Posts Tagged ‘John Bolton’

OK, I have read his book so you won’t have to…

August 5, 2020

Pic retrived from marketwatch.com

John Bolton is a self-important bore who takes some 450 pages (almost 600 with notes and references) to drone on and on about how he is always right. Between April 2018 and September 2019 he was the national security advisor for a man who also thinks he is always right, president Donald Trump. A clash would seem inevitable. There were a few of them, as there were near-calamitous diplomatic near-misses. In the hands of an able writer this would have made very juicy reading but in Bolton’s clunky, plodding policy wonk prose it becomes a drag. You’re wading through what are essentially rememorised notes.

So why write about this at all?

Well, in spite of the fact that he is and remains a warmongering self-aggrandising hawk who firmly believes in regime change for some and bombing any country that takes a different view of the world than the Great US of A, his inside account gives us the strongest arguments yet for ejecting the narcissistic toddler currently occupying the White House at the earliest opportunity.

Having said that, the two men do share an abhorrence of world order and the institutions or organisations working towards that goal, including the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and its affiliated organisations like the World Health Organisation. They don’t like the EU much either but then I’m currently none too happy about where it is going… (Incidentally, they also share a deep hostility for the Fourth Estate; Bolton’s disdain for the press is palpable throughout his book.)

What they prefer is US-led global anarchy, where they set the rules. However, Bolton is far more systematic about this, which makes him the most dangerous of the two. Bolton wants regime change in Iran (he is worryingly obsessed with it), reign in China and contain Russia. In that order. As an aside and contrary to what many seem to think, he considers Syria “a sideshow”. Which from an inside-the-Beltway perspective it most assuredly is, like Africa. Yes, all of it.

And what is Trump on about, when he does not ramble about anything and everything? Three things stand out: money, deals and image. Raise any policy issue and he is likely to ask, like the New York real estate hustler he has always been: how much does it cost and what’s in it for me? That is exactly the mentality he has brought into the Oval Office. It should surprise no-one but since Bolton is a stickler for detail it’s useful to have this on public record in the sharp and unforgiving tones it deserves.

Money is at the root of his endless questioning: why are we in (Korea, Germany, Poland, Africa, Afghanistan…) Korea should pay for US military presence. He confuses a percentage of a nation’s GDP spent on national defence with contributions to NATO. On and on it goes. Trump is about as childishly and predictably unpredictable as Bolton is boring.

When it comes to China and North Korea it’s all about making deals. The greatest deal in history. Wonderful deals. When the United States withdrew from the agreement that bound Iran to limit its nuclear activities, Trump justified withdrawal because it was “a terrible deal.” Worst deal ever. This is not a president in action; it’s a New York real estate hustler.

And looking good is paramount. Photo-opportunity with North Korea’s strongman Kim Jung Un on the border between the two Koreas? Brilliant! Especially when you can get your venal and conniving family in on the picture: the shadow government of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner that Bolton hints at should scare the bejezus out of anyone with an ounce of understanding about how to run a country. Inviting the Taliban to the White House for talks? Great photo opportunity! And relations with China hinge on Trump’s great “personal relationship” with president Xi Jingpin, especially when Trump tells him that putting Uighurs away in concentration camps is a very good idea. The only thing that’s really terrible about China is the US trade deficit, the mechanics of which he does not understand.

Pic retrieved from 9and10news.com

Sucking up to autocrats is a particular character trait of Trump’s. He’s perfectly fine in the company of the likes I already mentioned, plus president Erdoĝan of Turkey and of course Vladimir Putin, even though I never get the impression from this book that he is what some simple minds refer to as ‘a Kremlin asset’. Trump likes dictators and wants to be one, simples. Unfortunately for him, he lives in a democracy that has so far proved remarkably resilient in spite of his efforts. Bolton likes Putin because he’s articulate (unlike his boss), on top of things (unlike his boss), and secure in his own role on the global stage. But make no mistake: Russia remains the enemy.

Bolton’s descriptions of his numerous meetings with the president of the United States show a man with the attention span of half a goldfish. In one, on Afghanistan, Trump manages to jump from that country to CNN reporters (unsurprisingly, he is in favour of shooting or jailing journalists), getting out of Africa (again), NATO and money (again), Ukraine, troops in Poland, calling North Korea’s Kim “a psycho” (Bolton agrees), South Korea paying 5 billion dollars for US military bases, the 38 billion dollar trade deficit with South Korea, getting all American troops out of Europe and announcing he was going to call the Indian Prime Minister about Kashmir. Bolton does not supply a time-frame but given the average length of security/foreign policy meetings this typical Trumpian ‘rolling on’, as Bolton calls it, may have occurred within, say, 30 minutes. Every single meeting goes like this.

These scenes aside, most of his tome consists of endless accounts of the bureaucratic infighting Washinghton is notorious for, trips abroad, and preventing Trump causing major international mayhem…always and forever framed in the glowing terms of the national security advisor’s infinitely superior intellect. Which makes it even more of a drag to read. (I told you I read his book so you won’t have to.)

This is probably Bolton’s last shot. He is unlikely to be hired ever again after having hung out some of Washington’s dirty linen and I for one think that the world’s a safer place because of it. Whether or not he should have made his revelations about Trump abusing his office for personal gain available to Congress will remain up for debate, probably forever.

In sum, then, yes, the White House chaos is there and it’s Trump’s chaos. Bolton’s descriptions make it clear that however bad you thought it was, it’s actually worse. Take that together with his autocratic tendencies, his tantrums and his narcissism and it becomes clear that even though the alternative is not exactly palatable this Orange Squatter should be out on his ear, come November. Here’s hoping that president Biden leaves Africa as much alone as did his predecessor; we have enough trouble here without the US sticking its oar in.