BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

TRUMP'S "SNAKE PIT"; AKA THE WHITE HOUSE

November 24, 2020 Dana Lewis Season 2 Episode 23
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
TRUMP'S "SNAKE PIT"; AKA THE WHITE HOUSE
Chapters
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
TRUMP'S "SNAKE PIT"; AKA THE WHITE HOUSE
Nov 24, 2020 Season 2 Episode 23
Dana Lewis

In this edition of Back Story Dana Lewis talks to Fmr. National Security Advisor John Bolton.

We talk through what damage has been done to American Democracy by Trump refusing to accept the results of the 2020 Election.  His nasty personality in The White House and how everything was about Trump, over and above The Nation. 

On Foreign Policy Amb. Bolton talks to me about Iran, Russia, arms control and the Middle East. 

Show Notes Transcript

In this edition of Back Story Dana Lewis talks to Fmr. National Security Advisor John Bolton.

We talk through what damage has been done to American Democracy by Trump refusing to accept the results of the 2020 Election.  His nasty personality in The White House and how everything was about Trump, over and above The Nation. 

On Foreign Policy Amb. Bolton talks to me about Iran, Russia, arms control and the Middle East. 

Speaker 1:

It seems to me, there's something wrong with the president who carves people up, who have, who have dedicated their time and months trying to help him. Uh, and , and he rips them to shreds as they go out the door. That's why the white house was such a snake pit under Trump. But I think it's what it reflects is that , uh, he doesn't have a philosophy. He doesn't think in strategic terms, he doesn't even think in what we conventionally call policy. Everything is about Donald Trump.

Speaker 2:

Hi everyone. And welcome to backstory. I'm Dana Lewis in London ever wonder what really happens in the white house in the oval office were decisions which shaped the world are taken by a select few. Some of them brilliant. A lot of them not. You could argue the most critical input comes through the national security advisor. He plays a critical role in the administration of the national security council, the NSC, which advises and assist the president on national security and foreign policy issues . President Trump knows something about business commercial real estate and serving his self interests. He's famous for that, but on the world stage, he needed John Bolton to tell him what was at stake with Iran, China, Russia, Afghanistan, to name a few. Trump probably didn't learn much. He never seemed to have a clear philosophical belief in the world and America's role in it. Unlike many presidents before him, but his former national security advisor sure did. And does. And he's written a book called the room where it happened, a white house memoir this week. John Bolton on backstory talks to me about Trump and his character democracy and foreign policy challenges waiting for incoming president elect Joe Biden.

Speaker 1:

All right. Joining me now from Washington ambassador, John Bolton. He's the former national security advisor for president Trump. Hi John. Hi, glad to be with you. Thanks for having me. I was listening to president Trump discussing you at a town hall meeting and it was pretty insulting. Uh, you don't smile by the way. You're smiling now. Um, you , you know, you're sick. You want to bomb everybody. Why is, and I'm not going to ask you to respond to any of that, and I'm sorry to mention it, but can you give me some insight into why Trump is so nasty and smears? Anyone who has worked for him? It seems to me there's something wrong with a president who carves people up, who have, who have dedicated their time and months trying to help him. Uh , and , and he rips them to shreds as they go out the door. Yeah, well, I , I can say that what he does in public, he does in private too . I , I remember, and I recounted my book when, when I was with him alone in the oval office on some occasion,

Speaker 3:

Within a few weeks after joining the administration and he started criticizing defense secretary, Jim Mattis and other people to me, and , uh, I didn't really know how to respond. And, but it occurred to me shortly after I left the oval office that if he's criticizing them to me, he's going to be criticizing me to them too. And I think that it's a , it obviously doesn't make for a good working relationship. It's why the white house was such a snake pit under Trump. Uh, but I think it's what it reflects is that , uh, he doesn't have a philosophy. He doesn't think in strategic terms, he doesn't even think in what we conventionally call it policy. Everything is about Donald Trump and therefore everything in his relations with people is personal. So if you disagree with him on the middle East , uh , it's a disagreement with him personally. And I think that's what produces this kind of , uh , insult

Speaker 1:

Really wonders , makes you wonder about moral compass because in the book you talk about possible sanctions discussed on China and the detention of millions of Muslims and human rights, the clamp down on China. And you got nowhere with Trump,

