Former national security adviser John Bolton warns NATO could break apart if President Donald Trump wins a second term, as he expressed hope the incumbent would lose in November, in an expansive interview with dpa.
Bolton, a Republican who has turned against the party chief, was also sharply critical of the recent decision to pull thousands of US troops out of Germany.
The former adviser – who either resigned or was fired last year, depending on who is telling the story – had few kind words for his former boss, describing Trump as lacking a coherent world view and prone to flip-flopping on major decisions, from China to Syria.
Perhaps harshest of all, Bolton says Trump, even as he nears four years in the White House, has failed to appreciate the gravity of his job.
“He’s not fully aware of what it means to be president of the United States,” Bolton said.
He said the move to withdraw forces from Germany lacked strategy and appeared designed to punish Berlin over the trade deficit and the country’s failure to spend 2 per cent of its GDP on defence, the target NATO set in 2014 and on which Trump has become hyper-focused.
“Those are not valid reasons. He is doing it because he thinks Germany deserves it, in effect,” Bolton said, ahead of the release of his book “The Room Where It Happened” in Germany this month.
Bolton has served in Republican-led administrations since the 1980s, but he has never run for office himself. He comes across as particularly irked by what he sees as Trump’s constant calculation about what works for him politically.
He argues this leads to a haphazard foreign policy and whiplash, what he describes in the book as an “archipelago of dots,” rather than a clear roadmap to international relations.
He points to several examples: Sanctioning Turkey and then becoming “buddy buddy” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; flip-flopping on the withdrawal from Syria; and his once friendly relationship with President Xi Jinping, even as he is now on the attack against China.
At one point in the interview, when asked to comment on Trump’s policy on China, Bolton smirks and slightly raises his tone: “Stop saying world view! He doesn’t have a world view.”
He cautioned that Trump’s current tough talk on China could be reversed the moment the president thinks his domestic political career will benefit.
Bolton also expressed concerns the president is overly “transactional,” often seeing things in personal terms, such as on the troops in Germany.
“Trump isn’t doing this to strengthen NATO,” Bolton said. “He wants to find out whether he can get paid, these are his words, his view, ‘I want to get paid for defending Germany.’ And if he can’t get paid for defending Germany, I think he will look at withdrawal.”
Bolton warned this attitude could apply to NATO as a whole, one of reasons he opposes a second Trump term.
“I think the damage that Trump has done both domestically and internationally is repairable fairly quickly if he only serves one term,” Bolton said.
“If he serves two terms, I think there would be more damage and it would be harder to repair. I think NATO is at risk in a second Trump term,” he cautioned “I don’t think people in Europe fully realize that, actually.”
Bolton, a committed hawk, remains unchanged on his own core policy positions, expressing no regrets over the hard-line approach to Iran and Venezuela, for example, that he helped lead and which failed to bring about change.
“I haven’t modified my view of Iran,” Bolton says. In fact, quite the opposite. He believes the failure to bring Iran to its knees is because Trump did not heed his advice to go even harder. He still supports “overthrowing the regime in Tehran.”
Among his accomplishments during his time in the White House, he counts a success in convincing Trump not to meet top Iranian leaders, noting that one such rendezvous almost happened at a G7 summit in France in 2019.
Asked what he plans to do next, now that he is out of government for the foreseeable future, Bolton indicated he wants to go back to doing television commentary, but also hopes to help restructure his political party.
He says he will be “trying to have a conversation within the Republican Party, after the election, as to how [the party avoids] a Trump anomaly again in the future.”