John Bolton was the security adviser Donald Trumps – now he’s taking care of the American president. In the interview, he talks about his experiences in the Oval Office and warns Germany about what Trump is planning.
For 17 months, John Bolton, along with Donald Trump, shaped American politics. Now the former national security adviser is sounding the alarm in the White House.
In an interview with Chillreport, he denied the president the most basic competencies to lead the government and manage the corona crisis. “He doesn’t think strategically, he doesn’t think politically, he thinks in terms of transactions, just like he’s still a real estate dealer in Manhattan,” Trump’s Bolton said.
Bolton warns of the fallout from a Trump re-election in November, which would have “extremely damaging consequences”, especially for Germany. The US president could withdraw even more soldiers from the Federal Republic and, dying, Bolton said, only wants to impose punitive charges on German cars.
Bolton wrote an exposé book about his time in the White House, which the White House originally wanted to avoid. Next Thursday, the German edition entitled “The room in which everything happened” will be released. In an interview, arch-conservative Republican Bolton defends against allegations that he and his party have allowed Trump too long.
Chillreport: Mr. Bolton, just before our conversation, Donald Trump tweeted you as “one of the dumbest people” he’d ever met, and shortly afterwards again as a “crutch”. What is it like to be the target of the most powerful man in the world?
Bolton: Well, this isn’t the first time, and I’m not the first to get it. He acts like a teenager and demeans the office of president, and that’s nothing else worth saying.
When did you realize this wouldn’t work out well for Trump and you?
I didn’t start the job naively, had no illusions about Trump. But I had hoped that the challenges Trump faced as president would have an impact on him, as they did on other presidents before him. I was wrong. It wasn’t long before I had a chat with John Kelly …
… Trump’s then Chief of Staff …
Correct. We said we were in the worst presidency since Nixon and we were both very concerned about what would happen if a real crisis broke out. With Corona we are now in such a crisis and our country is not doing well.
John Bolton, 71, is a Republican foreign and security policy hardliner. Under George W. Bush, he served, among other things, as a UN ambassador and was an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq. He rejected the nuclear deal with Iran and, as Donald Trump’s national security adviser, pulled the Americans out of the deal. In September 2019, his tenure in the White House ended due to ongoing disagreements with Trump.
Can Trump maneuver the US, which already has more than 160,000 Covid deaths, out of this crisis?
At least not powerful. We are a big country, you can’t act the same way in every corner of the country, but you still need something like a national strategy. If you ask Trump today to describe his strategy against Covid, he can’t because he simply doesn’t have a strategy.
What grade do you give Trump for his Corona course?
You don’t choose Trump yourself in November. Let’s assume he still wins. What would that mean for the world?
The damage he did to the world in one term is pretty easy to correct. But I’m much more concerned about the damage of two terms. In many of his foreign and defense policy decisions, he was not concerned about a negative reaction at home, especially from Republicans in Congress. Once he is re-elected, this obstacle disappears because he will never have to deal with elections again. I fear great damage to America’s alliances. This could encourage our enemies and endanger our allies.
Trump and Bolton at NATO summit in 2018: “It is absolutely possible that Trump will retire after re-election.” (Source: Sean Gallup / Getty Images)
In your book, you describe how Trump repeatedly unleashes his anger at Germany, even when it comes to other topics. What does a second term mean for Germany?
He has just begun the withdrawal of 12,000 soldiers from Germany. To me this is a clear signal: he could withdraw more soldiers after the election and he could endanger the very existence of NATO. I fear a second term of office could have very damaging consequences for Germany. At the Brussels summit, we almost came back from NATO in 2018, and without the domestic political obstacle I just described, it is absolutely possible for Trump to retire after reelection.
What about car tariffs with which he threatened the EU and which would mainly affect Germany?
So far, his advisers have dissuaded him, citing the economic repercussions. Trump is desperate to impose car tariffs, it is quite possible he will in a second term.
Will Congress stop the withdrawal of troops from Germany?
After all, it will be difficult, because the president is the commander-in-chief of the troops. That is more important than all of the rights of Congress.
Trump’s irritations about Angela Merkel are well known. Will it be easier for Merkel’s successor as Chancellor with Trump?
It doesn’t really matter who is chancellor. I think Trump has a problem with women in positions of power. But he also has a bad relationship with many other leaders of democratic states. Germany’s biggest problem has more to do with the coalition government, which is preventing Germany from spending more on defense. Trump sees the whole thing as a transaction, but those who, like me, support a strong NATO believe Germany should hit the two percent target.
Famous scene from the G7 summit in Canada in 2018: Bolton looks at Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. (Source: Jesco Denzel / Federal Government / Getty Images)
Mr. Bolton, you’ve been a proud Conservative and Republican your whole life.
How proud can you be of a party that has completely submitted to a president who thinks about himself in the first place?
On the one hand, the support has to do not only with Trump himself, but with which domestic political opponent you are dealing with, that melted together. On the other hand, I don’t see Trump’s influence on the party running very deep. We will see that after the election, however it turns out. Then a debate will start in the party, immediately if it is defeated, but it will start differently. As soon as it becomes clear that he is going to end, the political momentum will change.
Are you interested in the US election? Our Washington correspondent Fabian Reinbold writes a newsletter about his work in the White House and his impressions from the US under Donald Trump. Here you can subscribe to the “Post from Washington” for free, which then ends up in your mailbox once a week.
But why hasn’t anyone stood up against Trump so far?
(Bolton raises his hand to show that he is.)
Yes, now you can speak to your book. But you were there when Trump demanded electoral help from Chinese President Xi Jinping or later from the Ukrainians, which even led to impeachment proceedings. But they were silent. Did you not feel it was your duty to sound the alarm?
I have discussed these issues with the President. Of course I will also be criticized for not having resigned earlier. But then I would have given up my influence. Others say I should have stayed and continued to express my point of view internally. You see, in the end everyone has to make a personal decision about these questions. I’m interested in getting results and when I couldn’t do that anymore, I left.
Bolton for the White House: he says he has resigned. Trump says he fired him. (Source: Olivier Douliery / Pool / Getty Images)
What eventually broke the barrel?
The last straw was Trump’s plan to invite Taliban officials to Camp David to negotiate a peace deal. It was bad enough that he was Kim Yong-chol …
… the negotiator of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un …
… had been invited to the White House. It would have been a big mistake to invite the Taliban. To me, that was another decision by Trump that he made only because he thought it would benefit him politically, without even thinking about the international ramifications and what that would mean for America’s position in the world. He doesn’t think strategically, he doesn’t think politically, he thinks in terms of transactions, just like he was still a broker in Manhattan.
You are a hawk, you want to use America’s military might to bring about regime change in states like Iran or North Korea. Trump, on the other hand, does not look outwards, but inwards. He’s closer to the mood of the American people than you are, right?
I don’t think my views are unpopular. Citizens are concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons by Iran and North Korea. You are concerned about China and Russia. Trump’s rhetoric against China is very sharp right now. He has imposed many penalties, closed a consulate and much more. He knows that America has a very critical attitude towards China, because the Chinese lied about the corona virus, but also because of their dealings with Hong Kong and the Uyghurs. Trump takes advantage of that.
Do you mean that his Chinese policy is only a tool in the election campaign?
I would trust he would change things the day after the election. That he then calls Xi Jinping again and wants to talk to him about a trade deal. That’s why I think Europeans sometimes overestimate Trump’s influence on Republican Party positions. Trump is an anomaly, an error, and we can correct the mistake.
Mr Bolton, thank you for speaking to us.