Meet John Bolton, an architect of the Iraq War who just got fired from his job as Trump’s National Security Adviser

US National Security Advisor John Bolton.

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US National Security Advisor John Bolton.
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Denis Balibouse/Reuters

  • President Donald Trump announced he had fired his National Security Adviser John Bolton after reports that he and Bolton disagreed over a controversial plan to host the Taliban for negotiations.
  • Over the years, Bolton has held some controversial stances, including advocating for preemptive military strikes on North Korea and Iran, and regime change in the latter.
  • As an undersecretary in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, Bolton also pushed the now-discredited belief that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Here’s how Bolton went from being a mid-level bureaucrat in the Reagan administration to the most important person directing US national security policy.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump abruptly announced in a Tuesday tweet he had fired his National Security Adviser John Bolton because Trump “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.”

Bolton’s abrupt firing came after reports that Trump and Bolton, a long-time war hawk, disagreed over a controversial plan to host the Taliban for negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan at Camp David.

Bolton, a graduate of Yale law school, began working on foreign policy and national security issues under the Reagan administration in the early 1980s, where he quickly developed a reputation as a defense hawk skeptical of the US bureaucracy and international institutions.

Over the years, Bolton has held some controversial stances, including advocating for preemptive military strikes on North Korea and Iran, regime change in the latter, and pushing Russia for harboring Edward Snowden.

Read more: Trump fires National Security Adviser John Bolton, saying he ‘disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions’

As an undersecretary for arms control in the Bush administration, Bolton also pushed the now-discredited belief that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction which served as the justification for the US invasion of that country.

He later served as the US ambassador to the United Nations – an institution he routinely criticized as ineffectual – where he continued to push for sanctions on countries accused of possessing or developing nuclear weapons.

Bolton served as Trump’s National Security Adviser for about 16 months, and pushed to fulfill his decades-long vision of the US engaging in a direct confrontation with Iran, according to a May profile of Bolton published in the New Yorker.

Here’s how Bolton went from being a mid-level bureaucrat in the Reagan administration to the most important person directing US national security policy.


Bolton grew up in a working-class family in Baltimore. He attended Yale College and Yale Law School on a scholarship, graduating with a law degree in 1974. At Yale, he befriended future Supreme Court Justice and fellow conservative Clarence Thomas.

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Yale Law School
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Yale Law School/Facebook

Source: Yale Law School, The New Yorker


In the early 70s, Bolton avoided being drafted into the Vietnam War by joining the Maryland National Guard. He later wrote that he “didn’t want to waste time on a futile struggle.”

Source: The New Yorker


Bolton’s career in foreign policy began in the Reagan administration when he served in a variety of different positions in the DOJ and State Department.

Source: The Atlantic


Throughout his career, Bolton has been involved in some of the most controversial incidents in US foreign policy history, including the Iran-Contra affair. Bolton was assistant attorney general at that time.

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U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton.
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Thomson Reuters

Source: The Nation


While Bolton has worked in the federal government for the majority of his professional career, he’s frequently been a critic of government bureaucracy and so-called “careerists,” taking a more aggressive approach to policy in his own career.

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National Security Adviser John Bolton.
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Jim Young/Reuters

Sources: The Atlantic, The New Yorker


Bolton’s reputation as a maverick from his days at Yale carried over into his professional career, as he pushed unorthodox and hardline views on foreign policy and ruffled some feathers in the process.

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John Bolton in the early 1990s.
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YouTube

Bolton under George W. Bush’s administration was the Undersecretary for Arms Control, selected for the position by former Vice President Dick Cheney, a fellow defense hawk. One of Bolton’s former aides described him as “Cheney’s spy” to the New Yorker.

Source: The New Yorker


In that role, Bolton struck a deal to prevent the International Court Criminal — a frequent target of Bolton’s criticism — from prosecuting Americans under international law.

Source: The Washington Post


Around that time, Bolton began publicly claiming that Cuba was developing nuclear weapons in coordination with Libya and Iran, despite pushback from the State Department, who said there was no evidence to support those claims.

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Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
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Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Source: The New Yorker


The New Yorker reported that Bolton forcefully retaliated against a fellow State Department official who questioned Bolton’s claims, attempting to fire him and shutting out his boss.

