The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir, by John R. Bolton

Eight stars

Perhaps one of the most anticipated political books of the summer, I chose to leap on the John Bolton memoir before reviews filled Goodreads and other platforms I frequent. Written based on his time working inside the White House, Bolton not only brings first-hand knowledge of events, but also offers insights into what he witnessed during his time as National Security Advisor. With a long history of work within various Republican administrations, John Bolton was not a man wet behind the ears when being considered for a position in the Trump Administration. His experience and hawkish approach to international politicking surely caught the attention of Trump and some of those within his inner circle. Bolton hit the ground running, explaining that every day in the Trump White House is fraught with chaos and ever-changing views on hot button issues. Bolton sought to steer the president in a few directions that would follow policy to support those views that arose in the campaign, at times doing anything to reverse the Obama trajectory. From America’s role in the Syrian civil war to Russian involvement on world events, Bolton showed how Trump’s opinions would change with the blowing of the wind, wanting America out of military involvement and yet not letting its greatest adversary to think it weak. This Russian sentiment baffled me throughout, as Trump would speak poorly about Putin and yet relied on him to win his seat in the Oval Office. Bolton also explores issues with China at length, clashing with one of the world’s economic superpowers at every turn, and yet Trump offered them the chance to keep him in power by ‘helping’ with the 2020 election (a la Putin 2016). Dismantling NATO and contemplating destabilising the leftist Venezuelan autocrat also played heavily on Trump’s agenda while Bolton was National Security Advisor, with many offhand and somewhat outlandish ideas coming up regularly before POTUS could be talked away from the ledge. Bolton spends much time throughout the book exploring the Trump view at finally getting some concrete progress with the North Koreans, with in-depth discussions of their two summits and the ‘love affair’ the media explored through the flowery diplomacy that took place, yet nothing substantial came to pass. Of equal interest and importance is the means by which Trump sought to dismantle the nuclear weapons treaty with Iran that had been negotiated during the Obama Administration. Trump seemed keen to change the rules and make sure America came out on top, while making sure that many new how horrible Obama was as POTUS (second only to Bush 43, whom Trump appeared to loathe even more). Bolton is happy to offer blunt views of Trump and those in the know, at times sharing views with other Cabinet officials as they watched the continued implosion of all things Trump. Bolton also sheds light on the constant sentiment that Trump is one who holds firm views of people, fleeting as the interactions change from day to day, including a strong dislike for some of America’s greatest allies, while praising those who are firmly in the column of ‘enemies of the state’. Bolton provides some insight into the Ukrainian interactions that fuelled the fire towards impeachment, offering his own ideas from the facts he knew. That Bolton and Trump eventually fell out is of no shock to anyone, as those who refuse to be sycophants are apt to become, but the recent vilification of anything Bolton might have to say only furthers my belief that there are hard truths in this book that many who nurse from the presidential teat would have us deny as a new round of false news. This book is full of detail and great narrative that will be ideal for those who want some additional insights into how the Trump White House ran things, both from an international and domestic perspective. I’d recommend this to those who enjoy all things political, as well as the reader who has no trouble hearing truths that may run counter to the POTUS circus.

I have never hidden my dislike of the current American administration, particularly the ringleader of the shenanigans. While I understand that media outlets will offer their own spin on events, I have come to appreciate those on the inside who offer up books about the events they witnessed. Some would call it smear campaigns or falsehoods to trip up POTUS, though I wonder how many people could have colluded with such a similar narrative, as well as what purpose it would serve to exert such energy to bring down a man who seems able to do it on his own. Bolton is by no means a Democrat seeking to dismantle the GOP machine, which only makes some of his views all the more insightful. He offers praise where it is needed and critiques things that seem to lack the insight to keep America from running amok (alas, we are well past that). Bolton does come across as a know-it-all at times, feeling that he is the smartest man in the room and all others should bow to his intellect, which is seen in many tongue-in-cheek sentiments expressed in most chapters, as well as in recollected conversations with others. While that may be the case, Bolton’s views are steeped in some well established views of international politics and diplomacy, something that adds to the flavouring of the book and leaves the reader to wonder why someone would purposely skew things that can be substantiated so effectively. With thorough chapters that explore many insightful areas that are sure to pique the interest of the politically minded individual. While some may call Bolton too close to Trump, it is this closeness that offers the reader some of the many views from behind the curtain. Why would someone like Bolton want to find himself on the outside with this book, upsetting POTUS, thereby making him an enemy of the administration? Knowing Trump’s penchant for such things, Bolton’s better off pissing from outside the tent inwards and letting the truth ‘hang out’.

Kudos, Mr. Bolton, for such a refreshing book about the inner workings of Trump’s Administration. I could not ask for anything more!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: