Who’s #1 may be up for debate, but what’s number 1 is clear. Former U.S. National Security Advisor John R Bolton’s new book, released Tuesday, was a best-seller even before it came out. The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, has also been a top news story and the basis for federal court proceedings. Is there room for his political tell-all on your bookshelf?
People sometimes buy a book because they like the author. Seventy-one year old Mr. Bolton is hardly Mr Popularity. In fact, before all the drama surrounding his controversial writing arose, I’m not sure a significant portion of the population could have even told you who he was. Singer Michael Bolton, perhaps; political figure John Bolton, nah.
So just who is this author and what should we know about him? John Bolton is a conservative Republican who began his federal service during the Reagan administration. He received his undergraduate degree and his law degree from Yale University. (OK, so he’s no dummy, but that doesn’t mean he can write a good book.) From 2005 to 2006 he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He was appointed as President Trump’s National Security Advisor in April 2018, a position he held until his ouster in September 2019, some 17 months later. Considering he was the third person to hold this position, Bolton should have known going in that job security was a pipe dream.
Bolton has a head of white hair and a distinctive bushy white mustache. But, for Donald Trump, Bolton’s facial hair was reportedly a problem. The president’s disdain for mustaches was a hurdle Bolton had to clear before his initial appointment. (Note to Donald Trump: You should’ve gone with your first instinct and not trusted a man with a mustache.)
Issues with facial hair aside, President Trump had evidence up front he and Bolton may not see eye to eye on issues. While serving as a senior national security advisor under President George Bush, Bolton was a main proponent of the claim Iran had weapons of mass destruction requiring a ground invasion by U.S. troops. On the other hand, Trump denounced the Iraq war. Bolton is a hawk with aggressive positions on dealing with Afghanistan and North Korea. He wanted military action, but Trump isn’t eager to get into such confrontations. Given this background, it seems apparent, at least to me, that Trump and Bolton were headed for their own confrontations.
Disagreement between Bolton and Trump over various policy issues and tensions between the two were well-known during Bolton’s tenure. With the revolving door of Trump administration officials leaving on their own or being shown the door, the handwriting was on the wall for Bolton. On September 10, 2019, President Trump announced on Twitter that he’d asked for Bolton’s resignation. Bye-bye, Bolton.
What’s a fired National Security Advisor to do? Write a tell all book about his turbulent time at the White House, of course. Bolton wanted to have the last word. With his 576 word best seller, he’s gotten way more than just one word as a parting shot. He’s also been able to avoid having to make an unemployment claim since he received a $2 million advance from publisher Simon & Schuster.
But the turbulent times were hardly over when Bolton was removed as National Security Advisor. The Trump administration moved in federal court to block the release of Bolton’s book on the basis that classified information could be exposed. Hmm. Shouldn’t a National Security Advisor (current or former) know better than to reveal sensitive information? It was a classic battle between First Amendment rights (claimed by Bolton) and national security concerns (raised by the Trump administration).The book’s original release date of March 17th as well as the rescheduled release date of May 12th came and went without a release as the wrangling over the consequences of the release continued.
Finally, on June 20th, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that release of the book could go forward. Nevertheless, the judge expressed concern that Bolton was proceeding to publish his memoir without formal White House clearance. The judge wrote that Bolton had “exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability.” If classified information is indeed published, Bolton could find himself on the receiving end of a criminal prosecution. In reaching his conclusion, the federal judge noted that with over 200,000 copies of the book already distributed nationwide, the cat was basically already out of the proverbial bag.
What has Bolton included in his memoir that’s so titillating we must read it? To absolutely no one’s surprise, the author portrays President Trump in an unflattering manner. Well, of course, that’s the man who gave Bolton the axe. True or not, is it big news to hear someone claim Trump is driven by self-interest, obsessed with his re-election, and uninformed? I’m going to plunk down big bucks for a hard-cover book to read that?
Two big claims made in Bolton’s book indicate Trump’s foreign policy was tied to political gain. First, an August 2019 conversation with the president is recounted in which Trump reportedly told Bolton he wanted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid from the Ukraine until the country helped investigate Trump political rival Joe Biden. Bolton also says Trump “pleaded” in a 2019 summit meeting with Xi Jinping of China to help Trump’s reelection prospects. What page turners–not!
Bolton’s book has accomplished one thing no one believed could occur. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump are both condemning it. What? Gasp! Trump’s thumbs down is for obvious reasons. What could a top Democrat have against it? Well, Bolton refused to testify during House impeachment hearings. Pelosi feels Bolton put publishing profits in his pocket over national interest; she believes he should have made his allegations sooner rather than waiting for a book publication.
To be honest, I’m not sure how this book is so intriguing it’s a best-seller. We’ve heard these claims before, it’s written by someone who Trump fired and can thus be considered sour grapes, and people are simply tired of the political divisiveness and drama. It’s bad enough when Democrats and Republicans can’t be civil; now we have to deal with two Republicans facing off (Trump and Bolton). Don’t we want to read a best seller that takes us away from all this stomach-churning reality mess.
Bolton could’ve penned an enjoyable read. He should have stopped with “The Room Where It Happened.” That title catches my interest and intrigues me. What happened? Was there a murder? Was there espionage? At best, Bolton’s full title, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” makes me yawn. The only mystery and intrigue is about which of the 135 rooms of the White House he’s referring. I’m guessing it’s the Oval Office. A ghostly encounter in the Lincoln Bedroom would be much more interesting than a political meeting in the Oval Office.
When it comes to goings on in Washington, D.C., I prefer to stick to entertaining fiction. Bolton’s book won’t be read in any room in my house. I’ll read Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman, Pres. Harry S. Truman’s daughter, again instead..
Are you tempted to read a book just because it’s a #1 best seller? Do you enjoy reading political tell-alls? Why or why not? If you were going to read a political tell-all, what individual would would be the book’s author?