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Good riddance, but the problem is his boss

No sensible observer of international affairs could lament Donald Trump’s announcement that he has fired John Bolton as his national security adviser – though in typically combative style, Mr Bolton insists that he quit. Whatever the precise manner of his departure, plenty of people in Washington, including lifelong Republicans, are cheering. Many others around the world will celebrate. This is a rare presidential outcome that can be welcomed even by those who despise Mr Trump and all he stands for.

The political demise of the reckless uberhawk who bears so much responsibility for so much appalling American foreign policy in the past, and who had attempted to steer the president towards so much more, is welcome. When he entered the administration last spring – as the president’s third permanent national security adviser in 14 months – he had been arguing forcefully for “preemptive” attacks on North Korea. There was an obvious clash of wills with Mr Trump: unlike the president, he believes in aggressive foreign intervention and an international military presence to match. One fear was that his indisputable tactical skills within the government machine and sheer relentlessness might allow him to prevail.

The other fear, which proved more accurate, is that the damage would come from the way his view of allies, long-term partnerships and international treaties aligned with the president’s: neither appears to believe them useful or desirable. His visceral opposition to arms control agreements helped to see off the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; might his exit provide some faint hope for a renewal of New Start?

The cancelled summit with the Taliban at Camp David, announced by Mr Trump at the weekend, was immediately suspected as the trigger for Mr Bolton’s exit. He had reportedly been cut out of key meetings on Afghanistan and was known to oppose the deal. That was the right judgment, but for the wrong reasons (civilians long for peace after decades of war and there was real if cautious hope about the negotiations, but this extremely limited agreement fell woefully short). But the White House has said that there were “many, many issues”. The two men are known to have clashed on North Korea and Iran, with Mr Trump this summer calling off an airstrike on Iran at the last minute. Nor was the president impressed by Mr Bolton’s hostility to Russia, or by the failure to deliver what he had anticipated as an easy win: the attempt to dethrone Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

However satisfying it may be to see him leave, whoever is picked to succeed him may not be much of an improvement. No one should cheer the chaotic and dysfunctional nature of this administration. Its boss revels in divisions and factionalism among his staff, which allows him to continue governing by his whims, kneejerk reactions and vanity. It is neither normal nor desirable for the national security adviser to be excluded from meetings about Afghanistan – even if it is a relief, when the individual concerned is (or was) Mr Bolton. It is more likely that he was fired because he dented his boss’s ego than because his advice was so bad: Mr Trump liked Mr Bolton’s bellicose style when he saw it on Fox News, not when it clashed with his own intentions.

The national security adviser may have been the most ferocious of the voices urging Mr Trump to turn up the pressure on Iran, but he was certainly not alone. Mr Bolton’s presence in the White House was frightening. But its continued occupation by the man who hired him is much more so.

This editorial first appeared in The Guardian.