John Bolton’s tell-all book, “The Room Where It Happened” was released Tuesday. One reviewer said that the details of high stakes foreign diplomacy, as blundered through by Donald Trump, “are reported in the unadorned, matter-of-fact prose that you might use in an email about pet food options or car repairs, are shocking for their ordinariness.” I personally am going to read this book, because as nuts as we all know it has been these past three years, Bolton was actually there for 453 days and so he is speaking with an authority that a lot of books on the Trump administration can’t claim.
What struck me in reading the following review, is that this situation is so grotesquely out of control that if Trump wasn’t mentally ill, he wouldn’t even be attempting to do what he’s doing. We have a mentally ill game show host, surrounded by a school of Republican sharks, with their own agendas, in charge of the levers of government. And just reading this, I frankly marvel that the United States has neither been invaded, nor have we not declared war on another country. Maybe it’s divine intervention keeping us safe, because with this going on, there is no logic or reason to explain why things have not literally blown up with a warmonger advising a blithering idiot. The Dispatch:
Pompeo released a statement insisting that Trump was an eager and attentive consumer of intelligence. Trump canceled his morning briefings the following day because he’d “stayed up well into the night” watching television coverage of congressional testimony of his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. When he met with his national security team, he asked “whether it was a bigger story if we got a small deal or we walked away [in Korea]”—and Bolton was happy to nudge the president toward walking away. After his initial meetings with Kim in Hanoi, Trump used a short break in the talks and “immediately switched on Fox News to see how the late-night shows were covering Cohen’s testimony, as well as events in Hanoi.” When the talks restarted, Trump wondered aloud whether North Korea’s media was as frustrating as his own. “Does the press give you a hard time?” he asked Kim. As Bolton reports: “Somewhat stunned, Kim said, ‘That’s an obvious question. I don’t have that burden,’ and laughed.”
If the chief strength of Bolton’s book is this kind of in-the-room detail, its main weakness is the unresolved tension between the two competing narratives that shape the text. In one, Bolton makes the case that Trump is far too crazy to serve as president of the United States and leader of the free world. In the other, Bolton advances the kinds of aggressive policy arguments that have contributed to his reputation as a hawk (among admirers) or a warmonger (among detractors).
The obvious question: If Trump is crazy, do we want him leading the country into high-stakes military confrontations with adversaries and rogue states, some of them with advanced nuclear programs? For Bolton, the answer is—or was, anyway—yes. “I explained why and how a preemptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs would work; how we could use massive conventional bombs against Pyongyang’s artillery north of the DMZ, which threatened Seoul, thereby reducing casualties dramatically,” Bolton writes, describing an early argument he made to Trump. On Iran, a similar approach: “A lot remained to be done to bring Iran to its knees, or to overthrow the regime, Trump’s state policy to the contrary notwithstanding, but we were off to a great start.” Bolton wanted more robust military action in Syria and Afghanistan, too, and a more confrontational approach to China and Russia.
If Bolton had been advising George W. Bush or John McCain or Mitt Romney, it would be easier to understand how he’d make these arguments—arguments like the ones he’s made over the course of his long career. But Bolton wasn’t advising those men. He was advising Donald Trump. And he thinks Donald Trump is unfit for office.
There’s a rag tag team of Republican policy makers, all pursuing their own agendas, and nobody is in charge in Washington, D.C. The titular head of our government is a mentally ill fringe television performer who only thinks about the world’s most important job in terms of a television role and how good or bad his image is on any given day. If it wasn’t so terrifying, the black comedy aspects of it are obvious. I predict that one day a black comedy that will put “Dr. Strangelove” to shame will be written about this mad time in history. Maybe more than one. God knows there’s no lack of absurd material.
The fact that this is real, that we in essence have no federal government, as that term is understood, is the mind blowing reality that we just live in day to day– along with a global pandemic and racial tensions like we haven’t seen in half a century.
I’m almost scared to read Bolton’s book, but I’m going to do it.