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How the departure of John Bolton might change Trump’s foreign policy

How will the departure of John Bolton affect U.S. foreign policy, and was Bolton successful as national security advisor? Harvard University’s Wendy Sherman, a former foreign policy official under former Presidents Clinton and Obama, and the Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran, who previously worked in national security under former President George W. Bush, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, now let's get two views on what this turmoil means for U.S. foreign policy with Wendy Sherman, who held a number of senior foreign policy positions in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. She is now director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

    And Michael Doran, he was senior director on the National Security Council staff focusing on the Middle East during the George W. Bush administration. He also served in the Departments of State and Defense. He is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

    And welcome to the "NewsHour" to both of you.

    I want to ask both of you.

    And, Wendy, I will start with you. What was your reaction when you heard this, and what is the reaction you're hearing from others?

  • Wendy Sherman:

    Well, the reaction initially wasn't really a great deal of surprise, maybe on the timing, but not the fact of John Bolton's departure.

    I think many of us thought this was going to be coming down the road at one time or another, and I think a few weeks ago, many of us thought it was going to happen then.

    As I have said before, John Bolton never saw a war he didn't want to wage. President Trump wanted to get Americans out of conflict, wanted to take Americans out of Afghanistan, out of the Middle East, didn't want too go to war, wanted to negotiate directly at high levels with leaders of countries, and John Bolton had a different approach.

    On the other hand, as both Nick and Yamiche pointed out, Bolton in some ways provided guardrails for the president. He couldn't just go his merry way. But, in both cases, both in the case of President Trump and of John Bolton, process is not what is important here.

    Each of these are very strong men who believe their point of view and their way forward is the right way forward. One, however, happens to be the president of the United States, and he does get to decide.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Michael Doran, what was your reaction, and what are you hearing from other people you talked to today?

  • Michael Doran:

    My reaction was a little different. It was a combination of a little bit of disappointment, but, like with Wendy, I wasn't all that surprised.

    I was disappointed because I like a lot of John Bolton's policies. In particular, I like the effect that he's had on the Iran deal. And I tend to agree with him.

    But I was always a little bit surprised by the choice of him as national security adviser, because that job is really best done by someone who is a master of process, rather than content. They have to obviously understand the content and they have to have a deep awareness, a deep knowledge of foreign policy.

    But the job is a coordinating role, really. You have to bring all of the other principals together in the National Security Council, make sure that the president understands the views of those principals as those principals want them to be understood, and then to help the president come to a decision.

    And, as your reporter said, you have to implement the president's decision and not pursue your own agenda.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it sounds like you're saying, Michael Doran, that you don't think that was John Bolton's strength, coordination, keeping the trains running on time, in effect, at the National Security Council?

  • Michael Doran:


    I mean, we all know he's a — I worked with him when I was in the Bush White House. He's an extremely talented and intelligent person, and he's also a professional. But he's a man with very strong views. And that's not what you look for in a national security adviser, usually.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wendy Sherman, what ultimately do you think is John Bolton's effect on U.S. foreign policy? Where did he make the most difference?

  • Wendy Sherman:

    I think his effect has been quite disastrous, because we don't have a resolution to any of the many problems in front of us.

    The president, of course, left the Iran nuclear deal, but Iran is now heading back towards getting a nuclear weapon, and we don't have any less state sponsorship of terrorism in the Middle East. We don't have a resolution on Venezuela, even though John Bolton took a very muscular approach toward Venezuela.

    And the president, I think, quite frankly, just lost interest. We don't have resolution on North Korea. And as we all know, famously, John Bolton got sent to Mongolia in the process because of his disagreements with the president.

    We don't have resolution in the China tariff trade deal. And I would say the only place where John Bolton's hand has really shown is that he did get the president to withdraw from the INF Treaty. That's the treaty with Russia around missiles. And, indeed, I think the president didn't much care about that and was glad to let Bolton take the lead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Michael Doran, you want to react to that? Where do you see John Bolton having affected U.S. foreign policy the most?

  • Michael Doran:

    Well, I don't think that resolution of disputes is the standard we need to look at, because the United States is going to have enemies, by virtue of who it is and what it has done historically.

    And Iran is an enemy of the United States. That's not because of the United States — anything that the United States has done. It's because Iran wants to drive the United States from the Middle East.

    And so Bolton helped the president put together a containment policy of Iran, a policy of competing with Iran, unlike the Obama administration, which basically opened up the doors to the region to let Iran do whatever it wanted.

    So I think that Bolton played a very good role there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think, Wendy Sherman — let me put it this way.

    Do you think it will make a big difference, Wendy Sherman, that John Bolton is gone? Where do you see it making a difference?

  • Wendy Sherman:

    I think the president will feel that he has a completely free hand now to do whatever he wants to do.

    We have seen Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, take a very different approach to previous chiefs of staff by letting Trump simply be Trump. The president wants to make his own decisions. He believes he's his own best adviser.

    He believes in photo opportunities and flair. He isn't someone who very much likes process. He doesn't want to rely on experts. He doesn't want the deliberative process that Michael has outlined.

    So I think we will see the president have more engagements with leaders at high levels, try to take some creative approaches to various issues of concern. But those approaches aren't going to get us an outcome that protects American national security, because they won't be well-prepared. There won't be a deliberative process.

    He won't rely on the people around him who can bring history, understanding, expertise, and ideas to the table.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Michael Doran, just quickly, what do you think is going to change? What will be different without John Bolton?

  • Michael Doran:

    I think it's mainly one of tactics.

    I think that was the — John Bolton wanted to have a hard policy against actors like Iran, and he wanted it to be constantly hard in every way. I think the president wants to have — start out with hard policy. He wants to have leverage, but then he wants to have tactical flexibility with how he deals with the Iranians, including meeting them perhaps at the U.N. General Assembly.

    So I think we're going to see a lot more tactical flexibility, but I will be surprised if there is a very significant change in the main policies of the government, just because people like Mike Pompeo, who has a very good relationship with the president, doesn't have a world view that's significantly different than John Bolton's.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Michael Doran and Wendy Sherman, thank you both very much.

  • Michael Doran:

    Thank you.

  • Wendy Sherman:

    Thank you, Judy.

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