Speaker 3:

Right? Well, I think he's completely amoral as well. I mean, while we're talking about the good points of Donald Trump, let's not, let's not forget that either. Um, and , uh, look , uh, international relations is tough business , uh, but at least , uh , if you're going to denigrate , uh, human rights to about China, you got to get something from the Chinese, Hillary Clinton on her first visit a secretary of state to China said, I'm not going to bother him about human rights. She said it publicly. It was a mistake. Uh , I don't even think she believed that necessarily, but that's what she was hearing from the state department , uh , with trumpets purely transactional, purely transactional

Speaker 1:

Trump's lawyers have lost or withdrawn over 30 legal cases. Um, one judge said, strain legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations. You have said, and I watched you on some of the political programs over the weekend. This is not a legal argument anymore, but can I ask you, what is it then?

Speaker 3:

Well, I think it's raw political power. Um, nothing that Trump has presented as a matter of law has succeeded. And, and, and I'm an old campaign finance lawyer. I spent 33 days in Florida, 2000 when Gore challenged Bush. So I've been around this track before he has no evidence of fraud. Uh, he hasn't presented any , uh , systematic , uh, uh, evidence to any court he's been before. Uh , just yesterday he fired the Sidney Powell , uh, who was the sort of most alarmist, most conspiracy theorist minded of his lawyers, but, but not the only one. Uh, so now what he's trying to do is intimidate state elections boards , uh, right now in Michigan, they're deciding what to do there, but on Friday he called the house and Senate Republican leaders of the Michigan general assembly to Washington, that this is like King Kong and , and rabbits getting together to have a discussion about politics. He was clearly trying to muscle them. I'm sure these are good people. And they came away and issued a statement that I read is saying, we resisted what Trump wanted, but he's trying to bully his way to a conclusion that I'm not even sure he knows what it is. I can't really believe he thinks he can yet win, but I think , uh , he still hasn't reconciled himself to it. So he's going to do as much damage as he can. You don't think he's reconciled themselves to it? Well, I think the way it will end is the , you know , he will leave the white house, but he will not have lost because why that would make him a loser, which is the worst word in Trump's vocabulary. So the light, he won't have lost the election. It will have been stolen from him. He will say that until the day does

Speaker 1:

All right. Well that , I mean, that presents some real challenges then, because I know everybody in America right now is focused on the January inauguration, the January 20th inauguration, but it creates a lot of challenges beyond that. Doesn't it? I mean, if he is convinced so many Republican voters , uh , that , that the election was stolen from them, it looks like he's not going to go away. He's still talking about 20, 24 will Biden be able to actually function very well. If he's standing there sniping and blocking and , and constantly undermining the legitimacy of the commander in chief. I mean, I guess that happened to him. Uh, and we can talk about the grounds for that in another conversation when I have more time with you, but obviously it's going to be tough on Biden. Trump is not going to suddenly disappear.

Speaker 3:

No, I , I think the graver trouble though, is for the tens of millions of people who believe what Trump is telling him that the election was stolen when it manifests Lee was not. That's why I've been calling on Republican leaders to stand up and say, there was no steal . There was no fraud. And it's caused me to think about the importance of the candidates, concession speech. And in this case, why we always count on the outgoing president to accompany the new president to the inauguration on the 20th of January. Now , nobody likes to lose an election, not the candidate, not as supporters, but the concession speech is in effect the candidate saying, as much as this pains may I can live with it. Meaning supporters, you should live with it too. And that is especially in the case of a defeated incumbent and the Victoria's challenger appearing together. It says, this is the right thing to do for the country. If Trump's skips ,

Speaker 1:

They're not doing that. They're not doing that.

Speaker 3:

That's exactly right. If he doesn't give a concession speech, if he doesn't go to the inauguration, that is the kind of damage I really fear,

Speaker 1:

But Republicans are not standing up. And I mean, they're slowly, you starting to see some of the dominoes fall here, but in general, why have they not stood up? Is it because they don't want to bite the electric, the , the, the, the, the, the, the, the voters who supported president Trump in this election, because they need them in the future? Or is it because they fear the presidency?

