One odd side effect of Donald Trump’s practice of smearing former employees who report on his immorality and unfitness is that it casts his own judgment into question. Trump filled his own administration with utter incompetents according to Trump, yet acts as if this concession has no bearing on his own performance.
Trump has been hurling a variety of contradictory charges at former national security adviser-turned-whistleblower John Bolton. In a new interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump adds a new one. Bolton lost Trump’s confidence very early in his tenure, Trump says, because he defended the Iraq War.
To be clear, losing confidence in somebody’s judgment for continuing to believe the Iraq War was a good decision makes a lot of sense. It’s an extremely important window into Bolton’s thinking. But Trump is saying he learned this only after Bolton took the job:
Trump: I view him as a disgruntled employee. Very unhappy. Hated to leave. He was basically a man who was not happy to be leaving. Was not happy to be leaving. He had a lot of policy disputes, he and I.
And after the first month or so, you know, I asked him one question. I said, “So, do you think you did the right thing by going into Iraq?” He said, “Yes.” And that’s when I lost him. And that was early on. That’s when I lost him. But no, I disagreed with much of the stuff he said. He was one of many people. I liked listening to many people, and then doing whatever is the right thing to do.
WSJ: You didn’t ask him about Iraq before you brought him into the White House? If he regretted that?
Trump: No, but it didn’t … I knew all about his policy on Iraq. But that didn’t matter, frankly. Because he made a terrible mistake. And so did everybody else involved in Iraq and the Middle East, frankly. I never thought it was the right thing to do. And I’ve been proven right. But when he told me he still thinks it was the right thing to do, and was unable to explain it to me, I said, “Explain that to me, because I don’t think you can.’ And he could not explain it to me. So I said, “Do you say that just to make yourself feel good? Or do you say that because you really believe it?” He said, “I really believe it.” I said, “Well, then you’ve lost me because it’s just wrong.”
Bolton is extremely famous for his fervent hawkery, including on the Iraq war. If Trump bothered to do a cursory Google search on Bolton before appointing him to the most powerful national security position in his administration, he’d have turned up headlines like “John Bolton: No regrets about toppling Saddam.” Sadly, there was too much good stuff television in the days leading up to Bolton’s nomination to do that search.
Trump does not seem to realize how bad it makes him sound that he never bothered to ask what he later identified as the key question about the worldview of his own national security adviser. He brings up the same point later in the interview, completely unprompted:
Trump: I realized early on, as I was saying before to Michael, was when I asked him the question, so John, you were one of the people that were really pushing hard to go into the Middle East, to go into Iraq. Would you do it again? He said, Yes. And that’s where I said this guy is crazy.
WSJ: That was only after a month?
Mr. Trump: Yeah, I don’t know. But it was very early on. I was talking to him. I said, So was that a mistake? I said, and it’s okay to admit you made a mistake, although that’s a big one. That’s a beauty. And I said, Do you think it was a mistake? And he said, No, I think it was the right thing to do. And I said, You know, you can’t explain that. You just can’t explain it.
So it turns out a minor official slipped through the vetting process because they failed to turn up his continued support for a wee Middle Eastern war. Ah, well.