PATRICK LAWRENCE: Now That Washington’s Most Dangerous Man is Sacked

This week provides chances to monitor resets in Trump’s foreign policy after John Bolton’s destructive tenure.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The most dangerous man in Washington has been sacked. John Bolton’s suitably humiliating departure from the Trump White House last week leaves the president free to name yet another national security adviser — his fourth since taking office less than three years ago. Will the schizophrenia plaguing President Donald Trump’s foreign policies now dissipate? Will Trump finally be able to pursue his objectives on the foreign side without the stonewalling and sabotage that have so far foiled him? These are the questions.

There are as yet no easy answers. The first indication of the White House’s post–Bolton direction will come when Trump names a new national security adviser this week.

John Bolton: Interventionist hyper-hawk. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Bolton, an interventionist hyper-hawk who still considers the 2003 Iraq invasion wise, was the administration’s No. 1 spoiler as Trump sought to pursue negotiation over military confrontation and to withdraw from conflicts — Syria, Afghanistan — that amount to pointless wars of adventure. It is tempting to conclude that Bolton’s wonderfully nasty removal from the administration opens the way to a fundamental shift in Trump’s foreign policy.

But it is important to temper expectations at this early moment. Bolton was the most irrational impediment to Trump’s foreign policy aspirations, but hardly did he act alone. Other hawks still hover in the White House; Trump himself is mercurial to put the point kindly; there remains formidable resistance to Trump’s course in the national security apparatus, in the policymaking bureaucracies and on Capitol Hill. As the Dealmaker likes to say, “We’ll see what happens.”  

 Near-Term Opportunities

Having banished Bolton, Trump’s near-term opportunities are two. He may now be able to resume denuclearization talks with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader. Trump said Thursday — two days after firing Bolton — that he is open to another summit with Kim. It would be their fourth, counting their impromptu stroll in June at the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.  

More immediately, Trump will have a chance to meet Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, at the UN General Assembly session this week. This is to be watched closely. Trump hinted at the Group of 7 session in Biarritz, France, last month that the Western allies could offer Iran an emergency line of credit to be secured by the nation’s crude production.

It is not yet clear how the weekend attacks on Saudi oil installations will influence Trump’s thinking on Iran. No evidence of Iran’s responsibility has yet been produced, although Rouhani’s earlier statement — if Iran cannot export oil through the Gulf, no one will — suggests the Islamic Republic has a motive. But the timing of the attacks, a few days prior to the General Assembly, suggests equally they may have been intended precisely to block a Trump–Rouhani encounter this week.

A provocation of this kind would be in keeping with other such incidents — for example, the attacks on tankers in the Gulf just prior to Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe’s frustrated effort  in June to mediate between Washington and Tehran in June. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s instant rush to blame Iran  for the weekend attacks on Saudi oil facilities adds to this suspicion.

Bolton wreaked havoc in both the Korean and Iranian cases. He, along with Pompeo, subverted Trump’s second summit with Kim, held in Hanoi earlier this year. In May, the man who has rarely met an adversary he does not want to bomb sent a carrier group and missile batteries to patrol in the Persian Gulf, retarding by months Trump’s effort to bring Tehran to the negotiating table.

Trump hinted at a significant shift in direction when he ripped into Bolton a day after firing him. At issue was policy, not personality, the president reiterated several times. This is a significant distinction. “John is somebody that I actually got along with very well,” Trump said. “He made some very big mistakes.” 

Bolton’s positions on Iran and North Korea figure prominently among these mistakes. So do his highly confrontational approach to Russia and his call for coups in Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. It was Bolton (with Pompeo and Sen. Marco Rubio this time) who directed a flimsy attempt to depose Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro earlier this year. Trump first made public his dissatisfaction with Bolton when the Venezuela operation turned into an embarrassing fiasco.

UN headquarters. (Flickr/Julien Chatelain)

Risk of Undue Optimism

If Trump has just rid himself of a powerful pole of resistance within his administration, he, too, runs the danger of undue optimism as to his prospects for changing course on the foreign policy side. There is an emerging consensus in Washington that the Korean crisis can be resolved only at the negotiating table. It is generally recognized, outside Bolton’s Strangelovian circles, that a war with Iran is simply not winnable. These factors are in the president’s favor.

But other policy questions face Trump with the same problems that have trailed him since he campaigned in 2016 with promises to rein in some — by no means all — of America’s excesses abroad. These are the issues that most directly involve the interests of the Pentagon and the national security apparatus — issues involving established commitments on the ground.   

