Let me take advantage of the fact that John Bolton’s memoir of his time as national security advisor — The Room Where It Happened — has inspired so many discussions amongst the media to skip the plot summary and naughty bits, and instead give my impressions of Bolton, his unusual approach, and his startling self-regard.
The contrast between Bolton’s book and Henry Kissinger’s memoirs is illuminating. Kissinger’s personal writings not only had wit, irony, self-deprecating if insincere humor, and vivid portraits of peers but also made a real effort to persuade readers that his behavior was honorable and that his policies were reasonable. However, our ability to now compare Kissinger’s version of his story with the documentary record reveals that he was often less than honest — for example, concerning U.S. policy toward the Allende regime in Chile, the South Asian crisis of 1971, and the American stance toward nuclear weapons and arms control. Nevertheless, he went to great lengths to show that American goals and the instruments employed to reach them made a good deal of sense. His discussion of Vietnam, although glossing over many key points, made a strong argument for Richard Nixon’s policy that gave pause even to those, like myself, who had been anti-war protestors.