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Bolton book: Trump’s ignorance, from maps to policy

We don’t need former national security adviser John Bolton to tell us that President Trump is geographically illiterate, although it is entertaining to read in his forthcoming book, “The Room Where It Happened,” that the president asked if Finland was part of Russia.

The more serious charges in Bolton’s book go far beyond Trump’s need of a geographic compass and point to his obvious lack of a moral compass. If the allegation is true, Trump offered to sell our democracy to China — the country he now blames for the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more Americans than died in WWI

In a leaked version of the book, the president was eager to get the Chinese government engaged in securing a Trump victory by offering up our markets for Chinese products while conducting a trade war. Moreover, Trump attempted to blame Democrats for any policy the Chinese didn’t like.

Among the most egregious policy pronouncements Trump made, according to Bolton’s book, was telling Chinese President Xi Jinping that he endorsed Beijing’s now-infamous archipelago of prison camps for minority Uighurs, about a million of whom have been detained and abused. Bolton writes, “According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.” Another official said something similar, “which meant we could cross repression of the Uighurs off our list of possible reasons to sanction China, at least as long as trade negotiations continued.”

On Ukraine, Bolton’s early accounts and his book suggest that President Trump was guilty as charged by the Democrats in the impeachment investigation for withholding foreign assistance in exchange for an investigation of his rival Joe Biden. (I still wish Bolton had chosen to testify to that effect last year.)

The most important part of Bolton’s book lies less in the episodes he recalls — although each is quite damning. The significance is in the overall portrayal of a man missing the basic knowledge and instincts to govern. You can rely on aides to tell you where countries are located, but you need a basic moral compass and grounding in policy to lead any nation, much less the most important nation on the planet. 

Americans might not care about foreign policy. But they understand corruption, and they will judge Bolton’s book in simple terms of right versus wrong. For Trump’s committed base of supporters, it will all be “fake news.” But those who are unsure about Trump are likely to conclude that it is he who is “fake news.”

When the president of the United States uses his power to denigrate other nations or sway them to his side, American influence in the world is lost. We can’t make peace anywhere in the world if we are not trusted, and that is a problem for our soldiers and sailors, airmen and women. Their lives are hanging in the balance. If nothing else, people should read the book and pray hard for our military.

Bolton’s book also gives voters something to worry about when it comes to interference in our elections. We don’t have to wait for Russia or China to sow discord and confusion; Donald Trump has already done that.  

From a public diplomacy standpoint, the Bolton book confirms our worst suspicions about Trump. Far from standing up for America in the world, he was busy cutting us down, selling our souls and using the public trust for private gain.  

John Bolton’s book is not light summer reading. But then, this has not been a light year. As the coronavirus continues to spread, we should not head for the beaches anyway. Instead we should read each page and worry about our democracy, our freedoms and the future of our country. And then we should get ready to vote in November and elect a new president.

Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and a fellow at George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs.

Tags Bolton book Bolton memoir China Donald Trump Fake News Joe Biden John Bolton Uighur Muslims

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