Resignations and succession battle follow John Bolton’s departure from White House

Donald Trump said on Wednesday that five people were in contention for the role

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2018 file photo, national security adviser John Bolton unveils the Trump Administration's Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.  (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

The battle to replace ousted US national security adviser John Bolton has already begun, as three more aides at the National Security Council resigned their positions on Wednesday.

Council spokesman Garrett Marquis, communications director Sarah Tinsley and Mr Bolton’s scheduler, Christine Samuelian, joined their former boss in leaving the administration on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, a broad spectrum of candidates were floated to replace Mr Bolton.

Some are former or current NSC names including Mr Bolton's predecessor Robert Blair, Fred Fleitz, and former generals HR McMaster and Keith Kellogg.

Other names being floated are State Department officials such as the special representatives on Iran and North Korea, Brian Hook and Steve Biegun, and hostage envoy Robert O’Brien.

All three men have a good working relationship with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had public disagreements with Mr Bolton.

The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, and retired army colonel Douglas Macgregor are also being discussed as possible replacements.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he was considering five names who could be Mr Bolton's replacement.

“I have five people that want it very much, five people I consider very highly qualified, good people I’ve gotten to know over the last three years and we’ll be announcing somebody next week," Mr Trump said.

He blamed Mr Bolton's tough line on talks with North Korea for his removal.

"John is somebody that I actually get along with very well," Mr Trump said.

"He made some very big mistakes when he talked about the Libyan model for Kim Jong-un. That was not a good statement to make."

Experts said Mr Bolton’s departure could ease Mr Trump’s path to negotiating with adversaries.

But they said it was unlikely that it would bring harmony and order to the policymaking process in the Trump administration.

"Mr Bolton's firing obviously means that one of the more hawkish voices in Trump's team will no longer be whispering, or yelling, in the president's ear," Frances Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told The National.

Ms Brown, also a former NSC official, described Mr Trump as having “a bit of a split personality” on national security policy.

“He likes talking tough but when push comes to shove, he has actually opted for attempting to make a deal," she said.

“Without Mr Bolton around, you can imagine that the president will be able to go more directly to his preferred course of negotiation with adversaries, but that doesn’t mean that he will actually successfully execute [talks]."

Mr Trump discussed easing sanctions on Iran to help secure a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this month, and said that was one of the reasons behind Mr Bolton’s resignation.

On possible appointments for the job, Ms Brown saw two possibilities.

The first is a Bolton-like option that would “sound tough on Fox News” but “will support rather than resist his deal-making instincts".

The second would be in bringing back someone like Mr McMaster, “who ran a much more process-oriented, orderly NSC.”

Reports on Tuesday indicated that Mr Bolton undermined his boss by leaking to the press and clashing with the State Department, White House officials and the Pentagon.

“Mr Trump may decide that he could actually notch more wins for his re-election campaign if he has a slightly more process-oriented, disciplined national security process,” Ms Brown said.

But Robert Danin, a former NSC staffer and senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Centre, said the possibility of restoring structure and orderly process to policy deliberations was remote.

“Whoever replaces Mr Bolton is going to have a difficult challenge on their hands," Mr Danin said.

"The administration’s inter-agency process they are meant to co-ordinate seems to be largely broken, if not non-existent."

Mr Danin said Mr Trump’s administration was appointing its fourth security adviser in less than three years, while predecessors George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama each had only two in eight years.

The next appointment “will assume the job knowing that their tenure could be short, with an unclear mandate and with considerable turbulence in the policy process”, he said.