To understand why John Bolton is no longer Donald Trump’s national security adviser, it’s worth looking back 37 years, to the departure of another hawkish appointee from another Republican administration. The adviser was Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and the president was Ronald Reagan.
When Bolton entered the Trump administration, he was determined to reverse what he saw as Iranian gains in the Middle East. When Haig entered the Reagan administration, he was determined to reverse what he saw as Soviet gains in Central America. And like Bolton, who has called for bombing Iran, Haig suggested that turning the communist tide in America’s hemisphere might require attacking Cuba. “Give me the word and I’ll make that island a fucking parking lot,” Haig told White House Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, according to Lou Cannon’s book President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. “You get a band of brothers from CIA, Defense, and the White House and you put together a strategy for toppling Castro,” he urged Deputy National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane.
If Haig believed his swagger would endear him to his boss, he was wrong. According to Deaver, Haig’s belligerence “scared the shit out of Ronald Reagan.” After Haig’s Cuba comments, Deaver worked to ensure that he never met Reagan alone. Haig lasted only 17 months in the job.
That’s how long Bolton lasted too. And for the same fundamental reason: Presidents who take office in the shadow of unpopular wars don’t tolerate warlike advisers for very long.