After succeeding H.R. McMaster on 9 April 2018, John Bolton spent almost a year and a half as national security advisor, until US President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced Bolton's resignation on 10 September. Here is a look at some of his most notable contributions to US foreign policy as national security advisor.
US Nuclear Deal Withdrawal and Antagonism With Iran
One of the first things that the US did after Bolton assumed his position was to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) on 8 May 2018. While his role in this specific decision by the White House was not explicitly revealed, the fact that he had long been a staunch opponent of Iran and a supporter of regime change in the country spurred rumours of him having a part in the move, something which was further supported by media reports.
The regime in #Iran is a threat to everyone in the region who seeks to live in peace and security & it’s time of weakening is accelerating.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) July 4, 2017
Since then, Washington has employed a policy of "maximum pressure" towards Iran, trying to choke its oil trade with sanctions, but recently President Donald Trump, over whom Bolton reportedly had some influence, started denying that the US is actually seeking regime change in Tehran, but pursuing negotiations with the country. This, in turn, sparked speculation that the president and his advisor had stopped seeing eye-to-eye in terms of the US goals in regards to Iran.
Venezuela's Isolation and Coup Attempt
Bolton also played a role in the stand-off between Washington and another country, this time in Latin America. The former national security advisor was among the fiercest critics of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose ouster he actively supported, taking to Twitter with calls for the Venezuelan people to topple their elected president.
The people of Venezuela have recognized the unequivocal failure of Nicolas Maduro and his cronies, and are standing up to say no more corruption, no more oppression, and no more poverty. The Venezuelan military must stand with the people of Venezuela. https://t.co/IbbRDQ9Wyu— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) March 20, 2019
Interestingly enough, at the same time one of Venezuela's opposition leaders, Juan Guaido, made a bold move, proclaiming himself the "interim" Venezuelan president, a claim instantly supported by the US. This eventually led to a coup attempt on 30 April, which, according to numerous media reports and interviews with those involved, was heavily supported – if not orchestrated – by the US, a view supported by elected President Maduro.
Collapse of Decades-Old Arms Deal With Russia
John Bolton was also at the forefront of another landmark event in recent history – the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the US and Russia, which limited certain types of nuclear armaments. The US national security advisor travelled to Moscow in October 2018 to inform the Russian side of Washington's intention to leave the accord, something that they officially did on 2 August 2019 over alleged Russian violations.
However, Russia's purported non-compliance, which Moscow has denied, was apparently not the only thing that worried Bolton about the INF during his visit, as he called the accord outdated and slammed it for not involving all the important actors, supposedly referring to China. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Bolton said during the October 2018 meeting that the US criticism of the treaty was not an invitation to dialogue, but rather a final decision.
Rumoured Failure to Change Trump's North Korea Course
Even though Bolton is said to have had some degree of influence over Trump's decision-making, there were certain areas where he apparently failed to sway the president's opinion, one of them being North Korea.
Trump has consistently worked to improve diplomatic ties with Kim Jong-un in the face of Bolton's reported mistrust towards Pyongyang. Still, his last reported interference was in the agenda of the 2019 Hanoi summit, where he was supposedly behind the botched meeting that Trump had hoped to use in order to reach definite agreements on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.