Syria is a case in point. There was immediate resistance last December, when Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syrian soil. The troop count was low, at 2,000, but this was nonetheless taken as a direct challenge to the prerogative the armed forces have long (and unconstitutionally) claimed for themselves. As is now plain, Trump’s executive order was stonewalled — a maneuver in which Bolton had a direct hand.

The main prize, were Trump to win one, would be a more constructive relationship with Russia. Trump has been surprisingly and admirably persistent on this question since his campaigning days, but it is difficult to imagine that Bolton’s departure will do much, if anything, to clear the president’s way. The Pentagon, the NATO bureaucracy, the defense industries, the intelligence agencies, Capitol Hill’s Russophobes: The constituencies heavily invested in highly adversarial relations with Moscow remain too formidable to allow for much optimism. The unknown here is an emerging current of opinion in Washington that the U.S. should make amends with Russia to counter its strategic partnership with China.

While Trump is expected to name Bolton’s successor in a matter of days, no one in Washington appears to be doing much handicapping. It is difficult even to suggest a shortlist among the many names mentioned. These include several Bolton heirs, Pompeo acolytes, and a collection of neoconservatives. There seems to be no candidate in line with Trump’s “unorthodox instincts,” as The New York Times put it last week. Two questions arise.

One, to what extent will Trump choose his next national security adviser and to what extent will someone be imposed upon him, subtly or otherwise? In this connection, it is not at all clear how much choice the president had when he named Bolton to the job in April 2018 — or, for that matter, Bolton’s predecessor, H.R. McMaster. The last thing the White House needs now is another voice loyal to strategies and policies Trump is determined to supersede. 

Two, assuming Trump makes his own selection, will his next adviser be able to draw the administration together such that the swamp of contradictions Bolton made of its foreign policies — which may be unprecedented in modern American history — can be cleaned up? This is the task to be addressed.  

A running theme in the liberal press last week had it that it does not matter who Trump names to succeed Bolton. But these are the same media that cast Bolton as a heroic voice of restraint.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutistHis web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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16 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Now That Washington’s Most Dangerous Man is Sacked

  1. vinnieoh
    September 19, 2019 at 12:14

    I re-read just the last portion and the questions asked. Just for speculation, I’ll start with the premise that uppermost on Trump’s mind is re-election. Not an unwarranted assumption. That calculations in that direction are what will guide his behavior. It doesn’t really matter who he pastes into that position, when consideration of his re-election is uppermost.

    Nowhere does this have more consequence than in the Persian Gulf. Trump knows that one thing that could turn many of the faithful against him would be a large sudden spike in gas prices, say if “we” really attacked Iran to the point that they would launch a large retaliation and the oil stops flowing from the Persian Gulf, with SA and UAE petro infrastructure destroyed.

    It would be difficult to overstate my disdain for Trump, but I do believe he fully understands that a great majority of the herd no matter which lever of the duopoly they pulled in ’16, metaphorically speaking, are sick to their bones of these wars – the lies, the waste, the senseless destruction and inevitable chaos, and another one would surely sink him. Especially the one that the Zionist ghouls relentlessly try to provoke.

    A headline today is “a whistleblower” complaint about Trump making an inappropriate promise to a foreign leader (by telephone,) accepted and forwarded to the Director of Nat. Intelligence by the Intel IG, and he not forwarding same to the congressional Intel committees as he is procedurally and legally required to do.

    Let me be the first to speculate (tongue in cheek? – I’m not sure myself!) that whistleblower is Bolton, the call was to Iran, and the info was “overheard” by the Israeli listening devices found in the vicinity of the WH. Perhaps I should be ashamed for creating this possible meme (if it has not yet been advanced by another of brutalized and exhausted imagination.) But, somehow I’m not, because it is at least as good a “story” as what we’re likely to get.

  2. September 18, 2019 at 05:45

    The demise of John Bolton suggests President Trump is not so black and white on issues of war and peace, and does seem to be striving to avoid disastrous conflicts. But the world is in a very unstable condition and Trump’s erratic nature works against a peaceful outcome to the many overlapping regional disputes. The fundamentals still point us in the direction of another world war: avoiding that require continuum of skill and insightfulness.

  3. Realist
    September 18, 2019 at 04:58

    On first glance at the headline, I was hoping it was referring to Netanyahoo.

    Of course, being rid of Bolton SHOULD have been a plus, though now it looks like his war with Iran has been arranged in spite of his departure. Is there really anyone in either the Democratic or Republican wings of the unhinged Unified War Party who might prefer to see the world continue to exist beyond a stone age level?

