Observations on a Hot, Steamy Sunday

My fear is that the next presidential election will not be determined by ballots but by bullets; not at the polls but on the streets.

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Axios: “80% of Americans say we are headed in the wrong direction.” I say that we have already arrived.

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The United States has rested on its laurels since 1945. Other than the moon landings, what have we done in terms of significant accomplishment, national pride and purpose? How did we earn our sense of exceptionalism?

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The coronavirus is the King Kong of our time. Scientists can’t stop it. Governments are powerless. It rumbles through with little resistance. Kong and the coronavirus did meet their match in New York City. Let’s call it a draw for now…

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I don’t write for an audience of today. I write for a reader or student 20-50 years in the future so they may understand our current times, tone and culture. My sense is that they will be in disbelief in how poorly we conducted our politics, economy and health.

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On Sundays, people used to buy the paper to read the “funnies.” Here’s what I read from the NewYork Times and Washington Post on Sunday and they are not funny.

America 2-27-20

 

Book Review: The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton

I finished The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John Bolton. Bolton was Trump’s former National Security Advisor for about 18 months. Out of all the Trump related books written by authors who used to work with Trump that I have read, this appears to be the most detailed and documented. Since there has been no real pushbacks about the events described in the book, I assume that Bolton’s story is credible. Like many other of his appointees, Trump soured on Bolton but Bolton resigned first before Trump could fire him by Tweet.

It is a long book (494 pages) and drags at times. (If you are not into Presidential history, foreign affairs or the Trump presidency, you may want to skip this book and just watch Bolton’s various interviews on Youtube.)

Here are my six takeaways from reading the book:

1. Trump is incompetent. He runs his administration like he ran The Apprentice. He is disorganized, uninformed (doesn’t read or listens to intelligence reports), indecisive, easily manipulated and shows little respect or confidence in the opinions and expertise of those individuals who work for him. Hence the extremely high turnover in White House staff and cabinet officials.

2. Bolton devotes chapters to events and policies related to China, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. Trump has managed to mishandle them all, particularly North Korea where Trump was schooled by Kim Jong Un.

3. Trump had a foreign affairs team that included Bolton, Mike Pompeo, General James Mattis, Jared Kushner, Nikki Haley, H.R. McMaster and General John Kelly. The Marx Brothers defending Freedonia  were more effective than Trump and his appointees in promoting our national defense and interests.

4. Trump does not have a dog in the White House. He does not need one—-he has Vice President Pence. Bolton claims that Trump has sole control over what Pence does or says. Trump has a touch leach on any ambitions that Pence may have. There are no examples of Pence trying to mitigate Trump’s influence or fix the various dysfunctions among various departments and cabinet members. Bolton alluded to the rumor that Haley could replace Pence on the GOP ticket.

5. Trump treats our allies (Britain, France, Canada, Japan, Germany, South Korea etc) with contempt while trying to cozy up to our enemies (Russia, North Korea and China.) Bolton claims that Trump asked for China’s help in his reelection campaign.

6. I have very little respect for John Bolton. My lack of respect also extends to most of Trump’s cabinet and appointees and to most of the Republican party. They all understand that Trump should have been removed as president and they have kept quiet about this. Now that the Trump presidency is ending, many former Trump supporters are bailing out so that history does not judge them as harshly as they deserve.

I have provided some notes and highlights from the book to provide a flavor of what Bolton was trying to communicate about Trump and how Trump mishandled foreign affairs:

Charles Krauthammer, a sharp critic of his, told me he had been wrong earlier to characterize Trump’s behavior as that of a 11-year-old boy. “I was off by 10 years,” Krauthammer, remarked. “He’s like a one-year-old.’ page 8

The White House announced Trump would make a major Iran address on October 12, so I (Bolton) decided to stop being shy, phoning Westerhout to ask for a meeting. By then, Tillerson had reportedly call Trump “a fucking moron,” which he refused to deny flatly. page 25

For a US president to grant Kim a summit with no sign whatever of a strategic decision to renounce nuclear weapons – – in fact, giving it away for nothing – – was a propaganda gift beyond measure. page 33

I met with Trump and Pence at 1:30 in the small dining room down the short hall from the oval. Trump spent a lot of time in his dining room, with a white screen television on the wall opposite his chair, usually turn to Fox news. page 53

Of course, Trump didn’t help by not being clear about what he wanted, jumping randomly from one question to another, and generally frustrating efforts to have a coherent discussion about the consequences of making one choice rather than another.” page 56

Although the first Abe (Japan’s prime minister)— Trump meeting was on political matters, our briefing room was filled with trade policy types who, having heard there was a briefing, wandered in. Trump was late so I said we would have a brief discussion on trade and then get to North Korea. It was a mistake. Trump, set off about a comment that we had no better ally than Japan, jarringly complained about Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Things went downhill from there.  pages 61 to 62

I joined one of the intelligence briefings Trump hat every week from the director of National Intelligence Coats, CIA director Haspel, and briefers who accompanied them. I don’t think these briefings were terribly useful, and neither did the intelligence committee, since most of the time was spent listening to Trump, rather than Trump listening to the briefers. I made several tries to improve the transmission of intelligence to Trump but failed repeatedly. page 89

Is it Finland kind of a satellite of Russia?” He (Trump) asked later that same morning if Finland was part of Russia. I tried to explain the history but didn’t get very far … page 128

He (Trump) then turned to his visits to Walter Reed, where the wounded soldiers had not the impact on Trump they’ve had on most people, impressing them with their bravery and commitment to their mission. Trump has simply been horrified by the seriousness of their wounds (oblivious also that advances in military medicine saved many men who simply would’ve died in earlier wars). page 219

As it was, Trump generally had only two intelligence briefings per week, and in most of those, he spoke at greater length than the briefers, often on matters completely unrelated to the subject at hand. page 224

I opened the door to ask where Kelly (Chief of Staff) was but no one knew. I went to the hallway; saw him speaking to someone; pulled him into the Roosevelt Room, which was empty; and shut the door. This was our second emotional conversation, even more intense than the first. “I’ve commanded men in combat,” he said “and I’ve never had to put up with shit like that,” referring to what just happened in the Oval. I could see his resignation coming, so I asked, “But what is the alternative if you resign?” Kelly said, “What if we had a real crisis like 9/11 with the way he makes decisions? page 232

Trump said approvingly (to Chinese President Jinping Xi) that there was great hostility among the Democrats. He then stunningly turned the conversation to the upcoming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. page 310

Flying to Washington, I concluded that Hanoi (location where Trump and Un met) showed the US still didn’t know how to deal with North Korea and its ilk. We spent endless hours negotiating with ourselves, whittling away at our own position before our adversaries even got to it… page 33

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