Bolton’s Book Reveals Alarming News About Trump — Including in the Middle East
John Bolton’s book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir is being examined with Talmudic precision, and it has a lot of tantalizing information that reinforces much of what we already knew about Donald Trump. Some revelations should be of particular interest to Jewish voters and historians.
One of Israel’s top priorities is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, so the government, and the pro-Israel lobby, was ecstatic when Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear agreement and subsequently imposed crippling sanctions on the regime. According to Bolton, Trump was even willing to “back” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he decided to use force against Iran.
It may come as a shock, therefore, to learn that Trump was apparently prepared to ease sanctions and meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in 2019. Bolton said Trump had often complained that Iran’s leader, unlike others, did not want to talk to him. “So, not surprisingly,” Bolton wrote, “he eventually began musing about opening discussions with Iran.”
The proposed meeting came as tensions had risen between Iran and the United States. To Bolton’s dismay, Trump had canceled a military strike against Iran in retaliation for an Iranian attack on a US drone, and French President Macron attempted to broker the meeting with Zarif to calm the situation.
Bolton believed Zarif was “playing to Trump’s vanities.” The meeting would have ended Iran’s isolation, rewarded the government for its continuing malign activities, and signaled to the Europeans an approval of their ongoing efforts to engage with the Iranians. Despite Trump’s view of himself as the ultimate dealmaker, Bolton feared he would be outmaneuvered by Zarif.
Bolton says he, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer worked to prevent the meeting. He also relates that Jared Kushner was in favor of the meeting and would not allow Netanyahu to contact Trump; nevertheless, the meeting never happened. A few weeks later, however, Bolton resigned (according to him) or was fired (according to Trump) over Trump’s suggestion that he might lift sanctions on Iran to entice the Iranians to resume negotiations.
Kushner, who has no qualifications for being involved in Middle East policy, was apparently viewed with suspicion by the Israelis. Bolton writes that Netanyahu was “dubious about assigning the task of bringing an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Kushner. … He was enough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly, but like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of Kissinger had failed.” Like everyone else wanting to stay in Trump’s good graces, Netanyahu denied Bolton’s account. Meanwhile, reports indicate that Kushner is now at odds with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in trying to put the brakes on Israel’s plans to apply sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria.
Israel was less hesitant to criticize Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from Syria. Bolton says Ambassador Dermer told him the decision was the “worst day he had experienced thus far in the Trump administration.”
Israel was concerned about Turkey strengthening its position in the region and slaughtering the Kurds, with whom Israel has had good relations. Israel also feared the United States’ abandonment of the Kurds could damage America’s relations with Arab allies, which might look to the Russians for support — or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, consider a rapprochement with Iran. Israel also worried the American withdrawal would give Iran the opportunity to create a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut, which was obstructed by the Kurdish presence. They also correctly anticipated the Kurds would ally with Syria against Turkey and strengthen Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The president’s Middle East policies are not the only alarming revelations in the book. Bolton, for example, writes that Chinese President Xi Jinping explained to Trump why he was building concentration camps for the Muslim Uighurs and, “according to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.” Bolton stated he was told Trump said something similar during a 2017 trip to China. Surprisingly, there has been no reaction from Jewish leaders to the possibility that Trump supported imprisoning Muslims in concentration camps.
People have said a lot of things about John Bolton over the years, mainly critical of his hawkish views and personal style, but he has not been called a traitor and a liar — certainly not by conservatives and right-wing Jews who lionized him, until he dared criticize President Trump. The criticism has been bipartisan because he has committed the same sin he accuses the president of — namely, putting his own interests ahead of the country’s. Some argue that he had a duty to testify before the House during the impeachment hearings to document his allegations; instead, he said he would only testify if subpoenaed, and stuck to his book contract.
Would his testimony have made any difference?
Probably not given that Republicans in the Senate knew he had damaging information but would not allow him to testify during the impeachment trial.
Defenders of the president insist, without documentation, that Bolton is lying. Predictably, those mentioned in the book who still must work with the president deny everything. Foreign leaders like Netanyahu cannot afford to offend Trump, and those still employed in the administration fear losing their jobs and having their careers and lives destroyed (just ask Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman).
The question also arises: What motivation does Bolton have for lying?
His accounts appear credible based on previous reporting. Why would it be more believable that everything he writes is inaccurate? Is his imagination so creative that he dreamed up, for example, conversations with foreign leaders in which Trump expressed a desire to help the presidents of China and Turkey if they helped him? The administration also cannot have it both ways; if material in the book is classified, as they claim, that is an acknowledgement it is true.
Is it worth reading John Bolton’s book? Maybe, but there is certainly no need to buy it since the juicy bits have appeared in the press and there is no reason to reward him for his cowardice and greed. He may ultimately get his comeuppance if the administration succeeds in convincing a court that Bolton exposed classified information and is required to forfeit his profits. Trump’s ultimate revenge, however, would be reelection despite these revelations.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and authority on US-Israel relations.