The Room Where It Happened, a review

***I will not refer to the title of the book and shall limit excerpts and quotes***

“I am not a nation builder. I do not believe what is, after all, an essentially Marxist analysis that a better economic way of life will divert people from terrorism.” -Bolton from his book.

This book is not merely a recounting of Bolton’s time in the Trump Administration that highlights the utter chaos and dysfunction that the administration represents. Bolton does draw a clear picture of the dumpster-fire through what must have been copious note taking. This is polished, in decent editing, into a passive, often noncommittal “I’m merely an observer here” voice. The book is divided in chapter by topic, not chronologically, which was a wise decision.

Stitching all of his observations together, is the subtext of what this book is really about, aside from money. It’s an apology tour explaining his innocence in the Trump administration. His actions were well reasoned and his motivations were pure. Moreover, and more importantly, it’s a last-ditch effort to recommit to, and reclaim, “traditional” conservative ideals which are interspersed throughout the book as examples of what should be and divorced from what currently is not. Values which he must realize by now, don’t exist in the GOP and never wholly did. Values which mean nothing to either the Trump cult of true-believers or those in government that bow to Trump. In this respect, his efforts in writing this book are in vain.

Saddled to his overtures of re-establishing a nonexistent conservative GOP is his perpetual attacks at his perceived adversaries: Obama-bad. Liberals-bad. Progressives-bad. Bureaucrats, diplomats, career government officials-all bad. Negative media reporting-always inaccurate and bad. Anything that gets in the way of conflicts leading to war is pretty much bad bad bad.

Bolton’s descriptions of Trump’s ineptitude vacillates between a thin, “He has no idea what he’s doing,” and a reflection on Trump’s inscrutability; as if there is some type of mysterious process to Trump’s thoughts that cannot be understood at that time. This despite the fact that it is crystal clear how Trump formulates his “policy” ideas: from Fox News soundbites/ similar sources, and Trump’s fixation on his own image. This is not a mystery. The easily understood nature of it is recounted in the book over and over. This is super simple stuff. There isn’t any thought process behind the vacuous soundbites.

Bolton often cites inaccuracies of press reporting, as second and third hand reporting by those whom do not have the best interests of the administration in mind. At the same time, Bolton repeatedly admits the administration perpetually changes course on policy, multiple times a week, if not the same day due to Trump’s scatterbrain inability to stay on point or articulate anything coherent. More often than not, those who do not have the “best interests of the administration in mind,” are sources from within the administration, not press spin, which is contrary to Bolton’s over-arching opinion, even though at multiple points in his book he is wondering which admin person was responsible for story X, and in some points tracks down that responsible party.

Overall the book is edited well from the notes, but the facts described are not consistent with Bolton’s ideology and preconceived notions which he holds onto as dearly as any cult member.

He mocks the concept of the “Axis of Adults,” to corral Trump’s worst tendencies, but simultaneously points out Trump’s inability to give direct orders, his incoherence, and his ignorance of the facts. Most blow-by-blow details of Trump/Bolton interactions are the very stuff of Bolton attempting to act as the adult to Trump’s child. Steering, sidetracking, undermining, and coddling from page to page.

In Bolton’s world, the only one aware of what’s going on and reacting properly, is Bolton…or anyone that agrees with him. I must restate, much of Donny’s incoherence is perched atop his reliance on Fox News soundbites, and many of these soundbite ideas originated with Bolton himself.

Although Bolton passes many opportunities to state clear judgement on Trump’s incompetence, he has no such difficulty with various other characters he dislikes (Haley, Mattis, Mnuchin, and finally Mulvaney), and ascribing nefarious intent to their actions. Bolton recounts Trump blunder after blunder, but finds himself incapable of putting a name to the obvious. From Trump’s shitting on a G7 joint statement because he felt Trudeau had personally slighted him, to Trump’s inane “negotiations” with S. Korea focused around the belief he would receive a Nobel Prize and spectacular photo-ops highlighting his skills in deal-making, deals in which Trump gave concession after concession to N. Korea and received nothing.

