Donald Trump tweeted this morning that he had fired his national security adviser, John Bolton, and that Bolton’s “services are no longer needed at the White House.” The cold language was not accidental, and it was a strategically odd way to fire a man best known for being hell-bent on revenge against those who have crossed him. This is not how you release a valued counselor who has rescued you from repeated embarrassment, but whose views have gently deviated from your own. This is how you fire the pool boy. This is how you fire the guy you overheard cracking wise in the break room about your haircut. This is how you fire someone who has strong opinions, and who has gradually made clear that one of those opinions is that you are a complete imbecile.
Bolton is a prideful man, and in the past few months that pride has been severely tested. In June, when Iran shot down an American drone, Bolton—who has a long history of aching to bomb Iran—advised the president to respond with force. Only the counsel of others, including Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford, prevented American sorties from reaching their targets. In the matter of North Korea, which Bolton has, for the past 20 years, urged U.S. presidents to treat with maximum distrust, Trump again ignored his advice. The president not only met bilaterally with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, but line-danced across the DMZ with him, becoming the first U.S. president to, in effect, recognize his authority, by entering his territory as his guest. (Bolton pointedly avoided participation in that meeting and went instead to tend to more pressing geostrategic affairs in outer Mongolia.)
Then there was Tucker Carlson, a figure without precedent in American politics. On the June 21 broadcast of Carlson’s show, just as Bolton was urging a military response to Iran, Carlson devoted a long segment to comparing Bolton to a “tapeworm” that had infested the Republican security establishment and that now was feasting on the ample guts of Trump himself. Carlson has reportedly served as an informal adviser to Trump, and his show sometimes seems intended for an audience of one (the occupant of the Oval Office). Days after that show, when Bolton was packing his bags for Mongolia, Carlson accompanied Trump to Korea. By all evidence, the president preferred his advice to the advice he was getting in-house. [Continue reading…]