The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir

by John Bolton
Reviewed date: 2020 Jun 29
528 pages
cover art

After reading everything Bolton has to say, I do not believe his testimony would have materially influenced the impeachment proceedings.

To be clear, Donald Trump improperly used American foreign policy as a lever for his personal political gain. He should have been removed from office. But Bolton’s book does not reveal anything we didn’t already know, and the Senate still failed to convict. Gutless.

page 61: Donald Trump is incompetent and indecisive, and has surrounded himself with people who serve their own interests and goals, and who manipulate him rather than help him succeed.

page 77: Trump administration method: chaos. Also, I'm not sure I agree with John Bolton's foreign policy worldview or with his goals. But to hear him describe how things got done really reveals how amateurish and petty and willfully incompetent this administration is.

page 126: Donald Trump is a terrible negotiator. He doesn’t understand what’s at stake, he cares only for optics and short-term positive news headlines, and flattery gets him so excited that he forgets to think. In dealing with North Korea, Trump could scarcely remember the US objectives, and cared more about doing things differently from previous Presidents than in achieving meaningful success.

page 136: Bolton’s assessment is that the so-called “axis of adults” stymied Trump’s agenda early in his Presidency, refused to carry out his policy objectives, and in general tried to manipulate and manage him. As a result, Trump grew to distrust all advisors, thinking—rightly in some cases—they were not helping him but hindering him. Thus Trump was willfully ignorant and he refused to listen to informed advisors.

page 154: On the one-on-one with Putin: “The key point was there were no agreements on anything, no concessions, no real change in substantive foreign policy. I was delighted. And relieved. No successes, but that didn’t trouble me at all, since I had long seen this entire summit as one massive exercise in damage control." So: Trump is so incompetent that preventing him from doing something is a win.

page 158: I'm not sure John Bolton fully understands how much Trump's willingness to think out loud and to display his willfull ignorance is actually changing the rules of the game. Why obsess about what idiotic thing Trump said; rather, assume his tweets and his unprepared remarks are just so much meaningless blather. We could all pretend that only official acts and prepared statements mean anything, and ignore the rest.

page 177: Bolton thinks James Mattis is worthless, a roadblock to every good idea.

page 181: "Trump seemed to think that criticizing the policies and actions of foreign governments made it harder for him to have good personal relations with their leaders. This was a reflection of his difficultly in separating personal from official relations." Yeah, and because Trump think everybody is as thin-skinned and narcissistic as he is.

page 182: So far Bolton has told me that Donald Trump is willfully ignorant and dangerously incompetent. But these are neither crimes nor impeachable offenses. The American public knew exactly who Donald Trump was when he was elected in 2016.

page 207: Bolton is unimpressed by a President who obsessively watches the news:“It is difficult beyond description to pursue a complex policy in a contentious part of the world when the policy is subject to instant modification based on the boss’s perception of how inaccurate and often-already-outdated information is reported by writers who don’t have the Administration’s best interests at heart in the first place.“

page 222: Trump is undisciplined and disorganized and uninformed and narcissistic and has no coherent foreign policy, but I agree with him and not John Bolton about one thing: it's time to leave Afghanistan. Perpetual war is the wrong policy. Bolton thinks we're over there fighting terrorists so they don't attack us at home. I think our presence over there is creating the next generation of terrorists.

page 245: Once Kelly left, it was chaos all the time: "With Kelly‘s departure and Mulvaney‘s appointment, all effective efforts at managing the Executive Office of the President ceased. Both domestic policy strategy and political strategy, never strong suits, all but disappeared; personnel decisions deteriorated further, and the general chaos spread.”

page 291:“This was policy by personal whim and impulse.” Yeah, I’m starting to see this as a pattern in Donald Trump’s life.

page 297: “I suggested we bar all Chinese goods or services from America if they were based in whole or in part on stolen intellectual property.” That’s a good idea. People should listen to John Bolton.

page 318: Bolton defends his reorganization efforts which were characterized by the media as firing the pandemic czar. In fact, the NSC was aware of the pandemic, offered the right advice, and the idiot President did nothing.

page 319: So far, it's clear that Bolton sees Iran as the biggest threat to the US. He sees Mattis and Mnuchin as worthless obstructionists. He is not a fan of the Obama foreign policy. He thinks strong decisive sanctions can be effective. But true to his word, he never forgets that he is the NSA and not the President. When the President makes a decision, Bolton makes it happen to the best of his ability.

page 321: Trump's briefings aren't so much about policy and specifics as they are about t eaching him the basics of negotiation. The man is so completely unprepared and he has no idea or doesn't care.

page 348: On the DMZ meeting with Kim: “North Korea had what it wanted from the United States and Trump had what he wanted personally. This shows the asymmetry of Trump’s view of foreign affairs. He couldn’t tell the difference between his personal interests and the country’s interests.”

page 362: After this chapter, it’s clear Bolton is on the verge of resigning. I wonder what will push him over the edge.

page 363: Also, this book is a bit of a slog. A dense, meticulous slog. Oof.

page 372: I forgot to note than on Venezuela, it seems Trump made all the right moves (although he was never very committed behind the scenes) but the revolution failed due to circumstances beyond his control. (Namely, Cuban interference, poor decisions by the Opposition, and a premature attempt to force Maduro out.)

page 422: Trump is at heart an isolationist. Bolton is a hawk. So I agree with Trump about leaving Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, but on the other hand, I agree with Bolton that Iranian aggression needs to be met with missile strikes. Trump can’t separate boots-on-the-ground from air strikes, so he fails to confront Iran. I wonder who later talked him into assassinating that Iranian general.

page 433: Bolton really despises Donald Trump.

page 445: Wait, Bolton is (or was) in favor of bringing Ukraine into NATO? No. Just, no.

page 458: Bolton raised the issue of possible legal or ethical concerns about Trump’s behavior with Bill Barr and others: “The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life”

page 463: Suddenly Bolton is badmouthing Pompeo. Until this chapter it seemed like he and Pompeo were buddies.

page 471: Trump straight-up told Bolton that the Ukraine aid was tied to their help taking down Biden: “[Trump] said he wasn’t in favor of sending them anything until all the Russia-investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over”

Archive | Search