The departure of John Bolton as national security adviser on Tuesday — President Trump said he fired him, and Mr. Bolton maintained that he quit — was logical and overdue. A rigid ideologue, Mr. Bolton has a long record of championing military action against U.S. adversaries, which Mr. Trump resists, and opposing negotiation with the likes of North Korea and Iran, which is the president’s natural instinct. He didn’t alter those views to suit Mr. Trump, and instead battled those who catered to the president’s wishes — most notably, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Trump was no doubt telling the truth, for once, when he tweeted, “I disagreed strongly with many of (Mr. Bolton’s) suggestions, as did others in the Administration.”
Yet Mr. Bolton, who served in previous Republican administrations, can hardly be blamed for the falling-out. His ultra-hawkish views and habit of bureaucratic infighting were well known, even notorious, in Washington when Mr. Trump hired him in April of last year. But the president, in the hunt for his third national security adviser in just 15 months, simply disregarded the facts. Apparently Mr. Bolton was picked because Mr. Trump had enjoyed watching him on television. The result was to compound the chaos that has characterized the administration’s foreign policy and left Mr. Trump without meaningful accomplishments.
Perversely, considering how out of sync he was with Mr. Trump’s priorities, Mr. Bolton managed to accomplish a fair amount — if mostly in a negative sense. Last week he helped persuade Mr. Trump to torpedo an agreement with the Afghan Taliban, painstakingly negotiated by the State Department over the course of nearly a year, just before it was to be signed. Earlier this year, he induced the president to set aside State’s work on a possible interim deal with North Korea on its nuclear program, and instead demand that dictator Kim Jong Un immediately commit to giving up all weapons of mass destruction. That helped to precipitate the collapse of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi and has led to a prolonged lapse in negotiations, during which North Korea has been testing new missiles.
The national security adviser’s principal responsibility has traditionally been to oversee a disciplined policymaking process that includes the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, and to tee up big decisions for the president. Mr. Bolton didn’t do that. Instead, he sniped at initiatives undertaken by others, like the North Korea talks and Afghan negotiations, and pursued long-standing pet causes of his own — such as his pointless crusade against the International Criminal Court. He championed an attempted coup against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which fell flat.
This dysfunction was, of course, enabled and even encouraged by Mr. Trump, who has shown no interest in orderly process. During Mr. Bolton’s tenure, the president abruptly reversed course on bombing Iran, as well as making peace with the Taliban, and it has been impossible to keep track of his seesawing positions on China. “Sorry, it’s the way I negotiate,” he recently told reporters. Mr. Trump’s fourth national security adviser, if he can find one, will have to be a lot more pliable than Mr. Bolton.