‘John R. Bolton, Truest Reaganaut,’ &c.

John R. Bolton (left), who at the time was President Trump’s national-security adviser, and William B. Taylor, who was acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, lay wreaths at the Wall of Remembrance in Kyiv, August 27, 2019. The wall commemorates soldiers who have died in the war against Russia in eastern Ukraine. (Gleb Garanich / Reuters)
On Ukraine, the Saudis, Colombia, Karens, and more

Over the weekend, John R. Bolton burst into the news, and so, in a less dramatic way, did William B. Taylor. Taylor, as you remember, was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, and acting ambassador to that country more recently. (He returned to Kyiv last summer, and left his post on January 1.) For the New York Times, he penned an op-ed piece headed “Yes, Secretary Pompeo, Americans Should Care About Ukraine.” This piece says so much that should be said, in my opinion. I found it tremendously gratifying.

I would like to quote just a little:

Ukraine is defending itself and the West against Russian attack. If Ukraine succeeds, we succeed. The relationship between the United States and Ukraine is key to our national security, and Americans should care about Ukraine.

A little bit more:

Mr. Putin seems to want to return to the law of the jungle that characterized relations among nations for centuries before 1945, where powerful nations dominated and invaded less powerful nations, where nations established spheres of influence that oppressed neighbors, leading to war and suffering. That was how the Russian Empire and Soviet Union conducted international relations — dominate, control and absorb neighboring lands. A return to jungle rules threatens not just Ukraine and the United States, but global stability itself.

And finally,

To support Ukraine is to support a rules-based international order that enabled major powers in Europe to avoid war for seven decades. It is to support democracy over autocracy. It is to support freedom over unfreedom. Most Americans do.

Do they? I guess so, but it’s hard to be sure. I am no George Gallup. Anyway, read the whole thing, as they say on social media.

• And why did John Bolton burst into the news? Well, in short:

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

(Article here.)

The president, of course, has called Bolton a liar. So it’s Bolton’s word versus Trump’s. Whom to believe? Those who are familiar with the two men have a quick answer to that. Truth has never been Trump’s strong suit; Bolton is a straight-shooter — whether you like him or not.

Is there any doubt that the president is guilty of what he is accused of doing with respect to his handling of Ukraine? The only real question is whether his conduct merits removal from office. We can debate that till the cows come home. But the other . . .

Needless to say, Republican wagons are circling around Trump, while Bolton is experiencing life as a heretic. But bless the person who tells the truth, whatever the consequences.

Let me give you a tidbit about Bolton — a clue to his character and cast of mind:

When the first Reagan term came, Bolton went to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development. When he left the agency, his colleagues gave him a souvenir: a dummy hand grenade mounted on a little base. On the base were the words “John R. Bolton, Truest Reaganaut.”

That comes from a piece I wrote about Bolton in 2010, here. One more little excerpt?

On Election Day 1964, John Bolton, 15, got permission to be absent from school: in order to pass out leaflets for Goldwater. “That was my formative political experience,” he says, the Goldwater campaign. Unlike his fellow Goldwaterite, Miss Hillary Rodham, he remained a Goldwaterite, unalloyed. His favorite line from The Conscience of a Conservative, the senator’s 1960 book, is, “My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” Bolton says, “Individual liberty is the whole purpose of political life, and I thought it was threatened back then” — in 1964 — “and I think it’s threatened now.”

To repeat, Trump is saying that Bolton is lying about him, and the president’s loyalists are saying the same thing. I suppose they feel they must. I think of what Bill Buckley said when accused of having lied about Gore Vidal: “Anyone who lies about him is doing him a favor.”

• You recall the heading of Bill Taylor’s op-ed piece, referring to the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. What was that all about? This story from USA Today explains. Its headline: “After interview, Pompeo cursed at reporter, yelled: ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’” The secretary did not care for the reporter’s questions about Ukraine, and, specifically, about Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted and defamed ambassador.

This is what I think: Americans may or may not care about foreign policy. But if you’re secretary of state, shouldn’t you expect questions about foreign policy? Whether citizens in general care about those questions or not? Shouldn’t the agriculture secretary expect to be asked about ag policy?

You see what I mean.

The reporter in question was Mary Louise Kelly, of National Public Radio. I will quote from the USA Today story:

After the interview, Kelly said she was taken to the secretary of state’s private living room, where Pompeo was waiting for her. “He shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself. He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine,” Kelly said . . .

