Donald Trump is a survivor and Bolton’s book confirms what we knew already…
There’s enough juicy gossip in John Bolton’s new book on Donald Trump to provide headlines for the next month, but the reality is that the facts relayed to us by the former US National Security Advisor, which the President reportedly went to some lengths to censor, are far from news. From ‘Trump has trouble with women leaders’ to ‘Bolton calls Trump unfit for office’, the articles since Bolton released the memoir of his time serving Donald Trump are no different in substance to those written since he took office in 2016. Trump may have moved from business to the US presidency, but his style of oligarchy has remained the same, as does his blatant ignorance, poorly masked by gawky showmanship.
There are, of course, some gems in ‘The Room Where It Happened’, which Bolton was clearly desperate to share with the world. It would be ‘cool’ to invade Venezuela, Trump had said. He allegedly asked if Finland was part of Russia. Apparently he asked then Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, ‘Oh, are you a nuclear power?’ during discussions after the Skripal poisoning. That he sought covert assistance for his re-election bid from Chinese leader Xi Jinping, is not surprising. We have long been made aware that Donald Trump knows no bounds when it comes to making a deal with anyone to further his own interests. He brought ‘The Art of the Deal’ to the White House. Business is business, after all.
However, despite Bolton’s attempt to paint his former employer in as negative a light as possible after getting the sack, the book actually raises more questions about John Bolton than it does about Donald Trump. Why, knowing what he (and the rest of humanity) knew about Donald Trump from the outset, did Bolton accept the job in the first place? Further still, why did he stay in it for so long if he took such issue with his boss? In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert he said that he entered the White House “aware of the problems but optimistic that they could be overcome”. Colbert accused him of being naive, to which Bolton replied ‘I couldn’t believe it could be that bad’. However a cynic could argue that it’s possibly the case Bolton saw Trump as someone who was easily malleable, and he saw an opportunity to manipulate him and go about implementing his own hawkish foreign policy agenda.
Let’s take some of his key comments on the unravelling of the Iran deal, for which Bolton takes much credit. He describes the 2015 deal in the book as one that was ‘badly conceived, abominably negotiated and drafted, and entirely advantageous to Iran’ ‘It had taken one month to shred the nuclear deal, showing how easy it was to do once somebody took events in hand…‘A lot remained to bring Iran to its knees or to overthrow the regime’. This hawkish talk, for which Bolton is renowned, tells us much more about why he is no longer serving Donald Trump. When the Iranians shot down an unmanned drone, the US military presented a plan to the President whereby Iranian bases would be targeted. According to Bolton’s memoir, Trump stated: “I don’t like it. They didn’t kill any of our people.” Bolton on the other hand believed this was ‘the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any president do.” In this way, Trump’s original tweets expressing why Bolton had left the administration – because he ‘disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions can, it seems, be taken at face value. Indeed, who knows to what level relations could have deteriorated with Iran if Trump had complied with Bolton. War could have been waging as I write.
Although Bolton may have seen opportunities in the Trump administration, and seen the President as a soft target, it’s still not clear why Trump hired Bolton. As someone who consistently advocated regime change in the past, John Bolton was not an obvious choice for a President who ran on a platform of ‘we will stop racing to topple foriegn regimes’. Trump no doubt now regrets taking him on board, as Bolton’s memoir goes into such embarrassing detail about the machinations of the administration.
But will this book harm Trump’s re-election? Unlikely. What you see with Donald Trump is what you get. Once again, Trump will be appealing to his base, who are far more likely to follow his tweets and campaign speeches than they are to sit down and read Bolton’s 600 page book. Even if they were to read it, they wouldn’t find much about the President they didn’t know already. As TV host Stephen Colbert says ‘Everything you think about Trump is probably true’ ‘He’s incredibly readable.’
It’s easy to forget, but Trump was a candidate elected on a platform of boosting the US economy and NOT pursuing military intervention abroad. He was elected, in part, because the electorate were tired of the same regime change wars which didn’t translate into improvement in quality of life for the average American. The fact remains that despite the constant media barrage of criticism against him, the only conflict he can claim to have started is the trade war with China. This, together with his attempts to broker peace on the Korean peninsula and between Israel and Palestine (in a rather dubious ‘peace’ agreement which primarily benefits Israel) will be a record he will point to in his re-election campaign.
Donald Trump, if anything, is a survivor. Bolton’s book may confirm our worst fears about him but it won’t greatly harm his re-election chances. A bigger threat is the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the civil rights issues which have surfaced after the killing of George Floyd. But he can still see these things off. As he once said about doing business: ‘You just never, ever, quit’.
Johanna Ross, journalist based in Edinburgh