WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump replaced his embattled national security advisor H.R. McMaster with hardline Fox News pundit and former UN ambassador John Bolton on Thursday (Mar 22).
Trump said in a tweet that Bolton would replace McMaster, his current national security adviser.
McMaster's exit is the latest in a string of high-profile departures from the White House that started with national security advisor Michael Flynn and has also included chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, economic advisor Gary Cohn and secretary of state Rex Tillerson.
Bolton, 69, who has long been a polarising figure in Washington foreign policy circles, becomes Trump's third national security adviser in 14 months.
He joins a Trump national security team that, with the planned replacement of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by CIA chief Mike Pompeo, is increasingly populated by figures who share Trump's penchant for exercising US power unilaterally.
As the State Department's top arms control official under President George W. Bush, Bolton was a leading advocate of the 2003 invasion of Iraq - which was later found to have been based on bogus and exaggerated intelligence about President Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism.
In recent years, as a conservative media commentator, Bolton has advocated hardline positions on stopping Pyongyang from getting nuclear weapons that could threaten the United States.
He has also advocated getting rid of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a pact Trump has also heavily criticised.
“Bolton has long supported regime change in North Korea and closer ties with Taiwan. Fasten your seatbelts,” said Bonnie Glaser, Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
BOLTON NOMINATION SHOCKS WASHINGTON
McMaster had been expected to leave later this year, but Bolton's nomination shocked Washington.
His appointment had been fiercely opposed by many within Trump's inner circle, most notably the coterie of military officers who have experienced the brutality of war first hand.
The announcement came a day after Trump was angered by a leak of information from his presidential briefing papers that said he was advised specifically not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his disputed re-election.
"The two have been discussing this for some time. The timeline was expedited as they both felt it was important to have the new team in place, instead of constant speculation. This was not related to any one moment or incident, rather it was the result of ongoing conversations between the two," a senior White House official said.
McMaster, a three-star army general, had been expected to move out of the White House and into a four-star position.
Instead, he will retire from public life.
"After thirty-four years of service to our nation, I am requesting retirement from the US Army effective this summer after which I will leave public service," he said in a statement.
"Throughout my career it has been my greatest privilege to serve alongside extraordinary service members and dedicated civilians."
McMaster had been brought in to replace Flynn, Trump's first national security advisor who has since admitted to lying to the special counsel Robert Mueller and has turned state witness.
Unlike the secretaries of state or defence, the national security advisor works directly for the president and does not need to be confirmed by the Senate in order to take up his post.
His departure comes as Trump faces a high stakes meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and weighs the future of a deal to curb Iran's nuclear weapons, which now appears to be in grave peril.
CHOICE DIVIDES CAPITOL HILL
Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican hawk whose support for any US military action is so predictable it has become a political punchline, was delighted at Bolton's return.
"Selecting John Bolton as national security adviser is good news for America's allies and bad news for America's enemies," he declared, clearly relishing the prospect.
US ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar tweeted his support.
Trump loyalist, Congressman Lee Zeldin, applauded the appointment and described Bolton as "ridiculously knowledgeable".
"Leaks from NSC will end. Obama holdovers will be gone & team, chemistry & work product will all get ramped up. Very underrated, amazing American. Extraordinarily talented pick," he tweeted.
Democratic Senator Edward Markey described the appointment as "a grave danger to the American people and a clear message from President Trump that he is gearing up for military conflict".
Democratic lawmaker Senator Chris Coons described Bolton's warlike approach to Iran and North Korea as "overly aggressive at best and downright dangerous at worst".