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Former National Security Adviser Under Obama Discusses Trump's Ousting Of John Bolton


And we return now to our top story today, the ouster of national security adviser John Bolton. The president says he fired Bolton. Bolton says he resigned. Not in dispute is that Bolton was Trump's third national security adviser in less than three years. You may recall his predecessors, General Michael Flynn and General H.R. McMaster. On the line now, we have another former national security adviser. Susan Rice had the job under President Obama.

Ambassador Rice, welcome.

SUSAN RICE: Thanks, Mary Louise. Good to be with you.

KELLY: Good to have you with us. Was today's news a surprise?

RICE: I think certainly the timing was a surprise. It came seemingly out of nowhere, but I think those who follow the issues carefully and read the tea leaves could see that there was clearly a disconnect and, arguably, a growing one between John Bolton and President Trump.

KELLY: You have held two of the same posts as John Bolton - as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and then as we mentioned, national security adviser at the White House. Where do you think Bolton will leave his greatest mark on U.S. foreign policy?

RICE: Well, I think his greatest mark - which is not a plus, in my estimation - is undermining multilateralism and breaching international agreements, particularly those related to arms control.

KELLY: He's widely seen as enabling the president to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

RICE: As well as the Iran nuclear deal - that's the next one as well. But I think, in fairness, to look at his most recent record as national security adviser, many of his priorities did not end in the way he hoped they would. Venezuela was a signature focus of his, and he promised, I believe, the president the swift removal of Maduro, which arguably shouldn't have been the objective. But given that it was, it hasn't occurred. He almost got us into a hot shooting war with Iran. Fortunately, that didn't occur, and yet, having withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, we have no substitute in place. We are isolated, Iran is unconstrained, and the situation in the region is more volatile than ever.

KELLY: Although whatever one thought of John Bolton's positions, his views - and I gather you disagree with many of them - there was a sense that he at least pushed back against the president. Is there a danger that the next guy - that whoever succeeds him will be a yes man?

RICE: Yes, there is that danger. And by the way, just because I differ with him on some issues doesn't mean I differ with him on all issues. I think, for example, his instincts on Afghanistan were correct not only in the context of not inviting the Taliban to Camp David, which is an appalling concept, but also the substance of the so-called tentative deal between the United States and the Taliban, which excluded the Afghan government and seemed to ignore the important gains that the United States and the Afghan government had made over the course of 18 years - for example, the rights of women. All of that out the window in a deal that seemed to only enable us to withdraw our forces without any sense that we would be able to ensure stability or progress in Afghanistan.

KELLY: Interesting. I'm not sure I ever expected to be interviewing Susan Rice and hearing you agree with John Bolton on a subject like Afghanistan.

RICE: To clarify, Mary Louise, I think we do need a negotiated settlement. There's no other way to end this conflict, but it needs to be one that involves and incorporates the Afghan government and that's true to the sacrifice of American and NATO forces as well as Afghan personnel.

KELLY: In the moments we have left, let me turn you to the who next question. Who would want this job?

RICE: (Laughter) It's hard to think of anybody in their right mind who would want this job.

KELLY: You're not throwing your hat in, I gather.

RICE: No. I mean, the important point here, Mary Louise, is, you know, John Bolton could have been the best national security adviser in American history, but he's working for the most uncontrollable and difficult president who has no interest in facts, history or analysis and is making foreign policy by whim. The process is dysfunctional, and our national security is therefore at risk.

KELLY: We shall have to leave it there. Susan Rice - she was President Obama's national security adviser, and her book "Tough Love" is out next month.

Ambassador Rice, thank you.

RICE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.