Ram Madhav
July 24, 2020

The Room Where it Happened – A White House Memoir

John Bolton

In the last four years, the Donald Trump administration in America has witnessed abrupt end of the careers of many high ranking officials. They either quit their coveted posts in the middle of their tenure, or dismissed uncermoneously, eitherway mostly under controversial circumstances. There were dozens of them, but some names stand out – like John Kelly, James Mattis and H R McMaster. John Bolton, who served as Trump’s NSA, is one such high profile official who resigned in the middle of 2019 after serving Trump administration for over one year. He has subsequently published his much-talked-about memoir “The Room Where It Happened” recently.

It is not new in America for the high profile officials to author tell-all books about their controversial careers in the administration. John Bolton is not certainly the first one. There were many before him, and thanks to Trump’s style of functioning, it won’t be a surprise if we have several more such accounts tumbling out in coming days. It happened during the previous administrations also. Robert Gates, who served as the Secretary of Defense under Bush 2.0 and Obama 1.0 regimes had published his tell-all memoir about America’s Afghanistan war by name: “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War”.

Is it ethically right to betray the trust of the leaders by revealing in-room conversations with them? Bolton thinks it is very much so. In fact, writing a review of Gates’ book, Bolton argues that the officials have an “obligation” to explain what they did while in the government. In his own ‘White House memoir’, Bolton does reveal a lot about what transpired in and outside the Oval, with a mercurial and unpredictable President Trump at the helm, during his tenure as the National Security Advisor.

Bolton’s book got a lot of pre-publication publicity due to White House’s unsuccessful efforts to block it. It certainly enhanced curiosity about the book. However, Bolton doesn’t reveal any earth-shattering details or juicy personal snippets about his boss. In stead, he largely focuses on Trump’s decision-making, his and his policy response, and how it used to push the officials to the tether’s end. Many would become victims of his behaviour and forced to resign. Bolton belonged to that category.

Bolton provides interesting insights into how Trump’s decisions would create enormous problems in handling important challenges like Iran, Russia, Afghanistan etc. He also highlights palace intrigues among the peers in the administration and how some of them would use their proximity to Trump to mislead him about persons and policies.

Everyone knew that Trump lacked political experience before occupying the high office and also he came with a lot of negative baggage. Bolton’s book provides a lot of insights into that inexperience and how it impacted policy making in the US administration under Trump.

India finds a passing mention a couple of times in the entire book, but chapters on Afghanistan, Russia and China have a lot of relevance to us. Overall, not a bad book to ignore.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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