    • Dave P.
      September 20, 2019 at 02:29

      “Is there really anyone in either the Democratic or Republican wings of the unhinged Unified War Party who might prefer to see the world continue to exist beyond a stone age level?”

      There may be a few left in the Ruling Establishment here in the U.S. and across the Atlantic (in E.U.) who understand the peril humanity is facing. But I don’t see any leading figure here or across the Atlantic who is bold enough to come forward and tell it. It is incomprehensible how the West has degenerated into this horrible state in such a short time. Most civilizations took longer time, a century or more to sink into moral and spiritual decay.

      As I am writing it, I can hear, through the closed door, my wife watching CNN (switching to MSNBC if it better there) to get the daily dose of true news or “the Truth” as she calls it. And if she finds me reading on my lap top some article on CN, Strategic Culture or some other alternative media site, she gets furious and red in the face shouting that I am reading all these fake news, and somehow participating in destroying our beautiful democracy. That is what the MSM and The Ruling Establishment has done to these people. In the 1950’s when she was growing up, they made them to hide under their school desks and now this. It is sad.

  4. hetro
    September 17, 2019 at 17:48

    It’s interesting to me that the Houthis are being dismissed as the perpetrators, whereas they have claimed responsibility. True, we live in times with a hoax every other day. Another consideration from what I’ve been reading (as at Moon of Alabama) is questions on the direction from which the missiles/drones were launched. Damage suggests damage from the south versus from the west, as first supposed, and leaped on by Pompeo. At least Trump seems in favor of “investigating.”

    Pompeo did his leaping to conclusions with within a few hours, in true 9/11 style, with Trump following on not much later. But Trump today backed off his “locked and loaded” cowboy imagery to a “we’ll see” type of statement, as though he’s rational.

    What this suggests to me is Trump needs hawks like Bolton and Pompeo to manipulate and ultimately boss over to make himself look good when he comes to the rescue and controls them. Then he’s playing the “peace maker” role he professed himself to be, whereas more likely, IMV, he’s playing by ear every little development, to make himself look good.

    Hence his contradictions are a kind of strategy “to keep ’em guessing.” This has hitherto been characterized as four dimensional chess, not the more likely pulling things out of his rear end at the last moment. I imagine he’s up a good deal in the night with concerns over how to improve his image and his polling numbers


    • Realist
      September 18, 2019 at 06:07

      Pompeo needs to learn how to read a map. Iran is North East of the Saudi refineries in question. Iraq is due North. You know who IS North West of those targets? If Pompeo is correct about the direction (and I doubt he is–other sources say the drones came from the South West, where the Houthi stronghold lies), the most likely suspect would be Israel. Israel lies due North West of those fields. So does Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon but they have little ability (long range missiles) nor the motive to take such an action. Nor does Iraq. They’d all have to be tired of living to pull such a stunt.

      Iran may have a motive to retaliate against military attacks against them by the Saudis or their patrons the United States and Israel, but they certainly do not want to precipitate the all out war against their civilisation that those two adversaries keep trying to provoke. The Houthis have both motive (revenge for the genocide carried out for four years against them by SA) AND a sophisticated drone program which was showcased in an article by Zero Hedge a few months back. A wide variety of fancy drones with impressive specs were on display for the event. Such short range drones hugging the ground could easily reach their Saudi targets from Northeast Yemen.

      It would probably take longer range cruise missiles if fired from any of the other countries. Yes, Iran has those (however, see above re motive), but so does Israel. I have read that Israel might even have deployed F-35 stealth fighters to do the job with light armaments perfect for destroying refineries that explode upon the slightest ignition, and they are the only players in the region except the Americans who have that tool in their kit. My opinion? It was a false flag operation by Bibi in a last ditch effort to get re-elected.

