John Bolton’s book the Room Where It Happened is making waves internationally. To date, a plethora of books on the Trump administration have been published — including by former government officials such as Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders. The latter are favorable to Trump. The prominent unfavorable books up to this point were written via secondary and tertiary sourcing and conducted via interviewing administration members such Fire and Fury and Fear: Trump in the White House.
Why Bolton’s Book is Different
John Bolton’s book is different. As Trump’s former National Security Advisor, his writing is based on his days in the administration during which he spent most days right next to the president. Bolton’s most significant reproach that runs like a thread through the book is that Trump has no concept of strategy, no philosophical starting point and a complete lack of aptitude. All of Trump’s decisions were thus based on gaining personal advantage, never on the best interests of the republic.
Bolton also writes about chaotic conditions in the White House, in which staff came and went at the beginning of Trump’s term as if it was a “student dormitory.” He describes how Trump’s working days often only really start around lunchtime and that the president lacks knowledge of important political areas. Intelligence meetings were also never useful, according to Bolton. The majority of the time was spent listening to Trump instead of Trump listening to the experts.
Moreover, according to Bolton Trump was primarily concerned with his popularity and re-election. When his employees were unable to offer him a quick, legal solution for a complete closure of the border with Mexico in 2018, for example, Trump responded that he had been elected for it and that he would be voted out for it if he did not deliver. Trump’s biggest goal, re-election, is, therefore, the only “guardrail” that prevents Trump from showing his true nature. In a second term, this guard rail would be gone, Bolton cautions. Besides the well-documented ineptitude of the administration, Bolton also covers other key areas in his book.
For example, Bolton sharply criticizes Trump’s behavior and response during the COVID-19 crisis. Trump’s only reflex was to talk his way out of issues, not solve them. More importantly, however, Trump had previously defended a restructuring of the National Security Council (NSC) that eliminated the Office of Pandemic Prevention. According to Trump, the latter was irrelevant. Bolton, however, writes the NSC has tracked pandemics correctly and issued an early COVID-19 warning in 2020, which was ignored by Trump. The NSC’s biosecurity team worked precisely as it should. However, the president was incapable of recognizing their valuable work, Bolton writes.
International relations are covered in-depth in Bolton’s book. On page 181, for example, Bolton writes that Trump repeatedly blocked public, critical statements on other, adversaries including nations such as Russia or China for the sole purpose of not wanting to jeopardize his good personal relationship with their leaders. Moreover, Trump’s personal interests have remained at the forefront, particularly with regard to China, Bolton writes.
Politics with China were made “in a chaotic way by random, repetitive meetings,” Bolton writes. At two meetings, Trump tried to utilize Xi Jinping for his re-election. In December 2018, Trump offered to significantly reduce tariffs on China if the Chinese bought more American products. The main focus was on agricultural exports and thus was aimed at boosting Trump’s chances in agricultural states. Trump’s willingness to lower tariffs in his own political interest was “breathtaking,” Bolton notes. At another meeting in Osaka, in 2019, Trump asked Xi to help him directly by alluding to the Chinese economy and asked Xi to help him win the election. Trump spoke directly about the interests of American wheat and soybean farmers. If they could sell more goods to China, it would also help his re-election. Bolton also writes that Trump had approved the Uighur camps in China, which are often referred to as concentration camps in America.
Bolton’s details on North Korea are not much more flattering either. On page 82, Bolton writes about his appearances in various TV programs. Trump had told Bolton that he was doing well on television, “but should praise him more,” particularly for his diplomacy with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Trump also compared his relationship with Kim Jong Un with his dating life: when dating women, he prefers to break up with them before they can dump him, Bolton writes. So he demonstratively cancelled the summit in Singapore before Kim could do it. In the end, he still took part in the summit. Bolton describes Trump as “desperate” in his relationship with Kim. He wants to meet him “at all costs” but is continually changing his mind about how to proceed.
According to Bolton, Trump suddenly became obsessed about Ukraine wanting to get him. He urged Bolton to call the President of Ukraine and ensure that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani was at the meeting to verify that Ukraine was safe. Giuliani, according to Bolton, fed the president “nonsense” that Trump believes. Moreover, Trump did not want to have anything to do with the President of Ukraine and its people, although Bolton concluded that they were “people to work with.”
Bolton also writes that Trump wanted to threaten the United States’ exit from the alliance within a few months at the NATO summit in July 2018. Accordingly, Trump informed him on the morning of the second summit in Brussels on the phone. As a justification, Trump said that allies like Germany did not meet NATO’s two percent target, but at the same time paid Russia billions of dollars for energy supplies. According to Bolton, Trump read to him what he wanted to say. Accordingly, the president wanted to announce that by January 1, 2019, all member states would have to spend at least two percent of their gross domestic product on defense spending, “or we will go and not defend those who have not.”
Will Bolton’s Book Help the Democrats?
With Bolton’s book, new questions regarding the Trump administration have been raised. While a president cannot be impeached for incompetence or ineptitude, the details on foreign policy have caused raised eye-brows among Democrats already. However, Democrats still despise Bolton for his unwillingness to give testimony before the impeachment. Now, Bolton has put Democrats in another pressurized position by sharing what he knows too late to be used in their impeachment inquiry. The question now is whether they will try to call Bolton for testimony again and essentially restart their quest against the president.
However, Bolton has not indicated any willingness to cooperate at this stage. Moreover, Democrats are likely cognizant that the election is theirs to win at this point. Dragging the American people through another Trump-mania, will not be wise – Bolton’s revelations notwithstanding.