Thucydides has a lot to answer for. He, the first great historian and author of The History of the Peloponnesian War, also started the politician’s bog standard revisionist memoir of how I nearly got it right.
John Bolton’s memoir of his days in the White House as Trump’s National Security Advisor – The Room Where it Happened -is but the latest such apologist tract.
It’s, well, it’s a bit mixed if truth be told. We never do discover what the “IT” that happened was. It’s not quite the spill-the-beans-block-buster I suspect he thought he was writing, and we might think we are buying. And it can be monumentally tedious at times. He falls into the trap of boring us all to death with procedure. Clearly, they let him go with his office diaries, as he lists each and every damn meeting, and all those important people he met in excruciating detail whilst Bolton (of course) saves the day. Fine if you are a beltway bore, but for the general reader? Nah.
In truth Bolton comes across as less the insider than a bystander who doesn’t get on with his colleagues. It’s also clear they don’t like him. Why did he take the post? The answer must be sheer hubris.
The memoir is also not helped by being written in a mediocre style to which he occasionally jemmies in various latinate additions to appear more cultured. Its not tight enough not pithy enough. But let’s be honest, it’s not for Bolton’s vinegary world-weary outlook we would buy this tome (577 pages) but for the light that shines on Trump’s management of the Great Office of State. And Trump, as we might expect, does not fare well. At least Bolton’s tales are not attributed, or anonymous, he sits up and owns them. Probably why there was so much effort to block the book.
What does come across is the wholescale disorganisation within the White House from Election Day 2016 onwards. It is almost as if old Trump never truly expected to win and then had no overarching plan for his administration.
The picture drawn is of a man who is never quite in command of his brief, nor his organisation which is a bit damning as he was portrayed as the great business leader come down to sort out the swamp. Trump is shown as sparrow-minded, leaping for one mad point to another with limited grasp of facts and less of background. Trump is vain. Trump is stupid. And worst of all Trump is ignorant. Asking Prime Minister May if Britain was a nuclear power might have been a good cynical joke, but sadly it wasn’t. Trump thought Finland was part of Russia.
Trump is shown as poor man’s President Hoover – an isolationist, contemptuous of Europe, aloof and unequal to the tasks before him, but also disorganised and inattentive with only the most minimal insights into Putin, Xi Jinping, Erdogan, Macron or Merkel. Bolton offers us our first first-hand sights of Trump in action (or complete disorder) at important meetings home and away.
And for that it is worth the read.
Copyright David Macadam 2020