Bolton describes the ceaseless back-biting and palace intrigue of the Trump administration, as if he is merely a reactionary pragmatist in an unsavory environment. The fact is, his score-keeping and revealed plans to better position himself, indicates he is well suited to that environment.

Bolton’s worldview, shaped in fear of “globalism,” reduces every international challenge to the most barbaric end result: war. War solves everything that starving a nation to death can’t. No matter the initial tact, all roads lead to war.

Common cause only threatens national sovereignty. Narrow self-determination trumps foresight, thereby, Brexit can only be correct. Pesky diplomats and bureaucrats, with their plodding thoughtfulness, interfere with the smash-bang, gauntleted hand of taking that which is rightfully ours.

Nothing need be done regarding the largest concerns of our times in a forward looking, international fashion. There are only short-term, colliding interests and long term enmities. Why proactively create multilateral or global responses to global issues by design, when we can react after the fact out of compulsion and necessity?

Bolton will cite historical reference when it suits his needs, but steers clear of historical reference which would shed light on the fact that much of the international issues he had dealt with in the Trump administration were due to the United State’s lack of foresight in which he, himself had previously played a part.

This book is Bolton’s nosediving phoenix; his death-spiral swansong. John Bolton is a relic old man with dreadfully myopic, old-world, imperialist beliefs. He is destined to only failures; his mind is bankrupt, and I hope this book is the train-wreck ending to his appearances in public life.

Topics:

Helsinki, Trump’s private, 2 hour meeting with Putin. Bolton very much glosses over the fact that the interpreter was instructed not to take notes and could only brief others from memory. Bolton mentions in an offhand way, Putin’s willingness to allow Mueller to investigate within Russia in exchange for extradition of Bill Browder (The Magnitsky Act), so he could exact revenge on him and this very much excited Trump because Putin added that Browder had financed Hillary Clinton’s campaign with $400 million dollars he had stolen from Russia.

Trump’s deference to Russia/Putin. Time and again, Bolton illuminates Trump’s deference to Putin. Trump’s very public statements in defense of Putin, and all of the private statements and actions in deference to Russia that have been reported before: not wanting to enact sanctions, slow-walking implementing sanctions, threatening to rescind sanctions, and generally being a Putin apologist at every opportunity. This only serves to highlight what has been glaringly obvious from before the time Trump was inaugurated until to this day. At the very least, Trump refuses to speak badly of Russia because he is afraid it diminishes the 2016 election and his ability to have personally beneficial relationships with foreign leaders. The constant Trump admin line that, “No one is tougher on Russia than Trump,” is no more true today than it was in 2017. The machinery of the US government, in its bureaucrats working through existing procedures and treaties, continues to attempt to call Putin to justice despite Donald Trump.

Trump/Erdogan. Trump promises to end SDNY prosecution of Turkish business Halkbank to Turkey’s PM Erdogan as a personal favor, and to front the notion to Erdogan, that Trump had as much unbridled power in dictatorship as the Turkish leader. Likewise, Trump promised to remove US forces from northern Syria because Erdogan asked him to. No thought as to what this would mean to the Kurds whom Erdogan would immediately seek to eliminate, until well after the withdraw was contemplated. Any afterthoughts had zero impact on impending reality when Trump did unilaterally decide to remove US forces shortly after Bolton’s departure.

Saudis murder Khashoggi. Bolton makes it clear, Trump immediately decided he would have the Saudi’s backs no matter what. Before any facts were in; it did not matter. They’re buying a bunch of military hardware from the US, that is all that matters. Bolton agrees with trump’s approach and says, the press is going unreasonably frothy-mouthed and everyone should know the administration is taking it seriously because Pompeo made a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Venezuela/Maduro debacle. Top to bottom a Trump admin clusterfuck. Trump fixated on Military options, while the “adults in the room,” of which Bolton is one, try to organize concerted government influence to a regime change and fail spectacularly. The history of US failures in regime change in the Americas is mostly avoided by Bolton, except to somehow blame his current predicament on Obama.

Citing the withdraw of embassy staff as a giant gaff and pivotal to the Trump Administration’s ineffectiveness, while in the same paragraph, praising State Sec Pompeo for criticizing the Obama admin’s handling of Benghazi and simultaneously removing staff so as to avoid another Benghazi, when in hindsight it had exactly zero similarities with Benghazi. Truly breath-takingly, idiotic mental gymnastics.

