Whatever else he has been through in his career, John Bolton is a patriot. He has been impelled by a strong vision of the national interest. He has run career risks and sacrificed life opportunities for the sake of his principles. He went to work for President Donald Trump, aware of important disagreements between them. Bolton believed that his knowledge of government and his fierce work ethic would prevail over Trump’s bad impulses.
That gamble has now been exposed as a bad one. Bolton has lost the debate over North Korea, over Ukraine, over Russia, over trade. While Bolton agreed with Trump about Brexit, Bolton is a friend of the United Kingdom, who has witnessed Trump use Brexit to squeeze Britain, not support it. Bolton protested as Trump tried incompetently to grab the controls of negotiations with the Taliban—and as Trump has mused aloud about no-precondition presidential-level talks with the Iranian regime.
Bolton has been a loyal soldier for his president through all these difficulties. His reward was open disrespect and then public humiliation.
Trump prefers to surround himself with grifters and weaklings. That has been harder for him to do in foreign policy, especially after the rapid end of the career of Trump’s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn. Men such as Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, H. R. McMaster, and now John Bolton have all had important pre-Trump careers—and all have post-Trump reputations to consider. Yet even after the unhappy culmination of their work for Trump, they have all continued to protect him. They know he is unfit for the job—morally, intellectually, psychologically. But they keep silent.