How New Book About Trump Misfired, Inflicting Further Damage to Biden's DoD After Afghan Debacle
21:12 GMT 16.09.2021 (Updated: 20:34 GMT 19.10.2022)
A new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa describing the transition from President Trump to his successor has made a lot of noise prior to hitting the shelves. US academics have explained why they would take the opus with a grain of salt and how its first excerpts have inflicted more damage on Biden's Joint Chiefs chairman instead of Trump.
The book, titled Peril, has completed the Woodward trilogy – begun with Fear and Rage – which chronologises Trump's presidency. The former president has repeatedly dubbed Woodward's revelations as "fake news."
Meanwhile, some of Peril's bombshells have already found their way into the press. In particular, the opus sheds light on the GOP's confusion with Trump's 2020 defeat and the president's subsequent legal battles, with Senator Lindsey Graham allegedly telling Trump: "You f*cked your presidency up." The book also suggests that Trump ranted about getting "f*cked" by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) after the latter subjected the president to criticism over the 6 January protests.
While Peril, along with the two other books of the trilogy, critiques Trump's presidency, the story of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley's calls to China appears to have stolen the show in the past few days. It reveals that the general made a unilateral decision to call his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng of the People's Liberation Army, twice out of fear that the president could go "rogue." According to Woodward and Costa, Milley "was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election." The general reportedly assured Li that he would warn Beijing in the event of an American nuclear attack.
Woodward's Book Backfired on Gen. Milley
General Milley's calls to the Chinese general prompted ire on the right side of the US political aisle. Fox News host Sean Hannity declared that if the allegations made by Woodward and Costa are true, the top military officer is nothing short of a "dangerous traitor."
However, the White House and the Pentagon rushed to throw their weight behind the general following the disclosure of the book's controversial claims. On Wednesday, President Biden stated that he has "great confidence" in Gen. Milley's leadership. For their part, current and former officials of the Department of Defence (DoD) have argued that the general hadn't been out of line and acted in accordance with protocols. CNN quoted one defence official as saying that there were 15 people on both video conference calls Milley held with his Chinese counterpart Li Zuocheng.
Despite the DoD and White House's attempts to whitewash Milley, it appears that the story was released at a particularly bad time for the general, according to political columnist Robert J. Hutchinson, author of a book about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
"I think it’s fair to say that many Americans have been outraged in recent months by what they’ve learned about their top generals, and particularly about General Mark Milley of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Hutchinson says. “The revelations in the new book by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, if true, will likely increase the concern many Americans feel. It appears the top brass are more concerned about being ‘politically correct’ and currying favor with Democrats than they are about protecting the country or winning wars.”
Previously, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Milley and Secretary of Defence came under heavy criticism from the GOP and the Dems for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Following Milley's assurances that Afghan evacuees had been properly vetted, Republican Rep. Mark Green claimed that some of them were given free rein at Fort Pickett
, a Virginia Army National Guard installation, and left the base despite not having completed the vetting process.
On top of this, The New York Times released its investigation into a Kabul drone strike
, alleging that the Pentagon killed a US aid worker and his family, instead of Daesh-K* terrorists. Following the attack, Gen. Milley asserted to the press that the operation was based on good intelligence and that all precautionary measures had been taken to reduce risks to civilians nearby. Furthermore, the general claimed that secondary explosions which followed the strike backed the military’s conclusion that the vehicle was carrying a bomb. However, according to NYT, the car in question was loaded with nothing else but water canisters.
Hutchinson notes that Milley, in particular, has seemed to be "more interested in trendy concerns like trans-genderism in the military and Critical Race Theory (CRT) than he was in doing his job, such as extricating American citizens safely from Afghanistan and not handing over billions of dollars’ worth of advanced military equipment to America’s enemies."
"I’m sure there will likely be calls for Milley’s resignation among many Republicans if the claims in Woodward and Costa’s book are corroborated by other sources,” Hutchinson suggests. “Milley appears to be the classic ‘deep state’ bureaucrat who advances his own agenda rather than carry out the orders of his political superiors, as he swore a solemn oath to do. This is what many Republicans have feared for years, that the country’s institutions have been infiltrated by political activists with an agenda rather than by competent professionals who execute the policy provisions of elected officials."
Timing of Woodward's Books
Woodward is well known for his role in exposing the Watergate scandal that led to Richard Nixon's resignation as a reporter for The Washington Post in the 1970s. The first two books of his latest trilogy came at key moments of Trump's presidency. Fear was released in September 2018 prior to the publication of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on his investigation into the alleged Trump-Russia "collusion."
The book shed light on the "Trump-Russia" probe as well as negotiations between the president's attorneys and the special counsel. Woodward predicted
at that time that once Mueller cornered the president, Trump would try to fire him, drawing parallels with Richard Nixon and Watergate. However, the special counsel was not fired and concluded his investigation, which found zero evidence of Trump's "collusion" with Russia.
came out on 15 September 2020, prior to the November presidential elections, and detailed controversies surrounding Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis and racial unrest. The president told the journalist in July 2020 that he would overcome these problems. "Don’t worry about it, Bob. Okay?" Trump said. "Don’t worry about it. We’ll get to do another book. You’ll find I was right." As it turned out later, the US economy indeed saw a historic 33.4% surge in the third quarter of 2020
and continued recovering in the fourth quarter. However, the COVID pandemic was not stopped either by Trump or his successor Joe Biden.
"Bob Woodward is a one-time respected journalist in the US. But he also wants to sell books and sensationalise stories to do that," says David Schultz, an author and a professor of political science and law at Hamline University. "I have found with his other recent books on the Trump presidency that the hype of a few stories in the book make them bigger issues or incidents than they might have been. We should keep that in mind as we read this book."
The release of the third book, which is scheduled for 21 September 2021, follows the Afghanistan withdrawal and precedes the 2022 midterm elections. Bipartisan observers suggest that the Democratic Party, which maintains slim majorities in both chambers of the US Congress, could see a defeat in 2022. They cite a longtime trend of the president's party losing seats
after midterm elections, as well as Biden's handling of COVID, the economy and the Afghan withdrawal. The president's approval rating has plummeted significantly since August 2021.
*Daesh-K (ISIS-K) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other states.