State Dept and Treasury Dept both could not align themselves with the rest of the government. Bolton blames this on Mnuchin and Obama, when clearly the problem is the Trump administration as a whole. While Trump dreams of toy soldiers and reminds the man the Trump admin attempts to put in power, Guaidó, (according to Bolton)- “Trump then assured Guaidó he’d pull off Maduro’s overthrow, and offered as an aside that he was sure Guaidó would remember in the future what had happened,” which Bolton explains as US interest in Oil, and the rest of us explain as the set-up for a little personal payback to Donny.

Guaidó’s Wife, Fabiana Rosales, visits the White House for a meeting in which she describes the situation in Venezuela. According to Bolton, Trump’s take on the meeting: She looked very young and didn’t wear a wedding ring.

Body language tells the entire story in this photo.

President Donald Trump, right, listens during a meeting with Fabiana Rosales, left, a Venezuelan activist who is the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, as she speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Trump/China. Trump, spur-of-the-moment, crafts international policy over the phone, as a favor in exchange for a future favor. Bolton refers to this as “stunning” because it was unreciprocated. Clearly, he didn’t understand the nature of Trump in this exchange.

In regards to severe financial penalties against Chinese Company ZTE.

Trump begging Xi to help him win re-election:

Bolton notes, with the situation deteriorating in Hong Kong, Trump directs all staff to not talk about it, it’s an internal Chinese problem. Xi is very grateful for that. Likewise Trump doesn’t want any mention of anniversary of Tiananmen Square, because it could upset his trade talks, “That was 15 years ago, no one cares, I’m trying to make a deal.”

In regards to Chinese repression of ethnic minority, largely Muslim, Uighurs, Trump bemoans, “why are we thinking about sanctions for that?” Later, Xi explained to Trump the concentration camps being built for the Uighurs, and Trump replied that Xi should go ahead and build those camps because that is exactly the right thing to do.

Bolton points out Trump could not care less about Taiwan, because of it’s diminutive size. Trump wants a big deal with China. Bolton speculates that after Trump abandoned the Kurds, whom would he likely abandon next? Taiwan.

Covid-19. According to Bolton, YES Trump messed up a lot. Initially Trump tried to smooth things over for China because the only thing he cared about was the trade deal. It wasn’t until some time later, when the markets started reacting to reality, that Trump took it somewhat seriously.

From here, Bolton spends a great deal of words defending his personal fuck-up in this situation, using typical “conservative” goobledy-gook phraseology for removing oversight and career people with expertise (this exact same type of phrasing appears in the White House’s proposed budgeting repeatedly):

“To reduce duplication and overlap, and enhance coordination and efficiency.”

Through these words, it made “good sense” to move the directorate overseeing Global Health into those dealing with weapons of mass destruction. Yeah, global health should be under the auspices of war. Which would of course require shuffling/removing staff and expertise that didn’t quite fit into that department. That this staff had previously been organized the way they had, according to Bolton, was only a sign of political bias by the Obama administration.

North Korean Denuclearization. There is little that can be said to further illuminate our understanding of this subject which is well reported. Bolton digs into it in detail. Donald Trump personally sought to negotiate a subject in which he had very little understanding. He did not understand the scope of the issue, the terms of the issue, or the vested interests of parties in the issue. It is clear he would do anything to have any type of deal he could declare a “win”. Efforts were made to coach him up. Those were short-lived in efficacy and proved totally useless in combating Trump’s supreme ignorance and stupidity.

Iran. In his own words, Bolton seeks escalation at every opportunity. There should never be proportional reactions, but instead an endless series of one-upmanship. In other situations Bolton bemoans the linking of disparate issues, but has zero issue with sponsored terrorism being linked to the nuclear agreement. He sees the EU’s interests as contrary to the US, and to be ignored. He sees all diplomatic intervention as a ridiculous waste of time. There is only one answer, it is escalating actions of war which Bolton states could led to all-out war, a risk he is willing to take.

