President Donald Trump has soured on National Security Adviser John Bolton and is trashing him in private as the hawkish adviser reassures Middle Eastern allies the U.S. does not want war with Iran.
Trump has grumbled about Bolton in private at his Florida golf club, to advisers and even to mega-donor Sheldon Adelson – the conservative casino owner who backs Bolton, The New York Times revealed.
The reports of the strained relationship come as Bolton attends an emergency summits of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, where the adviser – who has previously advocated for harsh treatment of Iran – reassured allies the U.S. is being ‘responsible’ when it comes to Tehran.
President Donald Trump has soured on National Security Adviser John Bolton and is trashing him in private
National Security Adviser John Bolton, meanwhile, is in the Middle East echoing Trump’s softer tone on Iran
The White House is ‘trying to be prudent and responsible’ in attempting to avoid war with Tehran, Bolton said.
‘The point is to make it clear to Iran and its surrogates that these kinds of actions risk a very strong response from the United States,’ he noted.
Bolton’s words echoed the president’s softer tone on Iran.
While in Japan, Trump down played tensions with Tehran, which have been building since the president withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and reimposed sanctions.
‘I think we’ll make a deal’ with Iran, Trump said. ‘We’re not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear. We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.’
His words were seen as a contradiction to previous positions advocated by Bolton.
And it was seen as another example of how the president’s private grousing about his adviser has spilled over into the public, sewing seeds of confusion about U.S. foreign policy.
Bolton, who joined the administration in April of last year, replaced Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster in the job and was a well-known war hawk with harsh views on North Korea and Iran – harsher views than Trump held.
While Bolton figured out how to brief Trump more effectively than McMaster – he never bonded with him in a personal way, a move that ultimately hurt both McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who were fired from their positions in the administration.
The president is not fond of his national security adviser, a half-dozen advisers and associates told The Times, and he makes no secret of it in private.
He’s even mocked Bolton’s hawkish reputation and suggested he was restraining his adviser.
National Security Adviser John Bolton has not developed a personal connection with the president, aides say
The lack of a personal connection with Trump also hurt former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster (left) and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (right), who were fired from their positions in the administration
‘If it was up to John, we’d be in four wars now,’ one senior official quoted the president saying.
And he’s begun conducting informal surveys of how Bolton is doing on the job – a move he makes when he sours on an adviser as part of hi deliberation of trying to decide whether or not to change staff.
At an April meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump pulled Adelson aside to ask him how he thought Bolton was doing. Adelson told him if that Trump was happy, then he was happy, the newspaper reported.
The situation with Bolton was described by some as similar to what happened with Tillerson – although it ultimately took the president six months to fire his then secretary of state via tweet.
It’s also uncertain if Trump would make a major staff change – replacing Bolton would put him on his fourth National Security Adviser in four years – before the 2020 election.
The first public cracks in the Trump/Bolton relationship appeared during the president’s state visit to Japan where Trump contradicted Bolton on North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles.
Bolton told reporters there is ‘no doubt’ North Korea’s missile tests violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.
President Donald Trump broke ranks with Bolton on his trip to Japan; he’s seen here with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (left), National Security Adviser John Bolton (center) and White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders (right) traveled with Trump to Japan
But Trump tweeted he wasn’t ‘disturbed’ by the tests.
‘North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me,’ he wrote.
And he went even further at a press conference there.
‘My people think it could have been a violation, as you know,’ Trump said. ‘I view it differently. I view it as a man — perhaps he wants to get attention, and perhaps not. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.’
The president has also resisted sending more troops to the Middle East to counter reported threats from Iran – another Bolton concern – and has become dissatisfied with the results of Bolton’s work in the campaign to push President Nicolás Maduro out of Venezuela.
Others argue Trump is sending a different message as a way to keep adversaries off balance.
Bolton, in return, has been frustrated with Trump’s unwillingness to press for more change in the Middle East, the Times reported.
He also clashed with the Pentagon under then-Defense Secretary James Mattis. Additionally his National Security Council has skirmished with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his department.