last Straw For John Bolton – A ‘Mismatch’ From The Beginning

“His style and temperament and policy convictions – he just was not aligned with where Trump seems to be coming from.”

By Rhonda FanningSeptember 11, 2019 11:52 am

A previous version of this article included an erroneous quote indicating that Iran has begun enriching uranium. In fact, Iran has recently deployed new advanced centrifuges, which are designed for uranium enrichment.

John Bolton is leaving his post as national security adviser. It’s unclear if he resigned, as he claims, or if the president fired him. And it’s also unclear whom President Donald Trump will appoint next, and how that person will help shape U.S. foreign policy through the rest of his term.

William Inboden is executive director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. He is also a former senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. He says Bolton’s disagreement with Trump’s plan to meet with the Taliban at Camp David over the weekend likely hastened Bolton’s departure. But Inboden says it’s surprising Bolton lasted in the administration as long as he did.

“It was a mismatch from the beginning,” Inboden says. “His style and temperament and policy convictions – he just was not aligned with where Trump seems to be coming from.”

The U.S. faces several foreign policy challenges that the new national security adviser will have to take on. Inboden says Iran poses the most pressing challenge.

“As we’ve withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal… [Iran is] essentially reigniting its nuclear program,” Inboden says. “I’m concerned that they don’t have any sort of strategy on where they want to take this.”

The position of national security adviser doesn’t hold any inherent power like the secretaries of defense or state. But Inboden says that person’s typically close relationship with the president makes them highly influential.

“National security adviser has three roles: it’s to advise the president; it’s to coordinate the other elements of the U.S. government that do national security, and make sure they all speak with one voice; and then it’s to help implement the president’s policies and priorities.”

He says Bolton didn’t fulfill those objectives. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy to find someone who will. Inboden says Trump has had the most national security advisers of any U.S. president. So far, Steve Biegun and Brian Hook are two possible candidates, both of whom have close ties to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Inboden says.

“We’ll probably see somebody come out of Pompeo’s orbit, which will further strengthen Pompeo’s hand as the most influential national security official in the Trump administration,” Inboden says.

As for Trump’s canceled plan to host talks with the Taliban at Camp David the weekend before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Inboden says the idea was “appalling.” The Taliban supported Osama bin Laden who was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Bolton had objected to the meeting.

“Seems driven more by a reality TV moment than serious diplomacy, or a serious commitment to counterterrorism,” Inboden says. “That said, it is a great success of American counterterrorism policy that 18 years after 9/11, we’re here talking about palace intrigue at the White House rather than another mass casualty attack on the United States.”


Written by Caroline Covington.