John Bolton's firing frees Trump to tear up his Iran policy, and pursue an unprecedented meeting with its president - at the risk of angering his hardline backers
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
- The abrupt sacking of John Bolton as national security adviser frees Trump to pursue his own brand of foreign policy.
- A swift consequence of this could be an unprecedented meeting with Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, at the UN.
- Such a move could give Trump the chance to pursue a tricky foreign policy win that would have been impossible with Bolton around.
- But it also risks alienating the Iran hawks - including the pro-Israel lobby - who have thus far been staunch Trump allies.
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Firing John Bolton as his national security adviser has freed President Donald Trump to pursue his unconventional brand of deal-making around the world - a shift which could bring swift and drastic repercussions.
One consequence - according to comments Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - could be an unprecedented meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at next week's UN General Assembly.
Bolton's departure came after months of clear signs that his worldview - that the US should robustly and unilaterally exercise its military, diplomatic and economic power around the world - differed wildly from Trump's self-professed love of deal-making, apparently driven mostly by instinct.
The men repeatedly clashed- with a level of publicity rare for national security deliberations - over Bolton's pursuit of hardline stances on a slew of issues. A few:
- The ongoing political crisis in Venezuela.
- Trump's personality-driven approach to North Korea.
- A planned meeting at Camp David with the Taliban.
- How to respond to confrontations with Iran in the Persian Gulf.
It appears these repeated conflicts over policy, along with Bolton's famed willingness to engage in ruthless bureaucratic maneuvering, ended the tenure of Trump's third national security adviser in three years.
It also set the stage for what could be the strangest and most risky political gambit of his administration so far: Direct talks between the US and Iranian presidents.
Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS; GOL/Capital Pictures/MediaPunch/AP
Although specifics have not been formally set, well-informed White House reporters were floating the prospect of the meeting, a possibility confirmed by Pompeo.
With a slowing economy, and few major policy successes to his name beyond a tax cuts and Supreme Court appointments, Trump could certainly use a political breakthrough with Iran for his 2020 campaign. All the better if it can be contrasted with the 2015 nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration.
But Iran hardliners make up a substantial portion of Trump's political bedrock whom he would risk upsetting. This group includes those who are the staunch allies of Israel, Iran's biggest foe in the region.
safrir Abayov/Pool via REUTERS
Any meeting that occurs without Bolton's hardline and deep experience with trying to have Iran bombed will likely worry these supporters deeply.
In Israel itself, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces the most perilous election of his career next week. He has long flaunted his close relationship with Trump, and is one of the few US allies to unambiguously embrace the president.
Direct talks with Iran by an American president desperate for a public win would deeply unsettle this key political and diplomatic base of Trump.
The White House still contains advisers, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have long held hardline views on Iran. However, Pompeo has made it a signature of his tenure to avoid at all costs clashing with Trump, a contrast with his predecessor Rex Tillerson.
Netanyahu's announcement that he would annex the Jordan River Valley, which is about a third of the occupied West Bank, came just as the Bolton's departure was announced.
That move, immediately lauded by many on the Israeli right, gives wavering supporters a potential consolation prize if Trump abandons a hard line on Iran.
It's unclear, however, if this would be enough for Israel's most hardcore supporters in the US, who also provide Trump with his most stable political allies.
(It is also far from certain that an Israeli annexation would work - the UN responded by saying that any annexation would have no standing in international law.)
How this base would respond to Trump attempting to renegotiate the nuclear treaty with the Iranians without Bolton and other like-minded hawks is far from certain.
What is clear, however, is that Trump has now cleared the way to try and deal with Iran, and other opponents like North Korea, completely on his own terms.