Thursday, June 18, 2020

Bolton the Barn Door

Image by Donkey Hotey 2018, via

The one thing Bolton got really angry about, as Jennifer Szalai notes in an enjoyably snarky Times review:
the moment he cites as the real “turning point” for him in the administration had to do with an attack on Iran that, to Bolton’s abject disappointment, didn’t happen. 
In June 2019, Iran had shot down an unmanned American drone, and Bolton, who has always championed what he proudly calls “disproportionate response,” pushed Trump to approve a series of military strikes in retaliation. You can sense Bolton’s excitement when he describes going home “at about 5:30” for a change of clothes because he expected to be at the White House “all night.” It’s therefore an awful shock when Trump decided to call off the strikes at the very last minute, after learning they would kill as many as 150 people. “Too many body bags,” Trump told him. “Not proportionate.”
Bolton still seems incensed at this unexpected display of caution and humanity on the part of Trump, deeming it “the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any President do.”
Right. "I understand hesitating to say he believes the US intelligence community because Vladimir Putin says they they gave him a bum rap, but refusing to kill 150 beastly Persians when you have a chance? That's irrational!"

Though it's a Sir story, and thus probably untrue in the form we received it in from the emperor ("We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, ‘How many will die?’ ‘150 people, sir’, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it"), Bolton's rage shows that something like that really happened. 

Steve M points out that if Bolton had testified to the House impeachment inquiry, or at the Senate trial instead if they subpoenaed him (an offer he must have known in advance would be turned down), it wouldn't have made any difference to the outcome of the impeachment, and I'm sure that's true, especially since his account of the Ukraine matter seems pretty muddled and of course self-serving, pretending he didn't understand what was going on:
He recalls a meeting in the Oval Office during which Trump said he wanted Giuliani to meet with Ukraine’s then President-Elect Volodymyr Zelensky “to discuss his country’s investigation of either Hillary Clinton’s efforts to influence the 2016 campaign or something having to do with Hunter Biden and the 2020 election, or maybe both.” Yet Bolton — known for what a 2019 profile in The New Yorker called his “tremendous powers of recall” — said it was too much for him to fully understand. “In the various commentaries I heard on these subjects, they always seemed intermingled and confused, one reason I did not pay them much heed.” He resorts to making noises of concern about what he refers to as “the Giuliani theories.”
When he told Fiona Hill that "I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up" I think he showed he understood very well what the program was: to bribe President Zelenskyy for cooperation with the 2020 election effort. It's Sondland and Mulvaney he needed to attend to for that, not Giuliani's ravings, and it's clear that he was perfectly aware of them while working to stay detached.

That said, I think he's somewhat right about the "impeachment malpractice" on the part of the House team, that they ought to have made more of a noise about Trump's habit of trying to get election assistance from every foreign leader he can, in particular Xi Jinping and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Julian Borger in The Guardian:

In his book, which Trump’s justice department has attempted to stop being published, Bolton argues the House impeachment inquiry should have ranged much further than just Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government for his own political gain.

According to excerpts published by the Wall Street JournalNew York Times and the Washington Post, Bolton describes a pattern of corruption in which Trump routinely attempts to use the leverage of US power on other countries to his own personal ends.

Starting with his snuggling up to Xi at the G20 summit talking about how right Xi was to put a million Uighur people in "re-education camps" (quid) and then abruptly changing the subject to how Xi could help him out with the vote in rural states by buying more soybeans (pro quo), and moving on to his offers to curb investigations into Turkey's Halkbank and China's ZTE and Huawei corporations. Not to mention Russia, in a pattern Bolton seems to have noticed much more clearly than a lot of commentators, though he doesn't seem to have had a clue why Trump was doing it, as you see from Josh Dawsey in The Washington Post:

In describing his White House experience on Russia-related issues, Bolton presents a picture of a president who is impulsive, churlish and consistently opposed to U.S. policy designed to discourage Russian aggression and to sanction Putin’s malign behavior.

Bolton spends little effort trying to explain Trump’s sympathetic approach to Putin. But the book makes the case that there is a disturbing and undeniable pattern of presidential reluctance to embrace policies designed to inhibit Russian aggression.

I'll take foreign dictators who've already assisted Trump in an election for $600, Alex.

No, talking about these things wouldn't have changed a single Senate vote, and it wouldn't have cost Trump any support among his base, but it could have clarified for the political press what the Ukraine case was about, which I don't think they ever really understood; the general pattern of Trump subordinating every consideration to his personal interest, in which the Ukraine case was just the best evidenced and most vividly detailed example, and helped prepare the way for the narrative that we in Blogtopia have been working on the whole time starting to emerge now, in which it becomes clear that Trump's self-interest is full-on psychopathic, as with his continuing hapless attempts to hide the Covid-19 pandemic under the rug as if that would make it go away because that would help him politically (this is what he means with his loony suggestion that testing causes the disease: he means reporting it makes it look big). People who don't follow politics much should be starting to realize right around now that the Russia story is real, because it's exactly the kind of thing somebody like Trump would get involved in, and Bolton, under Schiff's expert questioning, could have contributed to that in a way that his self-serving and choppily narrated memoir can't.

Bolton himself is the same awful person he's always been, of course, an officious, sanctimonious, bloodthirsty, careerist, self-regarding and infighting bureaucrat, and apparently a terrible writer, "exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged," with his "500 pages [filled] with minute and often extraneous details, including the time and length of routine meetings and even, at one point, a nap," as Szalai writes:
When it comes to Bolton’s comments on impeachment, the clotted prose, the garbled argument and the sanctimonious defensiveness would seem to indicate some sort of ambivalence on his part — a feeling that he doesn’t seem to have very often. Or maybe it merely reflects an uncomfortable realization that he’s stuck between two incompatible impulses: the desire to appear as courageous as those civil servants who bravely risked their careers to testify before the House; and the desire to appease his fellow Republicans, on whom his own fastidiously managed career most certainly depends.
And I hope he doesn't make much money off it. But there's no reason to suspect him of any particular untruth in what he says about Trump—indeed, Trump's approach of trying to get Bolton busted for revealing classified information instead of suing him for libel is an implicit acknowledgment that it's all basically true—and we should have had it earlier.

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