2020-06-22 17:06:22 UTC
(CNN) Whether you like John Bolton or not, it's impossible to deny that he is
someone who spent almost 18 months in very close proximity to President Donald
Trump. And someone who in meetings in which major decisions about national
security and foreign policy were made.
Which is why these lines from Bolton -- from his interview with ABC's Martha
Raddatz that ran Sunday -- regarding how Trump conducted the business of being
president are so incredibly striking (bolding is mine):
"There really isn't any guiding principle -- that I was able to discern other
than -- what's good for Donald Trump's reelection.
"Now, look, you can't take the politics out of politics. It plays a role in
every aspect of decision making in the executive branch. But there's no coherent
basis, no strategy, no philosophy. And decisions are made in a very scatter-shot
fashion, especially in the potentially mortal field of national security policy.
This is a danger for the republic."
What those lines confirm is something I've long believed: There is no secret
plan that Trump is operating against. He isn't playing three-dimensional chess.
He's playing zero-dimensional chess. He's just, well, doing stuff. And seeing
what sticks. (There are myriad examples over his first three years in office
that prove this out.)
Trump himself told us all this years ago in "The Art of the Deal" (aka his
second favorite book ever behind only the Bible). He wrote:
"Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don't
carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door
open. You can't be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you've got too much
structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops."
This who he is -- and always has been. He has no plan, not for the day, the week
or the month. No broad strategy. He just acts or, more often, reacts. His belief
system and what he cares about is deeply flexible. He can think one thing in the
morning and another, opposite thing by lunch.
Which is fine -- if deeply unorthodox -- in the world of business! After all,
Trump's name is on the company he ran. If he wanted to run it by whim and gut,
well that's his right! (While Trump has tremendous faith in his gut, the
numerous bankruptcies littering his business life suggest he might do well to
trust it less.)
It's much less fine when that approach is used to deal with national security
and geopolitics. Because while the stakes for Trump's businesses are primarily
financial, the stakes in the White House are often life and death. As Bolton
told Raddatz: "This is a danger for the Republic."
And we don't even need to take Bolton's word for the lack of rhyme or reason to
Trump's approach to these critical areas. We can see it for ourselves.
One day Trump is calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un "little rocket man"
and telling him that the American nuclear button is "bigger & more
powerful...and my Button works!"
Then, suddenly, Trump is meeting with Kim -- and stepping across the
demilitarized zone into North Korea.
But, to what end? What was the goal of the meeting? What were the deliverables?
Again, Bolton provides insight:
"I think he was so focused on the re-election that longer-term considerations
fell by the wayside. So if he thought he could get a photo opportunity with Kim
Jong Un at the demilitarized zone in Korea, or he thought he could get a meeting
with the ayatollahs from Iran at the United Nations, that there was considerable
emphasis on the photo opportunity and the press reaction to it and little or no
focus on what such meetings did for the bargaining position of the United
States, the strength that our allies saw or didn't see in our position, their
confidence that we knew what we were doing. And I think it became very clear to
foreign leaders -- that they were dealing with a president who just wasn't
serious about many of these issues, to our detriment as a country."
Trump's summit with Vladimir Putin -- at which Trump infamously said that
Russian president had denied meddling in the 2016 election -- follows the same
pattern. Trump, desperate for photo-ops in which he looks powerful and a great
man of history, has no plan for why the meeting should be taking place or what
specifically he needs to get out of it.
Because he is focused on himself, not the country. Because he has spent a
lifetime just doing things to get attention and media coverage -- positive or
negative didn't really matter. His life has been a series of seat-of-the-pants
decisions guided by an unswerving and not altogether proven out faith in himself
and his judgment.
Which, again, fine if you are running a company with your name on it. Much less
fine if you are the head of a country that, well, doesn't have your name on it.
And when your quick-twitch decision-making has reverberations that will last
long after you are president.
----> The most important thing Bolton's memoir reveals is that Trump doesn't
grasp the difference between how he ran his businesses and how someone has to
run a country. Making it up as you go along might be OK for the Trump empire.
But it's potentially disastrous for the American experiment.