“Without US concessions, in Macron’s view, Iran would never come to the table, which was just fine with me.”

Yet again Bolton undermines his own take, stating the press inaccurately portrayed a divide in the White House between Trump and himself on whether Iran should be responded to with disproportionate military force, directly after he played the adult in the room and ratcheted up the easily manipulated Trump, “How far are you willing to go? How much risk can you take? Think of this as a series of steps, not just one action but the actions after that.” To which Trump took the bait, because he was a real risk taker, only for this to happen days later:

Bolton argues against checking our facts before reacting with force. Fact-checking is bureaucratic mumble jumble. He argues against projected casualties from a strike as total speculation that should not halt a show of force.

Bolton’s meeting with Barr. As the Ukraine scandal was just beginning to unfold for Bolton, he had his first meeting with the then new AG Bill Barr. In this meeting he outlined some troublesome details for Barr concerning Trump which he wondered might not create some very large issues, particularly his “penchant for giving personal favors to dictators.”

1. Trump’s interference in the criminal cases of Halkbank, ZTE,and Huawei.

2. Lifting US sanctions against Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

3. Trump’s personal legal issues.

Bolton wonders allowed to Barr if there might be more, as of yet unknown, issues below the surface. He says to Barr that obstruction of justice looks like a way of life for Trump. How ironic is it, that the person Bolton chooses to finally come clean to about Trump, is Trump’s most ardent supporter, co-conspirator in obstruction of justice and subversion of the rule of law.

Ukraine. Bolton confirms Giuliani’s orchestrated steamrolling of Ambassador Yavonovitch, but indicates she probably voted for Clinton like 90% of the foreign service.

Bolton speculates it was Mulvaney who raised the issue of Ukrainian defense funding as possible leverage over Ukraine in response to a series of bizarre conspiracy stories that Giuliani was feeding Trump about Hunter Biden, the server, Hillary Clinton, and who knows what else, because Bolton found the whole thing ludicrous.

Yes, as was obvious, everything the totally believable, and honestly super-awesome, Fiona Hill testified to at the impeachment hearings, was correct.

Bolton recounts the infamous Zelensky-Trump phone call in this way. The transcript is not necessarily word for word. They did not keep recordings as was customary at that time. The Quid Pro Quo did not come as a surprise, because it was already known. It didn’t surprise Bolton because, as he said, “The linkage of the military assistance with the Giuliani fantasies was already baked in.”

There is not much worth saying here except that Bolton recounts exactly what we know from the hearings, but from his vantage point at the time. there is no discrepancy, which leaves the GOP exactly where they ostensibly are, which is, “We don’t care.”

There is nothing further illuminated, except this wound down into his resignation, not because of Ukraine, but that was the last straw. He had a final argument with Trump, in which Trump told him, “A lot of people” say they don’t like Bolton and that he is a leaker and not a team player. Bolton responds in the book, not to Trump apparently, that he believes the leakers were Pompeo and Mulvaney (so much for the 2nd and 3rd hand, evil liberal media spin Bolton previous writes in this book).

There follows Bolton’s hyper-partisan account of the Democrats hyper-partisan investigation. He suggests it should have ground on through all legal channels and been broad to open investigation into all of Trump’s deeds.

My thoughts:

Bolton is correct, widening the scope of the investigation into all of Trump’s similar actions would have resulted in his being removed from office, but only in a world in which that investigation was compressed into what time was left before election. No such world exists. Had the scope been widened and the Democrats worked through the courts to make it happen, the Trump admin would have used the courts to slow-play the Democrats into the election and beyond.

The Democrats were correct to push the impeachment into the GOP’s court in the Senate. In the end, the message was clear. How far is the GOP willing to tow the line? Because Trump will do this again and again. In fact, he has been using the government and his position in it, for his own personal interests the whole time, as we see in Bolton’s book.

Now, had Bolton testified in the Senate in the narrow scope of the impeachment, the results would have been nearly the same. The only difference would be that the GOP rebuttal of, “this doesn’t really prove an impeachable offense,” would have been replaced with the already muted and more exact response of, “Well yeah he did it, but that’s totally fine.”

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