‘Trump is Trump.’– John Bolton, a former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump, makes this inane tautological assertion in one the initial pages of his recent book, ‘The Room Where It Happened’. He then goes on to reveal that the current US President, Donald Trump, wants to run the Executive branch and establish national security policies purely based on instincts, rely on his personal equation with foreign leaders, and make decisions that are apt for television showmanship.
The remaining pages of Bolton’s book (and there are many because this book is almost 600 pages long) are filled with laboriously written accounts that prove why this profound insight of Bolton about Trump’s intentions are accurate.
All these revelations about Trump would have indeed been interesting (even explosive, as many dubbed this book to be, prior to its release) had Bolton been the first person to say it. However, since Donald Trump took charge as the President of the United States, many foreign policy experts, comedians, TV Show hosts, media outlets have shouted themselves hoarse pointing out these exact facts, time, and again.
Unsurprisingly, this book also makes us realize that John Bolton is, well, John Bolton. A Bush-era hawk, Bolton expresses his utter disappointment in Donald Trump when the President refuses saber-rattling on Iran for shooting down an unmanned US surveillance drone because that would mean too many civilian casualties, ‘too many body bags’, which would not make him look good on TV. In his book, Bolton calls this well-calculated, diplomatic move of Trump, ‘the most irrational decision’ he has ever witnessed a President make.
However, Bolton isn’t against all decisions made by Trump. He was a big supporter of Trump’s move to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and called the agreement ‘a charade’. Talking about Paris Climate Agreement, he explains how he had given Trump a copy of an article that he had written for Chicago Journal for International Law, titled, ‘Should we take international governance seriously?’ not because he expected the President to read it, but so that it can remind him of ‘the importance of preserving American sovereignty’.
Needless to say, that if Trump won his presidency on the slogans ‘America First’, and ‘Make America Great Again’ Bolton is a notch above the current President in arch-nationalism. Bolton, in fact, has been severely critical of the United Nations since his early years in politics, and in an infamous 1994 speech, he had remarked, that if the United Nations Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
With Trump, one of his main disagreements was, it seems, that the current US President was not willing to yield to his warmongering ways (at least not always). After Bolton left Trump administration, he openly criticized Trump’s effort to have diplomatic dialogues with North Korea, and sign the denuclearization deal, and told the press, as he has also reiterated in this book that ‘The US should focus its attention on stopping nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula.’
‘The Room Where It Happened’ pinpoints Trump’s evident lack of geopolitical knowledge, his capacity to form informed foreign policy (his lack of interest in having any policy in place), and Bolton has a plethora of instances to cite and demonstrate Trump’s shortcomings. However, Bolton himself comes off as such a hardliner in this book, that there are moments (of course brief, fleeting ones) when Trump’s solutions to international disputes seem more humane, and sensible than Bolton’s ideas.
As the narrator of this book, Bolton generally comes off as arrogant and his inordinate obsession with explaining why Trump didn’t hate him for his walrus mustache is frankly preposterous. However, that’s the least strange and absurd revelation made in this book. Another fair warning for all the readers is that this is a really drab, and tedious book to read, filled with many unimportant details.
But despite its odious prose and war-loving narrator, it provides an in-depth account of Trump administration and makes you privy to conversations, and incidents, that until now were the stuff of media speculations, for which often unnamed sources were cited, who had little credibility. As a senior member of Trump administration, John Bolton’s accounts of certain meetings, and talks are not only important but also the only source of historical reference, at least until files get declassified, which generally takes years.
He was also a part of Trump’s policymaking (or the lack of it) meetings in the White House for the 17 months he served there, and thanks to his impeccable note-taking skills we get a detailed, albeit biased view of the internal politics that goes on behind-the-scenes, among Trump’s high-profile staffs, and aides.
John Bolton’s book is the third prominent insider account to come out of the White House during Trump’s administration. The first one was a book, called ‘A Warning’, written by the same anonymous White House senior official who had penned The New York Times op-ed informing the world about an internal resistance that was an uprising in the White House, which did not aim to uproot Trump administration, but only wanted to check the President’s ‘worst impulses, and thwart parts of his agendas.’
The second was Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, which was also a memoir by Omarosa Manigault Newman, another ex-adviser to Trump. It’s a far more dramatic telling of the White House happenings, and Trump’s life, and includes unsubstantiated claims like the President had used racist slur, and speculates ‘that Trump was sleeping with Paula White’.
‘The Room Where It Happened’ however is unlike its predecessors. For starters, Bolton doesn’t mince his words nor does he defend Trump like ‘anonymous’, nor is he a reality show contestant like Manigault Newman, and has far more credibility in political circles, especially among the conservatives. Therefore, when he says with an assertion that, “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations.” it is hard to go unnoticed, even by Trump supporters.
However, unfortunately for Trump, he doesn’t stop there. In the book, Bolton describes a conversation between Xi Jinping, and Trump during the G20 summit, where Trump had implicitly asked for Chinese help for winning the upcoming election.
The book says, “He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win.” Bolton also states that Trump even asked Jinping to buy more farm products, so that he can win in farm states. The book also claims that Trump thought that China building concentration camps to detain Uighur Muslims ‘was the right thing to do.’
If this wasn’t enough, another issue that this book shines a light on is the controversial Trump-Ukraine scandal which was also the reason for Trump’s impeaching hearing, for which Bolton did not testify. Bolton waits to reveal what would perhaps have been his testimony had he been subpoena-ed till you reach the last chapter.
In fact, the epilogue, and the last chapter are the most fascinating parts of the book, in which Bolton not only blames the House of democrats for ‘impeachment malpractice’, for trying to get Trump impeached on the Ukraine scandal alone and moving hastily for their own political gains but also corroborates that Trump had, in fact, used pressure tactics on Ukraine to get intel on his political rivals.
“The next morning, August 20, took Trump’s temperature on the Ukraine security assistance, and he said he wasn’t in favor of sending them anything until all the Russia-investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over,” wrote Bolton in his book.
The book is filled with thousands of minuscule irrelevant details that do not make it vivid but just exceptionally tedious. However, on a few rare occasions, it does paint a great picture. In the second chapter, for instance, Bolton describes that he met the President in the small dining room, ‘down a short hall from Oval’ which is where things REALLY happened. Trump, apparently spends a lot of time in that space, watching FOX news. This is where his documents and files reside, and not at the Resolute Desk in the Oval, where things SHOULD HAPPENED. But, then again, if Bolton’s book is any indication, things never happen as they should when Trump is in question.
This book marks a prelude to November 2020 US Presidential elections and poses a serious threat for Trump’s re-election bid, that is if readers can actually read the entire thing, without losing interest (trust me, it isn’t easy). This book has already given Joe Biden an upper hand in the race, and an AP report claims that Biden’s team is not losing a minute seizing Bolton’s accusation that “Trump continually kowtowed to Xi and ignored human rights abuses while trying to get his foreign counterpart’s assistance with domestic politics.” Bolton, in the meantime, has claimed that he would neither vote for Trump, nor Biden. However, for the rest of America, his book has made the choice far easier.