Richard N Haass, a distinguished American former diplomat and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in the Financial Times that “Glory seems especially fleeting for American national security advisers, as we have now had three in less than three years … [and] … The most recent to be shown the door is John Bolton, reportedly because he and President Donald Trump frequently disagreed on big issues. Mr Bolton, for his part, was prepared to go to war against both North Korea and Iran. He saw diplomacy in Afghanistan as a trap and favoured a confrontational policy towards Russia. Mr Bolton also sought more extensive ties with Taiwan. Mr Trump, who had got elected criticising the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, was prepared to threaten wars but not start them. He wanted close ties with Russia; confrontation with China was fine only if it was economic.” Mr Bolton who was George W Bush’s Under Secretary of State (2001 to 2005) and Ambassador to the United Nations (2005-2006), is made of sterner stuff … a fact that seems to annoy President Trump. Mr Bolton is described (same link) as “an überhawk who loves pushing regime change across the world.”
Dr Haass, who should be acknowledged as being something of an expert in this field, explains that “The national security adviser wears two hats. That individual is a counsellor to the president who owes the boss his best advice. Even more important, though, is the second hat — that of honest broker. He or she is the person who ensures the president hears a wide range of views from those with a stake in the policy under consideration, insists that decisions are made only after careful deliberation, and then keeps a watchful eye as policies are implemented … [but, he says] … The challenge is to not allow personal preferences to interfere with due process. Some in the job (including Mr Bolton) have failed to get this balance right. Without a rigorous process, important information is not factored in and decisions tend to be taken without adequate consideration of implementation challenges and costs. The debacle that was the decision to go to war against Iraq in 2003, along with the lack of preparation for the aftermath, is a case in point.” I agree with all that, but I also suspect that part of the problem that John Bolton faced was that Donald Trump doesn’t want any of:
- “A wide range of views from those with a stake in the policy under consideration;”
- Someone in his entourage who ” insists that decisions are made only after careful deliberation;” or
- Anyone who “then keeps a watchful eye as policies are implemented.”
None of those seems, to me, to fit with Donald Trump’s management style.
Richard Haass says, and I agree, fully, that “A fair case can be made that Mr Bolton lacked the judgment and even more the temperament for the job. But it is difficult to imagine anyone succeeding in an environment in which the president does not trust intelligence, in which decisions are often made on the fly and broadcast on Twitter, and in which there are overlapping and unclear authorities. It doesn’t help that the president’s family has a portfolio of their own.“
Dr Haass has some specific prescription for US national policy initiatives regarding Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea but he admits that “For these and other challenges, the critical question is whether this president is willing to narrow the gap between his goals and what he is prepared to do to accomplish them. He either has to scale back objectives or increase efforts. The former is more compatible with Mr Trump’s “America First” agenda. As a result, diplomacy could well come to occupy centre stage for a president who relishes summitry and has supreme confidence in his personal skills.“
He concludes by saying that, “The most successful national security process in recent decades was that of George HW Bush. In Brent Scowcroft, he had a national security adviser he trusted, one who had strong views yet never let these views interfere with his fidelity to process. But Mr Scowcroft had a big advantage — he and his boss were mostly on the same page … [and] … Mr Bolton’s successor may not have that luxury. It is something he or she might want to consider before accepting the job.“
This matters to Canada because America, like it or not, is our closest neighbour, most important trading partner and the guarantor of our sovereignty and security. President Trump does not appear to think highly of Canada or its leaders … but some would take that as a compliment and even a bit of a feather in our current prime minister’s cap. But Donald J Trump has the capacity to make life better or much, much worse for Canadians, for ordinary working Canadians, whether by design or just by accident if we get sideswiped by one of his policies. Canadians officials knew where they stood with John Bolton. I wonder how we will fare with his potential replacements.