  5. Hide Behind
    September 17, 2019 at 13:05

    But Bolton does not just disapear, he does just as in the past go back into a few far right conservative andbultra conservative Christian Zionist think tanks and pseudo independent NGOs that got him into position within Trump administration.
    US did not fully withdraw from Syria and one point, US and Turkey are meeting to decide how much of Syrian lands will Turkey get as a buffer zone between them and that portion of Syrian lands now under nUTs supportednKurdish Republic.
    Hundreds of millions of front line military equipment, tanks anti armor and aircraft missles, small arms and ammo, artillary-rocket, and bbqb trucks, complete with Department of State civilian military contractors.
    Also tons of supplies for rebuilding that Kurdish held area and lines of Credit in middle east including Iraqs banks.
    Along Jordan’s border arebstockpiledbtonnes of military supplies beside abJihadi refugee camp, and a very large wedge into Syrian land of two good sized cities, numerous villages, and large heavily defended outpost, am under US and NATO control. Jordan was given millions and a special Friend of NATO status for its part of war upon Syria.
    US withdrew its 5000man and well equipped Strike Forces to just other side of Iraq-Syria border to special built camps, joining the 7000 US permanently stationed in Iraq forces.
    In Afghanistan the leaving of US/NATO bases and forces bases and seperation of pipeline and capital district control of lands now guarded by US contractors and Azeri forces is why Taliban left negotiations.
    Taliban would not allow so called Green Zone that control Iraq and new Kurd Republics economy.
    The recent billions of military hardware poured into Brazil, Columbia and nations bordering Venezuela, does not bode well for using peaceful means tocsteal Venezuela’s rare earth minerals and huge oil deposits.
    The reality show President knows how to present publics perception of reality while hiding truth behind the scenes.
    Just as Bolton still remains powerful, he is paid $100K by various religious including AIPAC and its 300 affiliated groups for appearances, and Pence along with Trump need those groups in order for re-election.
    in Afghanistan

  6. Martin - Swedish citizen
    September 17, 2019 at 12:52

    Along the lines of this fine article,
    Pompeo and Bolton were imposed on Trump?
    Will Pompeo be the next to be fired?
    Can’t help thinking of the classic negotiating tactic to have a bad guy (these two) and a good guy (Trump). Surely, Trump’s presidency must be judged on the totality of its conduct?

  7. Jeff Harrison
    September 17, 2019 at 12:33

    I remain unimpressed by Revoltin’ Bolton’s departure. Don’t fall into the trap of “it’s not the king, it’s his ministers”. Thump didn’t fire Bolton because of the attempted regime change in Venezuela but because he, with his co-conspirator, the notorious war criminal Eliot Abrams, failed to pull it off. The pair of ’em are so laughably inept that when, with major fanfare, the C-17s dropped off the containers of “humanitarian aid” from the US were opened by the Venezuelans, it was discovered that our idea of humanitarian aid was barbed wire. Violent coup aid would have been a better description.

    Does it make any difference who Donnie Murdo names to replace Revoltin’ Bolton? Not really. He has three choices but remember that Donnie Murdo’s regime is rife with Bolton carbon copies. The only difference between Revoltin’ and Pompous, for example, is that Pompous doesn’t froth at the mouth. If he appoints someone who is a more deranged war monger than Revoltin’, that would be bad. That would feed the existing narrative of Donnie Murdo’s regime and could push us even more dangerously close to the precipice of all out nuclear war. If he appoints a garden variety war monger to the position of national security advisor, it’ll be a wash. That’s pretty much what we had prior to Revoltin’s appointment. If he appoints some reasonable person who understands how the world works and seeks to improve the world as we know it for the world’s sake as opposed to our sake, that person will be marginalized and ignored. The reality is that the Deep State, the Blob, or whatever you want to call the very large group of people who permanently occupy the panoply of alphabet soup of agencies/departments in the US government and who actually run things, has as their objective American global hegemony.

    We will have to break that before we can make things better and less dangerous. Unfortunately, Donnie Murdo is not the man to do it.

  8. Drew Hunkins
    September 17, 2019 at 12:05

    “…The main prize, were Trump to win one, would be a more constructive relationship with Russia. Trump has been surprisingly and admirably persistent on this question since his campaigning days, but it is difficult to imagine that Bolton’s departure will do much, if anything, to clear the president’s way. The Pentagon, the NATO bureaucracy, the defense industries, the intelligence agencies, Capitol Hill’s Russophobes: The constituencies heavily invested in highly adversarial relations with Moscow remain too formidable to allow for much optimism.”

    Never forget one of the biggest purveyors of this dangerous nonsense — our corporate owned military contractor connected mass media and establishment press. They’re arguably the number one culprit in fomenting all the Russophobia.

  9. September 17, 2019 at 11:17

    Refreshingly sane analysis. Where has Lawrence been all my life? Thanks, Consortium!

  10. robert e williamson jr
    September 17, 2019 at 10:11

    Mr. Lawrence I have some advice for Americans myself about optimism.

    They need to create it themselves by making certain the next president elected is not a raving lunatic.

