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Let’s Not All Rush Out and Buy John Bolton’s Book

It's just more career CPR by a war-happy Washington insider—even if Trump is trying to block its publication.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton during a meeting with Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko (Photo by Yuri OreshkinTASS via Getty Images)

The world of arts and letters is atwitter this week. John Bolton has a new book coming out—provided it can clear the gauntlet of Donald Trump’s censorious rage, that is. Bolton’s tome is called The Room Where It Happened, and despite what the title might suggest, it contains no details about the author’s conception. Rather it’s an insider’s account of Bolton’s time in the Trump administration. Naturally this has elicited fury from Trump, who’s accused Bolton of trying to circumvent the government’s review process for the publication of manuscripts.

The New York Times explains:

The Trump administration sued the former national security adviser John R. Bolton on Tuesday to try to delay publication of his highly anticipated memoir about his time in the White House, saying the book contained classified information that would compromise national security if it became public. …

The Justice Department accused him of short-circuiting a government review that he had agreed to participate in for any eventual manuscript before even accepting the post in 2018.

Mr. Bolton is breaking that agreement, “unilaterally deciding that the prepublication review process is complete and deciding for himself whether classified information should be made public,” department lawyers wrote in a breach of contract lawsuit against Mr. Bolton filed in federal court in Washington.

The suit could have deeper implications, especially given the inevitable deluge of tell-alls that will gush forth from this administration. If Trump is willing to obstruct Bolton’s book—a step presidents rarely take—it stands to reason he could try to block future memoirs too. It’s an irony so sharp it’ll cut an onion: the fate of government transparency rides with John Bolton.

Yet it’s also impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sheer boredom of it all. Is anything here really surprising? Both men are behaving as they always behave. Trump is being peevish and trying to undermine a subordinate perceived as disloyal. Bolton is being conniving and trying to advance himself and his pro-war agenda. This, of course, is what Bolton always does. It’s why last year he undermined Trump’s call for a withdrawal from Syria, saying the U.S. would first need to guarantee the safety of the Kurds and finish off the Islamic State, conditions that aren’t really achievable. It’s why he more recently contradicted the president on North Korea, saying Pyongyang had no desire to ever give up its nukes. It’s why he left the White House in the first place, angry after Trump had the gall to suggest some sanctions on Iran might be lifted.

Bolton entered the Trump administration because he sensed the way the wind was blowing. He was a bit of a nationalist himself and wanted to work from within to temper the president’s more dovish instincts on foreign policy. In that, he’s the last of a dying breed: the ultra-hawkish bureaucratic infighters, typified by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who cut their teeth during the Cold War and wielded power so effectively in the George W. Bush administration. But Trump is not Bush. According to insider accounts, he reportedly turned Bolton into a kind of foreign policy comic foil. At one point during a meeting with the Irish prime minister, Trump turned to Bolton and said, “John, is Ireland one of those countries you want to invade?”

Bolton might have been willing to play the lunatic Jeeves to Trump’s rococo Wooster. But not if it meant sacrificing his pro-war agenda. So it shouldn’t surprise us that the two men, ultimately different in their international outlooks, parted ways. As for Bolton’s book, it will emerge eventually. But really, what’s the point? Bolton has teased that The Room Where It Happened confirms that Trump attempted to procure dirt from Ukraine on leading Democrats. That’s big news—yet Bolton also declined to testify about it in front of Congress during impeachment hearings, when it might have actually made a difference. Instead he preferred to sell his story. In which case, there’s nothing to see here. Just more career CPR by a war-happy Washington insider.

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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