The Trump white House is keeping the publishing industry busy with one gossipy book after another. The latest is from Bob Woodward, whose style is to write books based on conversations on ‘deep background’ with high officials, where he can quote people but cannot say who told him what. The presumption seems to be that since they are given anonymity, they will speak freely and frankly without fearing repercussions, even though he says that he actually recorded all the conversations and thus cannot be contradicted too forcefully. The picture he paints is hardly surprising or new. Trump comes across as an ignorant, narcissistic, and vindictive person. Is there anyone who does not know this by now?
This ‘deep background’ business strikes me as is a very strange arrangement. If Woodward quotes someone directly, then surely it is most likely that that person told him that. Other possibilities are that someone else was in the room during the conversation or the quoted person told someone else who then told Woodward, both of which seem less likely. Whatever it is, the number of people who can be the source is highly restricted so the cloak of anonymity seems highly transparent to the extent of being pointless. Take this example:
After Trump’s Charlottesville, Virginia, controversy, in which he failed to condemn white supremacists, Cohn tried to resign but was instead dressed down by Trump and accused of “treason.”
Kelly, who is Trump’s current chief of staff, told Cohn afterward, according to notes Cohn made of the exchange: “If that was me, I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times.”
And Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff, encapsulated the White House and the thrust of Woodward’s book by describing the administration as a place with “natural predators at the table.”
“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls,” Priebus is quoted as saying, “things start getting nasty and bloody.”
The first passage most likely came from Cohn, trying to distance himself from the Charlottesville fiasco. The second quote clearly comes from Priebus. It is too detailed to be a second hand quote.
But there was one thing that interested me.
[Trump] questioned the wisdom of keeping US troops in South Korea.
“So Mr. President,” Cohn said to Trump, “what would you need in the region to sleep well at night?”
“I wouldn’t need a fucking thing,” the President said. “And I’d sleep like a baby.”
After Trump left the Tank, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared: “He’s a fucking moron.”
A recurrent theme in Woodward’s book is Trump’s seeming disregard for national security concerns because of his obsession with money — trade deficits and the cost of troops overseas.
In meeting after meeting, Trump questions why the US has to pay for such a large troop presence in South Korea.
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mattis, the defense secretary, bluntly explained to Trump at one January 2018 meeting, which prompted Mattis to tell close associates afterward that Trump had the understanding of a “fifth or sixth grader.”
Trump still wasn’t convinced. “I think we could be so rich if we weren’t stupid,” he later said in the meeting, arguing the US was being played as “suckers,” Woodward reports.
In this exchange Trump actually comes out well. He is asking, quite reasonably, why the US has stationed so many troops in Korea for well over a half century, and is not buying the facile establishment line that it is necessary to prevent another world war. I can see why those around him that seem to be all true believers in the national security state are nervous about Trump’s obsession with trade deficits and troop costs. The US has a vast number of troops and bases stationed all over the globe. There are about 50,000 in Germany and Japan each and nearly 30,000 in South Korea. It is not clear in this day of rapid movement of troops, why it is necessary to have this many stationed permanently in other countries. If Trump pulls the Korean troops out, then he might well decide to do that with those in Germany and Japan as well, and the national security establishment and its associated military-industrial complex that benefit greatly from this arrangement will lose their steady stream of taxpayer-based revenue.