  11. vinnieoh
    September 17, 2019 at 09:19

    One constituency not mentioned by Patrick in those adversarial relations with Russia is the US shale gas industry. This is not a small matter, and was a major contributing factor in the coup in Ukraine (imo) and of course the denunciation of Nordstream. The frack boom is teetering on bust due to a combination of factors – a glut of oil and gas in the market, low global prices, Nordstream, and the trade dispute with China which has resulted in China upping its investments and support of Iran (LNG derived from frack gas is one area that has been favorable in US trade with China – look it up.)

    Ironically, as investors attempt to limit their losses in the shale gas boom, those willing to buy their interests are mostly foreign and mostly SE Asian interests. So, due to Trump’s ham-handed and blustering foreign/trade policies his efforts may end up further handing over truly American assets to a foreign “invasion.” The shale gas industry operates now with relative impunity, so just think of what may lie in store under foreign ownership. Doesn’t help that the ruling party (R’s and the D’s – ha, ha) would die before they would condone any restrictions on the sainted vagaries of “business.”

    There is a solution of course, and in a sane nation that was truly responsible to its own citizens would be a slam dunk – the nationalization of both the resources and the industry itself. (Bernie Sanders has in fact proposed this very solution.) This of course is blasphemy in this capitalist worshiping abattoir.

    The attack on the SA facility will provided a short spell of breathing room for the US shale gas industry, but it will be short-lived, unless of course the Houthis continue to punish the Saudis for their horrid war.

    Interesting times we live in. Saw the headline this morning that “Trumps says he doesn’t want a war with anyone.” Did someone whisper in his ear that it really WAS the Houthis that struck the SA facility?

  12. September 17, 2019 at 04:54

    “Bolton was the most irrational impediment to Trump’s foreign policy aspirations, but hardly did he act alone.”

    Very strange statement by my reckoning.

    Yes, Bolton is, and always has been, an irrational impediment.

    But no more so than than the man who appointed him in the first place.

    In fact, Trump is so twisted, so inconsistent, I don’t understand anyone speaking of his “foreign policy aspirations.”

    This is in a sense the ultimate American president. “The real thing,” as it were.

    Rude. Given to personal insults. Rushed and impatient. Highly prejudiced on many topics.. Ignorant of many matters he insists on speaking of. Offering no fresh insights on anything. Truly dishonest. Grasping. Unfaithful, to staff and even family.

    God, he’s like something from a movie. An American horror film.

    One that speaks about the dark realities of America with its abuse of power and pretty close to complete corruption.

    • robert e williamson jr
      September 17, 2019 at 14:33

      You know John having been caught lying when I was in the third grade whipping up a big whooper to cover missing homework I was taught a very valuable lesson by my teacher Mrs. Hobbs. She forgave me and then made sure I did all the work anyway, with some added “practice” work.

      She told me about lying and what it did to the people you lied to. Her explanation that liars lie and in doing so become unbelievable and largely ignored by most anyone they talk to., that after you lie long enough no one will be willing to believe the truth when you tell it.

      Her point was that if you lie big or little it becomes a big bad habit and eventually no on will believe anything you have to say. That made a lasting impression especially when coupled with my discovery later in life that she was 100% correct.

      Trump is an untrustworthy, inconsistent, irrational, deluded charlatan. No credibility what so ever. Why the media doesn’t call him what he is testifies to the impotence of the corrupted media.

      If Americans are truly wanting well being for their children why not show it by calling for everyone connected to Epstein to be brought before the courts? I would think all parents want all perverts dealt with by way of vigorous prosecution of their crimes.

      No one in D.C. acts alone. Great call on your part.

    • John Wright
      September 17, 2019 at 21:13

      Agreed, Trump has no discernible strategic foreign policy. (How can one be a global leader AND isolationist?)

      Trump has only one “diplomatic” tactic, that of crude brinkmanship, which he seems to use in every situation and which everyone now sees through (and mocks, accept for Macron, apparently).

      I think Bolton was brought on to placate some and also to serve as an ongoing distraction. His firing also served as a distraction.

      Trumps knows that U.S. politics is all theater now, and this is the one thing he’s reasonably good at.

      Trump does embody the epitome of the LCD angry American; angry at an “unfair” world he’s totally ignorant of while wanting “the good life”. He’d rather golf and hang out with sycophantic celebrities than strain his brain solving complex problems.

      Have you seen “Being There” ?

      Trump’s version would be called “Being Everywhere by Being Nowhere”

      We can only be very grateful that his clothes ARE opaque.

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