On a frosty Sunday morning in February 2002, an intimidating figure, with a remarkably bushy white moustache that blurred any other physical characteristics, stormed The Hague office of Brazilian diplomat José Bustani.
Bustani was then the director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And the angry man who just barged in his office was John Bolton, the United States’ Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs. But he could have easily been mistaken for a mafia emissary. He was there to present the Brazilian diplomat with an offer he can’t refuse.
The Bush administration at the time was building a case against Iraq, in preparation of an invasion and regime change, a decision which we now know was the brainchild of Bolton. Iraq was accused of developing weapons of mass destruction, which the US said was a sufficient reason for invoking the United Nations Charter 7 which allows for the use of force. The trigger-happy warmonger Bolton was living his dream.
To his dismay, however, he learned that Bustani had managed to convince Iraq to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. That would risk Bolton’s plans to invade Iraq. Bustani has crossed the line, he thought. How dare he?
It was a truly short meeting on that Sunday. No greetings or pleasantries. “I have a message from [the then US vice-president] Dick Cheney,” Bolton told Bustani. It wasn’t exactly a message; it was more of an ultimatum — Don Corleone style.
He [Bolton] is not apologising for starting wars that killed millions of innocent people in the name of American interest since he began working in the White House during the Reagan administration. This [the book] is not a confession.
“You have 24 hours to quit. [Otherwise] we know where your kids are!” The ‘we’ here most likely refers to the gang-like circle of hawks that led the Bush’s White House then, that consisted of Cheney, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Council member Elliot Abrams, and of course the man himself John Bolton.
A stunned Bustani of course refused. It is true that his two sons worked then in New York, but he didn’t think international relations was managed that way. Besides, he was an elected head of a UN agency. But he obviously was wrong. Bolton used his usual bullying tactics to convene a special meeting two months later. Bustani was voted out, in what could be a first in the United Nations’ history.
“It was a very unhappy experience,” Bustani told reporters years later. “This man [Bolton] is different from anyone I have met in my life. He doesn’t allow for a dialogue. You don’t discuss anything with him. It’s just brute force, that’s all.”
The story tells a lot of the man who is now gunning for President Donald Trump. Bolton’s upcoming book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” is set for release soon. But it is already creating storms in the US as it outlines in vivid details all the reasons why Trump, in Bolton’s opinion, is “unfit” to lead America.
Trump, who called Bolton ‘wacko’ when he fired him as National Security Adviser in 2019, is unable to block the release of the book, but he instructed his people to discredit the man who the White House described as “back-stabber.” No surprises here, nor are there are surprises in the book’s parts that have been published by the press.
Details of Trump’s absurd behaviour as president, including his threat to “execute” journalists who don’t reveal their sources, are widely known as they have already been told over and over in several books published in the past two years by different people, including an explosive tell-all book written by an anonymous former official in the administration.
Bolton himself is known to have nothing but loathing for what he calls ‘the liberal media’. Born in 1948 in Baltimore in a conservative working-class family, Bolton nurtured his hatred for the media since the defeat of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. Lyndon Johnson won by a landslide. Bolton was 15 when he skipped school to work for the ultra-conservative Goldwater campaign. He thought his ideas are right for America, but the liberal media had distorted them, he wrote in his memoirs, “Surrender Is Not an Option”. At Yale University, where he studied law, he felt like a “space alien” among the school’s anti-Vietnam war activists, he wrote.
What is surprising though is the attitude of American liberals who have recently embraced Bolton as a champion of their crusade to get rid of Trump. They got it all wrong. Let us not forget who the villain is here.
When Trump appointed him in 2018, Bolton probably thought he would relive his glorious Bush-days. He was eager to invade Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran. Trump, on the other hand, has already pledged to get the US out of the hotspots. No more wars was a key point in his 2016 election campaign programme. But he nevertheless hired Bolton to boost his credentials with the conservative elements of the Republican party whose support was essential to win the impeachment fight against the Democrats.
“A disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war. Never had a clue, was ostracized & happily dumped. What a dope!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. I doubt that anybody can explain the real Bolton as accurately and expressively as Trump did.
The liberals are absolutely wrong to celebrate Bolton and join his revenge campaign against the president. The man doesn’t seek redemption. He simply cannot hurt Trump the way he thought he could Jose Bustani. So, he chose the next best thing — write a tell-all book in an election year.
There are no good guys in this story. Bolton is not looking to clear his conscience. He is not apologising for starting wars that killed millions of innocent people in the name of American interest since he began working in the White House during the Reagan administration. This is not a confession.
Bolton just wanted to hurt the man who he believed denied him the chance to continue his life mission — wars, more wars.