In yet another shakeup at the White House, national security adviser H.R. McMaster has been replaced by hardline hawk John Bolton, who in the past has called for the US to bomb both North Korea (paywall) and Iran.
“After 34 years of serving our nation, I am requesting retirement from the US Army effective this summer, after which I will leave public service,” McMaster said in a statement on Thursday. According to the New York Times, McMaster’s exit had been discussed with president Trump over the past few weeks and was a mutual decision.
McMaster himself was tapped to replace Michael Flynn in February last year. Flynn left his post after it was revealed that he had lied to vice president Mike Pence and the FBI about his contact with Russia.
McMaster’s clash with Trump came down mostly to a personality conflict, a senior White House official said last week. McMaster had a reputation for direct and unvarnished style of speaking, and didn’t hesitate to tell the president or anyone else in his cabinet when he thought Trump was wrong.
Even before joining the White House, McMaster had a reputation for being somewhat abrasive. “McMaster is the kind of guy who would land in Kabul for the first time, and then tell you 20 minutes later everything that was wrong with Afghanistan,” recalls one former UN official who often worked with the general there.
Though a White House statement lauded McMaster for his commitment to the administration’s America First national security strategy, the decorated lieutenant general didn’t share Trump’s views on military strategy. McMaster was also hawkish on US foreign policy, a stance which could conflict with the president’s isolationist leanings.
His replacement, John Bolton, is perhaps even more of a foreign policy hawk. Last month, the 69-year-old penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First” (paywall).
Bolton is best known for his controversial role as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, an appointment made by president George W. Bush over the objections of dozens of former diplomats and Democrats in Congress. “If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference,” Bolton memorably said a decade before taking that job. The UN headquarters building is 38 stories.
Bolton was appointed by Bush during a Congressional recess, and forced to resign the next year, after Democrats won control of the Senate, making it highly unlikely that he would be reconfirmed by the next Congress. After leaving the Bush administration, Bolton wrote a WSJ op-ed headlined “How to Defund the UN” (paywall).
He has worked since then as a consultant for the National Rifle Association, the American Enterprise Institute, and Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. In 2013, Bolton appeared in a video by Russian gun-rights group The Right To Bear Arms, NPR reported this week. The FBI is reportedly examining links between the NRA and Russian donors.
More recently, Bolton may have played a role in influencing Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He is on the board of directors of the Jewish Institute of National Security of America, an anti-Iran, pro-Israel think tank.
As Quartz wrote previously:
Trump’s rationale on Dec. 5 for moving the US embassy seemed to come right from Bolton’s mouth. “After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said, then listed the reasons why Jerusalem was the obvious capital of Israel, including that fact that is it home to Israel’s parliament. “It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
Bolton made almost exactly the same arguments in a hearing to a Congressional committee last month (pdf). “If the Middle East peace process is such a delicate snowflake that the location of the US Embassy in Israel could melt it, one has to doubt how viable it is to begin with,” Bolton said.
Bolton will take office on April 9.
It’s a busy time at the White House. Earlier today, the president also fired his lead lawyer in the Russia investigation, John Dowd. Last week, Trump replaced former secretary of state Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, former CIA director.