A tell-all book by former national security advisor John Bolton has brought President Donald Trump and his administration into fresh scrutiny with a new round of revelations.
“The Room Where It Happened” was published on Tuesday after Trump’s efforts to block its release failed in a US court.
Bolton’s book is an account of his 17 months serving as national security advisor and it paints the US president as someone not “fit for office”.
‘A bolt from Bolton’
Proving a bolt from the blue, the book has increased Trump’s troubles just as he’s starting to gear up for the public campaign for his re-election.
Analysis say the book release has placed the president’s governing style under intense scrutiny.
John Bolton is painting a very bleak and negative picture of President Trump. The book shows a president who is uninformed and ignorant, so much so that he even doesn’t know whether Finland is part of Russia or not, one political analyst said.
The former national security advisor shows a side of Donald Trump that was in question during the impeachment process. It basically shows the president as having only one thing in mind – his re-election.
John Bolton’s personal contempt for Trump is also evident from almost every single page of the 500-plus page memoir. It’s hard to find any moment where Donald Trump is portrayed in a positive light.
CNN’s national security analyst, Peter Bergen writes that there is no precedent for a former top administration official publishing a book about a sitting president that is as damning as Bolton’s.
To even come close, you have to go back three and half decades to David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, and his 1986 book, “The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed,” which painted a deeply unflattering portrait of Reagan and his senior White House advisers.
But Bolton’s book “The Room Where It Happened” makes Stockman’s look like one of the so-called “love letters” that the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has routinely sent to the easily-flattered and bottomlessly narcissistic President Donald Trump.
Pompeo issues a threat to Bolton
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s reaction to the release of Bolton’s book shows how to what extent the Trump Administration has been shaken by his revelations.
Talking to Fox News, Pompeo on Monday compared Bolton’s revelations to the disclosures of Edward Snowden about the state-backed mass surveillance of US citizens.
Snowden is a former intelligence contractor who revealed in 2013 that the US National Security Agency was carrying out widespread surveillance on the American citizens.
“Frankly, the information he has released puts criminal liability squarely on him [Bolton],” Pompeo said.
“We all saw what’s happened when people leak classified information like Edward Snowden. What John Bolton did here is not dissimilar to that,” he added, issuing a veiled threat to the former national security advisor.
Since his revelations, Edward Snowden has been living in exile in Russia. He faces up to 30 years in prison in the US over charges of espionage and theft of state secrets.
In a poor effort to paint the political interests of the government as the US national interest, he said, “This kind of information getting out, it presents real risk and real harm to the United States of America.”
Over the past few days, Trump and his team, including Pompeo, have vacillated between two courses of action: denouncing the book as “fiction”, while at the same time claiming that it is full of highly sensitive, classified information.
A devastating portrayal of Trump
It will be hard for Trump supporters to dismiss Bolton by painting him as some pinko liberal as he’s a devoted Republican.
He volunteered as a teenager to work for the Barry Goldwater campaign, then interned for Spiro Agnew and went on to work in Republican administrations beginning from the Reagan era.
John Bolton was also a frequent and aggressive presence on Fox News before joining the Trump administration. So, it’s not hard to understand why Trump felt so scared and sought to block the publication of his book.
Some Trump allies unsuccessfully tried to demean Bolton, who received a reported $2 million book advance, by suggesting that he’s loading his memoir with lies to sell books.
But this falls flat before the fact that Bolton is already quite well off. According to his 2018 financial statement, he earned more than half a million dollars a year from Fox News alone before becoming Trump’s national security advisor. Moreover, he has millions of dollars in stocks and other property.
Unlike Trump who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, John Bolton is the son of a Baltimore firefighter who rose to prominence by dint of smarts and hard work.
He went to Yale University and then Yale Law School, following which he mastered the art of policymaking working at different positions in four Republican administrations.
You may differ with his opinions over many issues but you can’t dismiss him as someone inexperienced and ignorant.
He has spent a long career studying the issues facing those at the highest levels of administration and the national security apparatus.
In contrast, Trump did no serious preparation for the decisions he would have to make as president of the world’s most powerful country.
What happened in “The Room Where It Happened”?
Bolton’s book is a blistering takedown of a president who Bolton describes as ignorant of such basic facts as that the United Kingdom is a nuclear power.
In “The Room Where It Happened”, he describes Trump as a commander in chief who babbled through many of his own intelligence briefings and who changed his mind on a dime — “we made a weathervane look like the Rock of Gibraltar”.
According to Bolton, Trump filtered all his decisions through an electoral lens, even to the extent of encouraging Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him get reelected by purchasing more goods from American farmers.
“I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations,” the author comments.
“The Room Where It Happened” is also an intense indictment of the Trump administration’s incoherent foreign policy in which Bolton himself played a key role as Trump’s National Security Adviser.
“Trump was not following any international grand strategy, or even a consistent trajectory. His thinking was like an archipelago of dots (like individual real estate deals) leaving the rest of us to discern-or create-policy,” he writes.
Trump got played by Kim
According to Bolton, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un played Trump like a Stradivarius. Kim showed up for meetings with him in Singapore in 2018 and at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in 2019 but those meetings were no more than great photo ops.
The North Koreans have done absolutely nothing to denuclearize, which for decades has been the main aim of US policy on Korean peninsula.
At the Singapore meeting, Bolton says, Trump unilaterally give away concessions to Chairman Kim, such as, canceling joint US-South Korea military exercises and got nothing in return.
Trump didn’t consult any members of his cabinet on cancelling the exercises, blindsiding both the Pentagon and Bolton.
According to the memoir, Trump told Kim that North Korea was in fact doing the US a huge favor because cancelling the exercises saved the US “a lot of money.”
Bolton writes that when Trump said so “Kim was smiling broadly, laughing from time to time.” The happy dictator had pegged Trump as an easy mark.
John Bolton says that a similar case was for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Trump defended over his own intelligence community.
In July 2018, Trump stood by Putin at a press conference in Helsinki and remarked that he believed the former KGB officer’s assurances that Russia had not interfered in the US presidential election.
Bolton says that he and Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly were “almost frozen in our seats” when Trump made this “self-inflicted wound” that led to “catastrophic” media coverage.
Dumping close allies
John Bolton says that loves dumping on close allies as much as he likes kowtowing to dictators.
Rathering than seeing NATO as a mutual self defense alliance that serves American interests very well, Trump sees it as a constellation of countries that are ripping off the United States.
Trump often told Bolton and other key advisers that he planned to pull out of NATO, which makes about as much sense as closing down the Federal Reserve – another favorite target of Trump.
NATO countries have committed to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense spending by 2024.
For Trump, countries such as Germany that are yet to meet this 2 percent target “owe us a tremendous amount of money” – something he publicly said during his visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels in 2018. But in Bolton’s view, the US is not “owed” any of this money.
In Brussels, Trump also said that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia.” This was not only untru but also humiliating for an important ally of the US.
While Bolton makes scathing attacks on Trump in his book, he however does not engage in any self-reflection about why he chose to serve and enable someone as chaotic and incompetent as Trump.