Remember when we thought Bolton was as bad as it gets? Now he’s our hero. Sorta.
BY REID WILSON – 06/17/20 10:24 PM EDT 2,111
— 59M 5S AGO
Former national security adviser John Bolton‘s forthcoming book portrays President Trump as a “stunningly uninformed” officeholder who routinely conflated different people, veered off on unrelated tangents during critical meetings and had little concept of the world with which he dealt.
In the book, “The Room Where It Happened,” Bolton describes his year and a half as Trump’s third chief national security aide as a roller-coaster effort to keep an erratic president on topic in spite of a lack of an overarching theory of national security or foreign policy that guided the first-time politician.
“He second-guessed people’s motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government,” Bolton writes.
Trump routinely complained about favored irritants, from the amount of money South Korea paid the United States for American troop presence on the Korean Peninsula to his first tense meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He often urged aides to pull the United States completely out of Africa, a continent he disparaged regularly, Bolton writes.
The Hill obtained a copy of Bolton’s book on Wednesday, a week before its scheduled publication. The Justice Department has sought an emergency order to block its publication, though multiple media outlets have already obtained copies of the book.
Bolton also chronicles a long pattern of Trump’s ignorance of basic geography and the politics of the nations with which the United States has close relationships.
Trump constantly confused former Afghan President Hamid Karzai with his successor, Ashraf Ghani. In the midst of sensitive negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government, Trump told advisers he believed Ghani was corrupt and that he owned a mansion in Dubai; Karzai was widely seen by American officials as corrupt, not Ghani.
Bolton writes that American officials knew “from actual research” that Ghani did not own the house in Dubai.
“If only Trump could keep straight that incumbent President Ghani was not former President Karzai, we would have spared ourselves a lot of trouble,” Bolton writes.
Bolton says Trump also displayed a startling lack of knowledge of Nordic countries. As the Trump administration and the Russian government debated where to stage the first formal sit-down between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United States government pushed for a meeting in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, while the Russians wanted a summit in Vienna.
“Isn’t Finland kind of a satellite of Russia?” Trump asked, according to Bolton’s notes. Bolton says later that same day Trump asked his then-chief of staff, John Kelly, whether Finland was a part of Russia.
Trump seemed to demure to Putin’s wishes. “Whatever they [the Russians] want. Tell them we’ll do whatever they want,” Trump reportedly said.
The meeting went ahead in Helsinki.
At a subsequent meeting with British officials, Trump appeared unaware that the United States’s closest ally had nuclear weapons. Sir Mark Sedwill, Bolton’s counterpart as Prime Minister Theresa May‘s national security adviser, described a chemical attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia as an attack on a nuclear power.
“Trump asked, ‘Oh, are you a nuclear power?’ which I knew was not intended as a joke,” Bolton writes.
Trump also said he did not understand why the United States still had a significant troop presence on the Korean peninsula, almost 70 years after fighting the Korean War. Bolton says he brought up the post-war history, in the context of the Cold War, but failed to break through.
“Just for the record, I did discuss with Trump several times the history of the ‘temporary’ 1945 division of the Korean, the rise of Kim Il Sung, the Korean War and its Cold War significance – you know, that old stuff – but obviously I made no impact,” Bolton writes. “We endured this cycle repeatedly, always with the same outcome.”
At a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, Trump asked his delegation why the American government was sanctioning a nation 7,000 miles from U.S. territory.
“Because they are building nuclear weapons and missiles that can kill Americans,” Bolton says he responded.
“Another day at the office,” Bolton writes.
The president paid little attention to intelligence briefings, according to Bolton. Instead, he offered his own monologues that would overwhelm the briefers in charge.
“I didn’t think these briefings were terribly useful, and neither did the intelligence community, since much of the time was spent listening to Trump, rather than Trump listening to the briefers. I made several tries to improve the transmission of intelligence to Trump but failed repeatedly,” Bolton writes.
“Trump generally only had two intelligence briefings per week, and in most of those, he spoke at greater length than the briefers, often on matters completely unrelated to the subjects at hand,” he writes later.
In a 2018 meeting with Japanese officials, ostensibly about trade policy and North Korea, Trump was told the United States had no greater ally in the western Pacific than Japan. Trump brought up the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The meeting broke up shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived.
Updated: 11:27 p.m.
Steve Clemons, Morgan Chalfant, Brett Samuels and Laura Kelly contributed to this report.