Donald Trump surprised his own national security adviser and a group of Republican congressmen and women when he interrupted an Oval Office briefing to ask why he should “give a fuck” about the fate of Kurds in Syria.
“Nothing we said worked,” Adam Kinzinger, until this year a Republican representative from Illinois, writes in a new book.
“I left with two lasting impressions. One was the despairing look on [adviser John] Bolton’s face as Trump kept struggling to focus. The other was when Trump said of the Kurds in Syria, ‘Why would I give a fuck?’”
With Liz Cheney, Kinzinger was one of two anti-Trump Republicans who sat on the House January 6 committee. Cheney lost her seat, in Wyoming, to a Trump supporter. Kinzinger retired from Congress. He has since founded a group, Country First, meant to combat extremism in Republican ranks. His book, Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in Our Divided Country, will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.
Trump’s resistance to briefings and often vulgar outbursts have been exhaustively reported. For just two examples from the realms of foreign policy, he was memorably reported to have called Haiti and African countries “shitholes”, and, after leaving office, to have dismissed Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, by simply saying, ‘Fuck him.’”
Bolton was Trump’s third national security adviser, appointed in March 2018 and fired in September the following year. In 2020, Bolton published his own lengthy account of his time in the job, in his own memoir, The Room Where It Happened.
Trump tried to stop publication of that lengthy tome (and reportedly wished for Bolton to be “taken out” by Covid). In comparison, Kinzinger’s description of Trump’s resistance to his Oval Office briefing on the Kurds in Syria is notably brief.
After describing how the former Marine Corps general John Kelly seemed drained by the demands of being Trump’s second chief of staff, Kinzinger turns to Bolton, another White House factotum who tried and failed to contain his president.
Cheney, Kinzinger says, was also part of a small group invited to the White House to support Bolton’s attempts to get Trump to focus on the Kurds in Syria, US allies in danger of being abandoned to face Turkish aggression as the president sought to pull US forces from the region. Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Richard Hudson of North Carolina also made the visit, Kinzinger now writes.
“Once we got to the Oval Office,” he writes, “I could see that Trump was impatient, and Bolton was desperate for someone to get through to him.
“A plain-spoken intellectual, Bolton strained to remain polite even as Trump seemed uninterested. The Kurds had fought and died for us in Iraq, said Bolton. They were continuing to provide great insight into politics in the region. Nothing we said worked.”
Trump eventually ordered the US withdrawal. Justifying his abandonment of the Kurds, he said they “didn’t help us in the second world war, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example – they mention the names of different battles, they weren’t there”.