Few events make the media purr more than a memoir written by a defector from a Republican administration. John Bolton joins a long list of such bitter memoirists, who date back to the days of David Stockman. The key to these memoirs is that they buttress the prejudices of the media. Bolton has made sure to calibrate his memoir to that requirement, blasting Trump for his alleged corruption and incompetence.
But how newsworthy are these memoirs exactly? They invariably follow the same pattern: the memoirist enters the Republican administration disagreeing with its policies; he leaves the administration disagreeing with its policies. How is that news? What’s newsworthy is not that they were fired but that they were hired in the first place.
Bolton, the cold bureaucrat of the D.C. war machine, was prepared to kill innocent people. Trump wasn’t.
The chief beef of such a memoirist is always the same: the president didn’t take his advice. The title of Bolton’s book should be The Room Where It Didn’t Happen. He is clearly upset that he got cut out of Trump’s decisions.
And it is fortunate for us that he did. Trump didn’t succumb to Bolton’s neocon warmongering.
“The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much,” says a review in the New York Times. In other words, his advice was never taken. Hell hath no fury like an “insider” scorned.
Trump has summed up Bolton with his usual elan: “Wacko John Bolton’s ‘exceedingly tedious’ (New York Times) book is made up of lies & fake stories. Said all good about me, in print, until the day I fired him. A disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war. Never had a clue, was ostracized & happily dumped. What a dope!”
Pandering to the media’s caricature of Trump, Bolton calls him unprincipled and focused wholly on his reelection. But one of the stories from the book makes Trump appear reassuringly thoughtful, as even the review in the New York Times notes:
the moment he cites as the real “turning point” for him in the administration had to do with an attack on Iran that, to Bolton’s abject disappointment, didn’t happen.
In June 2019, Iran had shot down an unmanned American drone, and Bolton, who has always championed what he proudly calls “disproportionate response,” pushed Trump to approve a series of military strikes in retaliation. You can sense Bolton’s excitement when he describes going home “at about 5:30” for a change of clothes because he expected to be at the White House “all night.” It’s therefore an awful shock when Trump decided to call off the strikes at the very last minute, after learning they would kill as many as 150 people. “Too many body bags,” Trump told him. “Not proportionate.”
Bolton still seems incensed at this unexpected display of caution and humanity on the part of Trump, deeming it “the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any President do.”
Bolton, the cold bureaucrat of the D.C. war machine, was prepared to kill innocent people. Trump wasn’t. Yet we’re told that it is Trump who is corrupt and unpresidential? That doesn’t make any sense. Nor does Bolton’s claim that every decision Trump made “was driven” by reelection considerations make any sense. Trump, if anything, never hesitates to place unpopular truth-telling over political optics. All Bolton’s lame complaining amounts to is that if you agree with Bolton, you are “principled”; if you disagree with him, you are “political.”
But what did Bolton expect? Had he not followed the campaign? Trump repeatedly promised to keep America “out of stupid wars,” the very wars Bolton tried so hard to justify. One can fault Trump for hiring Bolton, but not for ignoring him. That deserves praise. Trump has kept his promise and pursued a sensible foreign policy.
Bolton’s criticism of Trump sounds reminiscent of the criticism of Reagan aides who thought they were so much smarter than Reagan and found Reagan’s power perplexing. But that kind of criticism is just the befuddlement and bitterness of the bureaucrat over the natural leader. Could Bolton start a movement like Trump? Could he command rallies of tens of thousands? Bolton’s sour-grapes memoir testifies not to his power and acumen but to his impotence.