She said he used the F-word and “many others” when asking her if Americans cared about Ukraine. He then asked her if she could find Ukraine on a map.

“I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing. I pointed to Ukraine,” she recounted.

Later, Pompeo claimed she had pointed to Bangladesh — which people who know Kelly seriously doubt. (Her education aside — Harvard and Cambridge — she has worked as a foreign correspondent throughout the world.)

Also, may I ask: Could the president find Ukraine on a map, if Pompeo asked him to? A map marked or unmarked? How about Bangladesh? What was the point of that stunt?

I know that government officials are under a great deal of pressure, and I am, as a rule, sympathetic to them, but I also think of the adage about the heat of the kitchen. Moreover, the role of secretary of state involves diplomacy.

• Further on this business of caring and not caring: I was reading President Trump’s Twitter account, and saw that he had retweeted something from Dan Bongino. This was it:

Regarding Bolton:
1) Nobody cares
2) The aid was delivered
3) The Ukrainians aren’t victims (just ask them)
4) The Democrats’ corruption in Ukraine is real
5) Nobody cares

I will deal with just 1) and 5). Obviously, those who care, care, and those who don’t, don’t. Throughout my career, I have been told that “nobody cares” about what I am interested in: human rights, classical music, corruption in high places, or what have you. And the answer is: I care, and some others do too, and if you don’t, fine. No one can care about everything.

Something else I have always been told: that “no one reads” the publication I write for (whatever that publication happens to be). The answer is: Yes, no one reads it, except those who do.

Why do people talk this way? I think that when people say, “No one cares,” or “No one reads that,” they are really saying, “I and my friends don’t.”

• The Saudi dictatorship really doesn’t like Jeff Bezos, at all. (See this report from the Associated Press: “What we know, and don’t, about the alleged Bezos phone hack.”) Bezos is not only the founder of, he is the owner of the Washington Post — which took the Saudis’ murder of Jamal Khashoggi rather hard. (Khashoggi wrote for the Post.) If I were that newspaper, I’d wear the dictatorship’s scorn as a great badge of honor.

Really, good for them, good for the Post. Would that MBS and that crew hated the rest of us as much.

• Three or four years ago, I did a report from Colombia — about a peace agreement between the government and the FARC (the narco-terrorist group), a Nobel Peace Prize for Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, and related matters. About a month ago, an AP report out of Bogotá caught my eye, which I’d like to share with you and comment on.

On a vacant grassy lot squeezed between several smoggy highways lies the property where Colombia’s government hopes to build a large museum paying homage to victims of the country’s long civil conflict.

But for now, the terrain occupied only by a rusted cubic metal sculpture is a reminder of how polarized this South American nation remains.

In recent weeks, the future of the Museum of Memory has become a public feud because of the director overseeing it.

President Iván Duque’s appointee — history professor Darío Acevedo — is a conservative who has expressed a view of the conflict that critics say could excuse the state of much of its responsibility for the violence.

Acevedo has rejected a draft plan for the museum’s content and has questioned the number of victims of the five-decade war. In response, some victim groups vow not to work with the historical center.

And so on. What a mess. Sticky. I said I wanted to comment on this, but I should have said I wanted someone else to — a Colombian friend of mine, an intellectual and a very sensitive person. This is what he said, when I e-mailed the AP report to him:

Very interesting — thank you for sharing it! It’ll be a very tricky debate. Memory politics truly is war by other means. I’ve often wondered whether in a case like Colombia’s we shouldn’t put off the museums for a few years, to let the dust settle a bit. It’s a hard question, this one.

“Memory politics truly is war by other means” — yes.

• I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know until sometime last summer, I believe, that “Karen” had become a mockable name. People use “Karen” derisively. The name “has become a descriptor for a basic white lady of a certain age who is insufficiently clued in to the sensitive cultural mores of the moment.”

I have quoted a piece by Christian Schneider, published at The Bulwark. It’s called “In Defense of Karens.” One of my favorite pieces of the recent period. I wish I could give it some kind of award.

• What else? I have a lot more, but that’s enough for one day, right? (Maybe more than enough.) Here at the end, I’ll sneak in some music — a review, that is: of a Damnation of Faust at the Metropolitan Opera. All politics and no play, or no music, makes Jack a dull boy.

Thanks and see you.

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