Whatever you think of John Bolton, his departure is a bad sign

Jay Caruso
Getty

If it is not already abundantly clear, Donald Trump doesn't like dissent within the ranks. Trump is the personification of the "my way or the highway" mindset, and his administration suffers as a result.

The latest move was his dismissal of his national security adviser, John Bolton. The president knew what he was getting when he asked Bolton to join his administration. A long-time foreign policy hawk, Bolton wasn't about to change his views just because they differed from Trump's and others in the administration.

Bolton's dismissal managed to get handled with all of the strife and incompetence once expects from this White House. The entire process was so abrupt it happened not long after the White House communications team scheduled Bolton to appear at a 2.30pm briefing alongside secretary of state Mike Pompeo and treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Bolton no doubt had differing views than Trump on issues of national security and foreign policy. Of course, the idea of having someone like Bolton in the administration is that he's not going to act like a "yes" man, giving tacit approval to anything Trump wanted to do.

On everything from North Korea to Iran and the Taliban, Bolton's view was that no one involved with those regimes is trustworthy enough to do good-faith deals. And while that may have presented differences in outlooks between Bolton and Trump personally, it was necessary to have someone in the role to be a check on Trump's naivete, especially when the president behaves as if every negotiation is as simple as a real estate transaction.

We've already seen the folly of Trump attempting to charm Kim Jong-un into a nuclear deal. Kim refused to surrender his nuclear programme and is managing to make its neighbours nervous with repeated short-range missile tests. And while the trade war isn't necessarily within Bolton's purview, Trump's failure to secure a trade deal with China could have long-term national security implications.

More recently, Bolton refused to attend Trump's awkward meeting with Kim at the Demilitarised Zone where he crossed over into North Korea. Bolton also disagreed with Trump's decision to call off an airstrike on Iran after they shot down an American surveillance drone.

None of this means Trump must follow any advice he gets from Bolton. The commander in chief will make the ultimate decision on matters relating to national security. But there is value having someone like Bolton on the team. He's never been afraid to speak his mind and declare a course of action to be a good idea or a bad one. A good president wants people around him who provide advice that doesn't come with the hope of seeking favour in the president's eyes.

Unfortunately, that's precisely how Trump wants it. He demands unadulterated praise for his decisions, and that includes those within his administration. Any dissent gets viewed under the lens of a personal betrayal that will not go unpunished. Trump also doesn't like to get upstaged. After Bolton said "there is no doubt" North Korea's short-range missile tests were a violation of United Nations resolutions, Trump undercut him, saying: "My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently."

The final straw apparently was Bolton disagreeing with Trump over the idea of inviting the Taliban to Camp David for peace talks. Bolton stressed Trump could still draw down troops in Afghanistan and thereby keeping one of his campaign promises, without having to cut a deal with the movement that aided in the killing of thousands of Americans going back to September 11, 2001.

Trump ultimately did cancel the peace talks but was supposedly miffed that Bolton didn't buy into the idea and feuded with Pompeo over the issue. It seems somewhat churlish to fire someone willing to offer up candid viewpoints, but that's been the definition of Trump's presidency from the start. There is only room for praise and agreement for President Trump. Any dissent will, over time, become a fireable offence.