It was another tumultuous week for US national security. Democrats are once again questioning President Donald Trump’s fitness as commander in chief, while most Republicans shrugged off the criticisms and went about business as usual in Trumpland.
The week began with revelations, first reported by CNN, that US intelligence agencies had pulled a high-level spy who gained the trust of senior officials inside the Kremlin, over fears the asset could be compromised. Then on Tuesday, the president jettisoned yet another national security advisor even as global conflicts, from Venezuela to Iran to Afghanistan, continue to simmer. The double whammy has lawmakers in at least one party worried that America is flying blind.
“I’m shaken by the instability of American foreign policy today. I think it’s super dangerous for us and the world,” senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) told reporters at the Capitol earlier this week, right as news broke—via a presidential tweet—that John Bolton was no longer national security advisor. “Somebody’s got to convince this president to get his act together.”
There’s no love lost between Democrats and Bolton. The former Fox News firebrand, who served as UN Ambassador under President George W. Bush, was a surprise pick to be Trump’s national security advisor. Bolton’s hawkish tendencies could seem out of line with Trump’s more dovish campaign rhetoric. On the other hand, Trump also ordered an airstrike inside of Iran earlier this year, only to call it off at the last minute, and has advocated for regime change and US intervention in Venezuela. (The president tweeted this week that his views on Venezuela are “far stronger” than Bolton’s.)
“I am glad Bolton left because I think he was a warmonger who did not look at the world through 20/20 glasses. I think he looked at the world through a very distorted view, which had a way of exacerbating some of President Trump’s worst tendencies,” senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) told WIRED. “So I think the fact that he is gone, regardless of anything else, makes the nation, frankly, safer and more secure.”
For Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the two brought out each other’s worst instincts. He says that Trump’s hastily agreed-to meeting at Camp David with the Taliban this month, which fell apart just as quickly over the weekend, was a serious blunder.
“So much is just ad hoc. We don’t get briefed on things—nobody here, Democrat or Republican, really knew about the Taliban thing,” Kaine said. “And it looks like it might have been rushed, and maybe it was rushed in a way that will end up being really counterproductive to something that could have happened. So there is a level of chaos before, during, and after, but Bolton being gone is net positive.”
Still, many Democratic lawmakers are troubled by the sudden departure. Bolton is now the third person to be cycled in and out of the national security advisor position in less than three years. Trump’s first advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned amid scandal just weeks into the president’s term. His replacement, H.R. McMaster, lasted just over a year before Bolton was named to the role—also in a tweet.
“I honestly have no love for John Bolton’s policy, but the idea that our allies have no one to talk to with consistency … is really dangerous,” Murphy said. “Did Donald Trump just figure out that John Bolton was a military hawk? Did it just come to his attention that John Bolton was going to recommend military intervention in all corners of the world?”
Even Kaine is concerned about the repercussions of having such a fluid cast among a whole host of top US officials, not just national security advisor. “America is in a place now where you could not, as another nation, count on us,” he said. “Nations around the world who have been able to count on the United States, they can’t and that’s a shame. But that’s not because of the staff; that’s because of the president.”