Heads are spinning in Washington over the sudden departure of national security adviser John Bolton. But what’s seldom mentioned, and is most important: Bolton’s departure won’t change Trump’s foreign policy.
Trump was, is and no doubt will remain the decider-in-chief. There have been many so-called Trump-whisperers. There has never been one whose advice was always taken by the president.
Trump has never had — and never wanted — a staff that says only “yes sir.” He seeks out a diversity of opinion, often reaching beyond his formal staff. That’s why he brought on Bolton, who is far more hawkish than the president is, in the first place.
Nor is Trump dogmatic. On a number of policy challenges, including those posed by Syria and Afghanistan, deliberations with his advisers led him to take a different tack than what he initially intended.
So, there’s no reason to expect swings in foreign policy now that Bolton is out the door. When Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster and Kelly were senior advisers, some claimed they led an “axis of adults” that oversaw foreign policy. Yet, all of them are long gone, and today’s policies don’t look all that different.
This is not to say that Bolton didn’t have a positive impact. On his watch, real strides were made in moving Trump’s “America First” policy forward.
Bolton was an unbridled champion of the maximum pressure campaign waged against Tehran after the US pulled out of the Iran Deal. That campaign is working.
The Iranians are scrambling, trying to figure out how to get out from under Trump’s thumb. There is even talk they might agree to meet with Trump around the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
Bolton was a cheerleader for the US embracing Boris Johnson in his battle to Brexit from the European Union. And, there is no question that he gave some advice to the president in Hanoi, when North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim tried to sucker Trump into a bad deal.
He was also right about telling the Taliban where to get off after it pulled a terrorist attack in Kabul on the eve of closing a “peace” deal.
Yet, in the end, the president felt like the partnership just wasn’t working anymore. For Trump, breaking up is never hard to do — because not much changes.
A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research into matters of national security and foreign affairs.
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