But the act of promoting the book in its absence means that every time Bolton declines to answer a question and refers to the book, it seems like a deliberate suggestion of some juicy revelation still to come—whether or not it’s actually in the manuscript. And even when Bolton tried to avoid saying anything interesting, he occasionally failed.
When, during a discussion of coronavirus, Bolton noted in passing that “the American president has to be honest with his own people,” it scanned like a subtweet of the prolifically dishonest Trump. “See? Another controversial statement!” Bolton quipped. Was he winking at the audience again? Or was it just a bland truism that, in an atmosphere of expectation and paranoia, seemed momentous?
It’s not that Bolton was unwilling to criticize Trump. It’s just that he confined his critiques to areas where his differences with the president are well known—especially on North Korea and Iran. Bolton said that policy toward Pyongyang had produced a “wasted two years,” and that while previous administrations hadn’t been effective, Trump’s one-on-one diplomacy with Kim Jong Un was a mistake: “That’s failed, too, and it was perfectly evident it was going to fail.” Though Bolton endorsed the Trump administration’s decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, he had nothing good to say about the Iran policy overall. “I think it’s failing because we don’t live up to the bumper-sticker slogan of maximum pressure,” he said.