President Donald Trump used Twitter, of course, to announce that he had removed national security adviser John Bolton from his post. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation,” he wrote. It’s not entirely clear which suggestions led Trump to let Bolton go. There were many options to choose from.
In a mere year and a half, Bolton has recklessly misled the president on a number of significant foreign policy issues. In 2017, before he arrived at the White House, Bolton was urging Trump to abandon the Iran nuclear deal. Among a host of other bad decisions since he became national security adviser, Bolton has encouraged the president to abandon a positive step toward peace with North Korea in Hanoi, deal belligerently with China, and discuss stationing more troops close to Russia’s border. Bolton’s latest bad advice sank a chance to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan.
Things could have gone very differently. Had Trump selected a national security adviser aligned with his foreign policy views, it is entirely possible that by now he or she might have accomplished a number of valuable foreign policy achievements to advance our national security. Two key examples illustrate how.
Peace with North Korea
As recently as February of this year, South Korean president Moon Jae-in was openly suggesting Trump might win the Nobel Peace Prize for the progress he was making with North Korea. Instead, Bolton led Trump away from the path toward peace. He convinced Trump to pursue a big deal, rather than realistic gains, at the summit in Hanoi, scuttling any progress and causing Trump to leave Vietnam without so much as a joint statement.
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Relations between Washington and Pyongyang are now at their lowest ebb since January 2018. Thanks to Bolton’s bad advice, little discussion is now taking place between the two countries, and prospects for peace have taken a hit. Near-term denuclearization was never in play, but it’s even less likely today.
A settlement with Iran
An adviser who was aligned with Trump’s more pragmatic instincts and wanted to see the president succeed in negotiations with Iran would have sought to lower tensions with Tehran, worked with our allies to find effective ways to constrain the regime, and opened the door to genuine and constructive diplomacy.
Instead, Bolton has pushed Trump to take the most destructive course conceivable. He has virtually destroyed any chance for the president to make good on his campaign pledge to negotiate a better nuclear deal with Iran, which is a worse outcome for both the United States and our friends in the region. Worst of all, the chances for a war with Iran — which would be a far worse mistake than Iraq — are significantly higher today than when Trump took office.
These and other Bolton missteps are not minor issues. Instead of making the country safer, reducing the risk of war and ending pointless conflicts around the world, Bolton has advised Trump at every turn to take the most counterproductive actions possible. The result has been increased risk, suffering higher (and unnecessary) combat losses, and the quest for peace is now more elusive than ever. All the while, U.S. power has diminished due to overstretch. Rather than ending pointless wars, Bolton has advised the president to continue them.
Bolton's focus was not diplomacy
It is easy to destroy things. But good foreign policy demands the more difficult work of constructive, pragmatic diplomacy. Bolton has demonstrated great skill in abrogating agreements and preventing wars from ending. He has shown neither the inclination nor ability to build anything, to negotiate any new agreements, or to end unnecessary wars.
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Trump has made the right decision to replace Bolton. It is critical now, however, that the next national security adviser not follow in Bolton’s footsteps. The right person for the job cannot be another in the long line of establishment figures stuck in the last two decades of foreign policy failure. Trump needs someone who is experienced in international and military affairs, understands how to use diplomacy to our advantage, and, most critically, is aligned with the president’s foreign policy intent. Possibly the best choice could be retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor. No one is more aligned with Trump and more equipped with the requisite skills.
Whoever he selects, for America’s sake, let us hope Trump chooses well.
Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow at Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years of service, including four combat deployments. Follow him on Twitter: @DanielLDavis1
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bolton pushed Trump into more risk, war and casualties, good riddance