Source: The New Yorker


From his position, Bolton played a major role in justifying the US invasion of Iraq by advancing the now-discredited position that Saddam Hussein was developing chemical weapons.

Source: The New Yorker


In one dramatic incident, Bolton flew to Europe to personally confront a Brazilian diplomat, Jose Bustani, who was advocating for Iraq to join the Chemical Weapons Treaty.

Source: The New Yorker


Iraq joining the treaty would have involved outside inspections to ensure the country wasn’t developing chemical weapons, precluding the need for a foreign power to invade Iraq and oust Hussein.

Source: The New Yorker


Bolton reportedly demanded that Bustani resign and threatened him by saying “we know you have two sons in New York. We know your daughter is in London. We know where your wife is,” which Bolton denies. Bolton then led an effort to oust Bustani from his position.

Source: The New Yorker , NBC News


Despite the fact that no chemical or other weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Bolton still stood by the US’ invasion of Iraq and the subsequent years of war as recently as 2015.

Source: Washington Examiner


In 2005, Bush nominated Bolton as the US’ ambassador to the UN — an institution Bolton has regularly decried as useless and ineffectual.

Source: The New Yorker


The New Yorker described Bolton’s reputation during his brief tenure at the UN as “abrasive but knowledgeable,” often bristling with fellow diplomats. He did achieve, however, his goal of levying multilateral sanctions on North Korea.

Source: The New Yorker


After Bolton left the Bush administration in 2006, he harshly criticized it for dialing back sanctions on North Korea, describing the administration as mired in “ineffable sadness” and “intellectual collapse.” Bush responded by saying he believed Bolton was “not credible.”

Source: The Atlantic, The New Yorker


In the next decade, Bolton worked as a Fox News contributor and earned money giving paid speeches. He also chaired the controversial Gatestone Institute, which has been criticized for peddling Islamophobia and misinformation about Islam.

Source: New Yorker


Bolton was initially passed over for secretary of state when Trump took office, but he joined the administration in March 2018 as national security advisor, replacing Gen. H.R. McMaster — who had taken a more restrained and measured approach to US policy before he left the administration.

Source: New Yorker


Like Trump, Bolton is skeptical of international and multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, and prefers the US to take a unilateral approach to world issues.

Source: New Yorker


Current and former national security officials told the New Yorker that Bolton is taking a more unilateral approach to policy within the US government itself, forgoing previously regular meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and intelligence officials.

Source: New Yorker


Bolton has long argued for the US to preemptively strike Iran and for the US to engage in regime change efforts, with one former official telling the New Yorker he’s had an “anal focus” on the country for decades.

Source: New Yorker


In the spring and summer of 2019, Bolton used his position to push the US towards a conflict with Iran. On May 5, he announced the US would be sending aircraft carriers and B-52 bomber planes to the Persian Gulf to counter any Iranian aggression.

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The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)
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US Navy Photo

Source: Business Insider


Some Democratic members of Congress said Bolton and his allies drastically overplayed Iran’s threat to the US. Bolton has said the US is “not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack.”

Sources: Washington Post, Business Insider


While the White House ultimately shelved a reported plan to deploy 120,000 US troops to the Middle East, Trump threatened the US could cause “the official end of Iran” in a conflict.

Sources: Business Insider, New York Times


In a September 10 tweet, Trump abruptly announced he had fired Bolton, writing “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration” and saying he would name a replacement next week.

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REUTERS/Leah Millis

Source: Donald Trump/Twitter


Bolton’s firing came after a report in The New York Times described him as “the leading voice” against Trump’s idea to bring the Taliban to Camp David for negotiation to finally end US military involvement in Afghanistan.

Source: New York Times


Bolton appears to have been completely blindsided by his firing over Twitter, tweeting that he offered his resignation the night before but Trump told him they would “talk about it.”

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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters with National Security Adviser John Bolton looking on in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, May 3, 2019.
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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Source: John Bolton/Twitter

Read more:

Trump’s top advisers reportedly told him meeting the Taliban at Camp David ahead of the 9/11 anniversary was a bad idea. He decided to do it anyway.

Trump upended a year of US-Taliban talks with a few tweets – here’s how things fell apart

Trump says he’s a dealmaker, but the derailed Taliban talks are just the latest major negotiation he’s bungled as president

National Security Advisor John Bolton is out – here are all the casualties of the Trump administration so far