- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton had been clashing for months prior to Bolton’s firing on Tuesday.
- With Bolton out of the way, Pompeo is now President Donald Trump’s most influential foreign policy adviser.
- Pompeo is a more flexible figure than Bolton and combined with his loyalty to Trump that helped him win the battle for Trump’s favour.
- Trump is interested in making deals with US adversaries like Iran, the Taliban and North Korea, all approaches that Bolton reportedly tried to block.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to be in a jovial mood during a White House press conference on Tuesday as he took questions on the dismissal of National Security Adviser John Bolton.
When asked if he was blindsided by the abrupt departure, which was announced by President Donald Trump via Twitter just several hours before, Pompeo smiled and said, “I’m never surprised.”
Bolton’s ousting has elevated Pompeo to be the most influential administration official advising Trump on foreign policy and national security.
It also represents the removal of a figure who’s continuously been a thorn in the secretary of state’s side.
‘There’s always tension’
In recent months, it was reported that the relationship between Bolton and Pompeo had deteriorated to such a point they were “not even on speaking terms.”
When Pompeo was asked about the dynamic between him and Bolton in late July, he said, “There’s always tension among leaders of different organisations.” Pompeo went on to say that he and Bolton approach issues “from a different viewpoint” and “have robust, lively debates.”
Last week, the relationship between Pompeo and Bolton had reportedly hit a “new low” as the two sparred over issues such as the Afghan peace negotiations with the Taliban. According to a number of reports, Bolton vehemently objected to Trump’s recent invitation for Taliban leaders to come to Camp David to finalise talks, which was cancelled at the last minute.
The Taliban invitation led to media criticism and backlash from congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Amid the outcry, Trump railed against reports that he overruled advisers on the matter as Pompeo embraced the role of defending the president.
And less than a week later, Trump fired Bolton.
Pompeo and Bolton were ‘destined for rivalry’
Though Pompeo and Bolton had similar views on many policy issues, such as the threat posed by Iran and the administration’s maximum pressure campaign, their personalities clashed as they vied for more influence over the president.
As Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, put it in a prescient op-ed for Politico Magazine shortly after Pompeo transitioned from being CIA director to the nation’s top diplomat in 2018: “Most observers see the new secretary of state and national security adviser as two peas in a pod – hard-liners who will implement Trump’s vision and combat the bureaucracy … But a closer look at their backgrounds, worldviews and ambitions suggests that they might be destined for rivalry.”
That rivalry culminated with Bolton’s dismissal on Tuesday, which helps explain why Pompeo was beaming during the subsequent press conference.
After Bolton was booted from the administration on Tuesday,Wright tweeted, “This was inevitable.”
“For many months Trump wanted to pivot to striking deals [with] America’s enemies – Taliban, Iran, [North Korea], even Russia – in the run up to the election,” Wright added. “Pompeo was willing to accept this to shape it. Bolton was not & sought to sabotage it.”
‘He should have people he trusts and values’
On Tuesday morning, Bolton was on the schedule to appear beside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the 1:30 pm press conference. Pompeo appeared instead, and proceeded to back-up the president’s decision to remove Bolton.
As Bolton publicly contradicted Trump’s assertion he’d asked him to resign – claiming instead that he’d offered his resignation to Trump the night before – Pompeo stood in front of reporters and reiterated the president’s contention.
“There were definitely places that Ambassador Bolton and I had different views about how we should proceed,” Sec. of State Pompeo says after National Security Adviser John Bolton’s firing, adding “I’m never surprised” when asked if he was blindsided by it. https://t.co/rZFvhmMBNL pic.twitter.com/NZpaOTEBJl
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) September 10, 2019
“The president is entitled to the staff that he wants,” Pompeo said. “He should have people he trusts and values and whose efforts and judgements benefit him in delivering American foreign policy.”
“There were definitely places that Ambassador Bolton and I had different views about how we should proceed,” Pompeo said, alluding to the fact those differences will no longer be an obstacle.
Pompeo’s loyalty to Trump has been the key to his success
Bolton has long garnered a reputation as a hawkish ideologue with rigid views, while Pompeo is more of a politician and willing to adapt depending on the circumstances.
Trump campaigned on the isolationist philosophy of “America First” – which is fairly at odds with Bolton’s worldview – and ending lengthy engagements such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As president, Trump at times publicly chided Bolton as a warmonger who’s too eager to invade other countries.
In the end, Pompeo’s more malleable personality helped him emerge victorious in the battle with Bolton for favour with the president.
“A secretary of state has to know that he understands what the president wants,” Pompeo said in a conversation on his first year as the nation’s top diplomat in April. “To the extent you get out of sync with that leader, then you’re just out shooting the breeze rather than actually delivering what America’s foreign policy and diplomatic objectives are.”
Bolton fell out of sync with Trump, while Pompeo figured out what the president wants: loyalty.
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