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It would be a crime for former National Security Adviser John Bolton to get rich from his new book, which is Washington Swamp revenge porn. The Justice Department and perhaps a jury will have a say about that. Bolton may also wind up in prison for leaking highly classified information.
In either case, Bolton proves that a man’s character does indeed determine his fate.
Here’s the John Bolton I knew: Within days of his appointment as President Trump’s national security adviser, Bolton established his own “autonomous zone” in his spacious suite of offices within the West Wing of the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Within this sprawling fortress, this Dr. Strangelove throwback set himself up as a warlord plotting all manner of coups, invasions and missile strikes.
Bolton’s Iran strategy, for example, was straight out of his 1950s playbook: launch missile strikes to bomb the mullahs either into oblivion or submission. With Afghanistan, it was: damn the diplomacy, endless war ahead.
Of course, all of Bolton’s kinetic warfare games were in direct contradiction to a chess master president who is far more adept at dealing with the kinds of economic and information warfare now being waged by 21stt century strategic competitors like China and Russia. Everything Bolton pushed would have made America less peaceful or less prosperous. President Trump wanted no part of it.
One of the things that surprised me most was how poor a manager Bolton was. I had heard he was a very skilled operator in the George W. Bush administration. And he was quite adept at using the policy process of the National Security Council to acquire dominion over all manner of issues that had even a tangential national security hook.
However, grabbing turf and expanding one’s authority is not the same as effectively using that power. And whatever action had to go through Bolton’s National Security Council (NSC) took twice as long as it had during the tenure of his predecessor, H.R. McMaster. The man who occupies that post now, Robert O’Brien, regularly gets more done in a week than Bolton’s NSC got done in months.
One of the things that surprised me most was how poor a manager Bolton was.
As an example of how long it took Bolton’s NSC to get anything done, consider the case of the sanctions President Trump put on the iron, steel, aluminum and copper sectors of Iran through Executive Order 13871. That order – signed on May 8, 2019 – came about after Bolton asked me for some ideas about how to ratchet up the financial pressure on Iran.
I had worked closely with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on the president’s steel and aluminum tariffs, so I knew the Iranian regime was generating considerable foreign coin by exporting metals into the international market. At Bolton’s request, I wrote a draft order that would extend sanctions to these commodities.
That order took me just a few days to craft and send to Bolton, but it would be many months before the cumbersome NSC bureaucracy would move it to the president’s desk and it would be signed into law. So much for Bolton and his “maximum pressure.”
Perhaps the biggest lie Bolton tells in his new book is about China. His book tries to portray the first American president to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party as somehow weak.
In fact, Donald Trump has been tougher on China and its economic aggression than any president in American history. Bolton’s Big China Lie is right up there with Bolton’s Big Iraq Lie that helped shove America into the war in Iraq in 2003 – the one that claimed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
The bigger puzzle about Bolton to me was always this: Within the Trump administration, and certainly within the Pentagon and State Department, there is now a growing consensus that the Chinese Communist Party poses the greatest strategic threat to the United States. Yet Bolton – who comically honeymooned in China – always seemed far more interested in other parts of the world.
Just why Bolton would always turn a blind eye on a rapidly rising China – even to the point of often refusing to attend critical White House meetings on the subject – one can only speculate. My speculation is that Bolton remains stuck in morbid nostalgia for the big Middle East wars he helped start and stoke but never could win during the George W. Bush administration.
Ironically – and with an utter lack of self-awareness – Bolton attempts to tar President Trump with a “pattern of unacceptable behavior.” Please look in the mirror, John: Your pattern of behavior is to serve in an administration, be cast off for incompetence, and then bite the hand of the president who fed you.
Bolton started this pattern with President George W. Bush, who would brand Bolton as “not credible.” Now, Bolton has done it again with President Trump. As Karl Marx once noted, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”