Speaker 3:

Well, a lot of them fear a Twitter rant from the president. There's no doubt about it. And there's some argument that just let him go on letting rave and rant for a while . He'll calm down and accept it. I can tell you from my own personal experience, I don't think that's going to happen. So what I and others have been saying is for precisely those Trump supporters who listened to him and who believed the election has been stolen, they need to hear another narrative. They need to hear the truth from Republican leaders. And I'm not saying this to, to be virtuous. I'm saying it as a matter of cold, hard political reality for Republicans, this will hurt us in the future. If we don't confront reality now,

Speaker 1:

Well, I've spent a career , uh , you know, reporting in different places where elections are not free and they're not fair. Um, and if you're able to convince voters in a , in America, that the election was stolen from them, I can't imagine what that means for the future of democracy there. Look, I really appreciate being able to talk to you because there are a few people I know that know as much about the world as you do. And I want to ask you ambassador Bolton, first of all, about Iran , uh , you dramatically made the point that the Iran deal was completely unenforceable and verifiable. Um, you know, that Biden is going to re reassigned the NPT. It looks like the non-proliferation treaty , uh, will around being able to make a bomb.

Speaker 3:

Well, I think they've made a lot of progress toward it. And I think honestly, one of the worst parts of the 2015 nuclear deal was we really could not verify exactly what their program was, despite the contentions of the supporters of the deal. We don't know whether they're leasing uranium enrichment capabilities under a mountain in North Korea. For example, I think though that Biden and his team will find it a lot more difficult to get back into that deal than they anticipate because of Iran conduct. In part that was enabled by the 120, $150 billion of assets that were turned over to Iran and the economic progress they made after the sanctions were lifted. Uh, look , uh, the, the geography of the middle East has shifted the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have recognized Israel. Uh, the prime minister of Israel has just met with the crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. And they are brought together by their fear of Iran, not just the nuclear weapons, but the support for terrorism. So the middle East is a different place today, 15 days, 55 years after the nuclear deal. And Biden's gonna have to deal with that.

Speaker 1:

You mentioned that we were unable to verify whether Iran was abiding by the non-proliferation 3d . Let's talk about Russia. I mean, there is a start , uh , agreement that has been in place it's been highly successful verifiable. Um, and you, you, you under , uh, president Trump, one of the back out of it, and you wanted to walk away from start, what was the wisdom in that? And you know, that Biden would probably sign it the next day to try and extend it.

Speaker 3:

Well, he , he would make a mistake if he extended it for the full five years to maintain. I mean, I'm just speaking of his position now to maintain his negotiating leverage with the Russians. He only ought to extended for one year. Uh, I was against new start in 2010 for several reasons. The first was, it did not take into account tactical nuclear weapons of which there are thousands, right? Which is a much greater problem for Europe than it is than it is for us. Number one , uh, number two , uh, the treaty, even as written now, and the Russians concede this is, does not adequately cover new technology like hypersonic cruise missiles, which are in many respects, a graver threat than ballistic missiles. They're much harder to defend against given the kind of trajectory they followed and number three. And this really is a huge strategic question by definition, new start , doesn't cover China. Now the Chinese say, Oh, but our nuclear capabilities so much smaller than Russia and the United States, we shouldn't be included, which is a way of saying, let us build up to have as many nuclear weapons as you have. And then we'll be happy to talk to you that that's not acceptable. Now, you know, I'm not saying that , uh,

Speaker 1:

You got to start somewhere though, right? I mean, if you extend the 3d and then you bring the numbers down and we've, we've come down from tens of thousands of weapons down to about 1500 nuclear warheads per side, you bring them down a bit lower and then China is brought into that agreement. But to abandon start, I mean, a lot of people will argue against them , but ,

Speaker 3:

Well, I wasn't saying we abandoned it. I just think this treaty is flawed. I negotiated the treaty of Moscow in 2002, which reduced the deployed nuclear warheads to, to a range of 17 to 2200 between Russia and the United States. So I've negotiated my share of arms control agreements, but they've got to be good arms control agreements. And as I've described, I think new start is flawed.

Speaker 1:

Putin played Trump, you , you saying in the book, what was the, or what , what was his, what was his spell over president Trump?

Speaker 3:

Well, I don't think it was a spell. I think it was his, his knowledge and his willpower and his a clear understanding of Russian national interest. I first met Putin in October of 2001. When I went with Rumsfeld after the attack at nine 11 to get some Russian help, to go into Afghanistan and Iraq ,

Speaker 1:

Different days, ambassador Bolton when the relations were a lot better, but go ahead, sorry .

