Former National Security Advisor John Bolton has shown that he’s the sort of man to kick a president when he’s down (in the polls). Following last week’s press release about Bolton’s upcoming book, which will describe Trump as a president “for whom getting reelected was the only thing that mattered, even if it meant endangering or weakening the nation,” Bolton was back on Wednesday with a new op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he further savages the president.
In the article, which is adapted from his book, Bolton describes a White House that was “badly fractured” with a number of various factions, each with a different view on how to handle China. He describes “‘panda huggers’ like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; confirmed free-traders like National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow; and China hawks like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, lead trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.“
”Trade matters were handled from day one in a completely chaotic way,” Bolton says. “Trump’s favorite way to proceed was to get small armies of people together, either in the Oval Office or the Roosevelt Room, to argue out these complex, controversial issues. Over and over again, the same issues. Without resolution, or even worse, one outcome one day and a contrary outcome a few days later. The whole thing made my head hurt.”
Bolton then goes into detail about Trump’s conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping. In particular, Bolton recounts a conversation on June 29, 2019 in Osaka where President Trump allegedly offered not to impose new tariffs if China would agree to unspecified purchases of US agricultural products.
When Xi agreed to Trump’s concession, Bolton says that Trump gushed with flattery for the Chinese leader.
“‘You’re the greatest Chinese leader in 300 years! exulted Trump, amending that a few minutes later to ‘the greatest leader in Chinese history,’” Bolton says.
”Trump’s conversations with Xi reflected not only the incoherence in his trade policy but also the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and U.S. national interests,” Bolton writes. “Trump commingled the personal and the national not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security. I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations.“
Bolton writes that Trump saw the spread of Chinese telecommunications companies, not as a threat to national security, but “as an opportunity to make personal gestures to Xi.” He notes that Trump reversed penalties against ZTE and offered to intervene in a criminal prosecution against Huawei “if it would help in the trade deal—which, of course, was primarily about getting Trump re-elected in 2020.“
In Bolton’s telling, Trump was unconcerned about the democracy protests in Hong Kong and China’s human rights abuses, saying, “That’s a big deal” but then immediately adding, “I don’t want to get involved,” and, “We have human-rights problems too.”
When Bolton tried to convince Trump to issue a White House statement in the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Trump wanted no part of it.
“‘That was 15 years ago,’ he [Trump] said, inaccurately,” per Bolton. “‘Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal. I don’t want anything.’ And that was that.”
Far from being concerned about human rights, Bolton said that Xi had explained to Trump at the Osaka meeting why he was forcing Uighurs, members of a Muslim minority, into internment camps. Bolton says that Trump told Xi that he should go ahead with the camps and called it “exactly the right thing to do.”
With respect to Taiwan, Bolton told the story of “one of Trump’s favorite comparisons.” The president would “point to the tip of one of his Sharpies and say, ‘This is Taiwan,’ then point to the historic Resolute desk in the Oval Office and say, ‘This is China.’”
“So much for American commitments and obligations to another democratic ally,” Bolton notes drily.
Bolton points out that Trump has become more of a China hawk since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, a subject on which he says Trump’s response leaves “plenty to criticize.” He ponders whether this change would last through a second Trump Administration, however, pointing out, “The Trump presidency is not grounded in philosophy, grand strategy or policy. It is grounded in Trump.“
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