John Bolton's exit isn't a victory for our adversaries

John Bolton's exit isn't a victory for our adversaries
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE’s announcement today that he has fired national security adviser John Bolton does not necessarily mean a win for American adversaries Iran and North Korea, both of which have been targets of Bolton. In the case of Iran, the hawks in the Trump administration still carry some degree of influence, although it’s accurate to say that Bolton was the most hawkish against Iran. There might be a degree of relief for the Iranian regime, but not full relief.

Israel still has Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE, and the Trump administration is on very good terms with Israel — Netanyahu in particular — as well as Saudi Arabia, both of which want Iran’s aggressive governing regime to be weakened, if not destroyed.

The pressure on Iran remains formidable, especially when it comes to economic sanctions. In response, Iran’s regime seems to be gradually rolling back on its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The consensus is that the United States withdrew from the agreement first, conveying “bad faith,” especially in the eyes of the Iranians. 

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While Bolton’s departure from the administration is a bit of a release for Iran, as with a pressure cooker, the entire lid has not been removed.

The Trump administration has indicated a determined way forward to continue the economic, political and security pressures on Iran. At the same time, President Trump has gestured at a willingness to talk at the negotiation table. Iran, however, has flatly rejected these gestures. 

The Obama administration called its policy and strategy relative to Iran “bigger carrots, bigger sticks,” and it appears that the Trump administration has embraced similar courses of action — but with greater emphasis on the “bigger sticks” as threats. Its agenda has been to get Iran at the table to renegotiate the JCPOA in terms that are more favorable to the Trump agenda.

No one wants war — not Iran, not the United States, not Israel, not Saudi Arabia. It is not in anyone’s interests, and it would risk escalating to an all-out catastrophe in the Middle East. But, whatever damage that the United States and Israel can do to Iran’s regional agendas — as in the case of Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria and Lebanon — would be acceptable.

The twist in all of this is the role of Russia, in terms of its relations with the Trump administration and the ruling Iranian clerics. Whether or not Bolton advises Trump, the U.S. president still has many voices whispering in his ear about strategy and policies regarding the Middle East. Russia has been trying to leverage its influence in its favor, and has achieved major leverage through its involvement in supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.

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There is no way to determine whether Russia will come to Iran’s rescue at a moment of crisis, but it is likely that Russia will try to intervene diplomatically to prevent any harm to Iran. Given Trump’s proclivity towards agreeing with Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBiden expresses shock that Trump considers attending Russia May Day event Harris swipes at Trump on Russia: 'Always nice to spend time with supporters on the campaign trail' Trump says he's considering attending Russia's May Day parade MORE on many issues, he is likely to defer to Russia’s diplomacy in that scenario.

There is another side to Bolton’s firing, and rumor has it that it had to do with the “invitation to the Taliban” to negotiate a peace agreement involving Afghanistan at Camp David; reportedly, the president and Bolton disagreed about this, with Bolton dead-set against the U.S. hosting Taliban representatives. Regardless, Bolton’s ouster likely is a culmination of many disagreements between them. Bolton insists that he was not fired, that he resigned last night.

As it stands, there seems to be upheaval among the National Security Council staff, the Trump “inner circle,” and Bolton himself, who apparently is tweeting his side of the story regarding his departure.

But many will contend that the likelihood of war with Iran is significantly reduced now that Bolton is out. Everyone is sighing with relief, not just Iran.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the Naval War College. She specializes in international relations, political economy, comparative politics with regional expertise in Middle East and North Africa and South Asia, and Islamic studies. The opinions expressed here are solely her own. Follow her on Twitter @HayatAlvi.