Speaker 3:

A lot different. Absolutely. And , uh, but I've watched him over the years. I've met with him myself several times. He's a tough, knowledgeable clear-minded adversary. And to put him on one side of the table and Donald Trump on the other filled me with fear each time I saw it ,

Speaker 1:

Why didn't president Trump really come out and condemn Alexei, Navalny is poisoning. Do you think? Well, think he, wasn't sure

Speaker 3:

Of the Russians did it. I think , uh, you know, he has, Trump has this kind of moral equivalency when it comes to some of these authoritarian countries , uh, he wants said , uh , you think were so great when somebody complained about Russian , uh, uh, atrocities. Uh, and I, I just , uh, it's a , it's a blind spot that he had , uh, that colored his relations with , uh , authoritarians, like [inaudible] Tang , Kim. Jong-un not just Vladimir Putin.

Speaker 1:

Can I just talk to you quickly, but Afghanistan, I mean, you make the point in the, in the book that , uh , Trump wanted to do to deliver on that promise to end endless Wars in far away places, you know, that probably Americans don't understand. I think it's probably the one war they did understand after nine 11, Al-Qaeda working with Taliban or some have been Latin was there to simply withdrawn . Now, after so much blood has been invested there so much energy to stand up an Afghan government while the Taliban still have links to Al-Qaeda , I'm answering my own question. And I apologize, w w where it's not condition-based into pull the last remaining 5,500 troops out of Afghanistan. Do you support that ?

Speaker 3:

Oh , absolutely not. Look, these numbers , uh , of troops that will be left 2,500 each in Iraq and Afghanistan have no military significance, whatever they're purely arbitrary figures. Uh, and it's just done for Trump to prove a point. Uh, I think a properly explained to the American people. They will appreciate that keeping a presence in a place like Afghanistan, to deal with terrorism, to watch the two nuclear powers on either side of Afghanistan, Iran on the West, Pakistan on the East makes perfectly good sense that we can have our troops deployed in a zone of danger far from America for a long time, because it makes America safer. If you explain that to people, I believe they will accept that the problem is not under Trump and frankly not under Obama. Uh, did, did they get that explanation that that's why we need new leaders who can explain why a strong American position in the world is necessary for our security?

Speaker 1:

Last question to you, is there a way back, I mean, watching all of this from Europe, I mean, I'm sure it's dizzying in America, but to even watch it from Europe and from afar that the American democracy would get to the point where it is now, the dealer de-legitimized station of the election by the president. Is this the new normal, or is there a way back somehow from all of this?

Speaker 3:

I definitely don't think it's the new normal. I think Trump is an aberration. He's an anomaly he's caused significant damage , uh, to the country , uh, internally and internationally. Uh, but I think it's fixable and I think it's actually fixable fairly quickly. I look, I, I voted against , uh, uh, Trump. I didn't vote for Biden either, but I voted against the Republican nominee for president for the first time in my life, because I, that eight years of Trump might make the damage irreparable, but I'm , I'm confident we can fix it. And I don't think anybody should draw a large conclusions from four years of Donald Trump. I think he's totally SU Sui generous ambassador, John Bolton. Great to talk to you, sir. Thanks so much for your insight. Thanks for having me

Speaker 2:

In that's. Our backstory on John Bolton's view in and out of the white house, Bolton will be forever criticized for not coming forward and testifying during the impeachment hearings against Trump. He thought the hearings were a partisan political exercise. Democrats argued the court fight to get Bolton, to be a witness would be a waste of time. They said they needed to move forward with Trump's impeachment now because it dealt with foreign interference in the presidential election. And another election was less than a year away. They never subpoenaed John Bolton. He could have been called to testify at the trial in the Senate, but a Republican controlled Senate, new Bolton would tie Trump to holding up Ukraine's military aid until the government in Kiev would do him a political favor by digging up dirt on Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and Bolton wrote just that in his book, Trump attempted to act against a foreign power for political gain against the interests of America. Once again, the president acted in his own selfish interest . The country came last in Trump world. I'm Dana Lewis. Thanks for listening and subscribe to our podcast. And I'll talk to you again.