Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear” is littered with bizarre stories of White House staffers fighting with each other, trying to undermine each other and clamoring to try and survive an irrational work environment. After eight years of “No-drama Obama,” President Donald Trump seems to enjoy watching the chaos as it flourishes around him.
Woodward describes conflicts with chief of staff John Kelly nearly getting into a fist fight in the Oval Office, Trump sending the Pentagon into a panic and general Trump rage and meltdowns. However, there are somehow more pandemonium than previously thought.
Here are a few of the top excerpts:
1. Steve Bannon is keenly aware people hate him.
When advocating for pollster Kellyanne Conway to be on television for Trump daily, Steve Bannon explained it was because she was a woman with a likable and friendly face.
“’We’re going to put her on television every day as the female-friendly face on the thing,’ Bannon proposed” according to Woodward’s book. “’Because Kellyanne is a warrior. And she’ll just take incoming. But people like her. And that’s what we need is likability.’ In a moment of self-awareness, he added, ‘I’ll never be on TV.’”
2. Sec. James Mattis feels America is fighting a half-assed war in Afghanistan and Trump is furious about it.
“I don’t care about you guys,” Trump reportedly told Mattis, Gen. James Dunford and Gen. H.R. McMaster.
“We’re losing big in Afghanistan. It’s a disaster. Our allies aren’t helping. Ghost soldiers—those paid but not serving—are ripping us off. NATO is a disaster and a waste, he said. The soldiers had told him that NATO staff were totally dysfunctional,” Woodward’s book claimed.
“The soldiers on the ground could run things much better than you,” Woodward cited the president telling the generals. “They could do a much better job. I don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”
He described it as a “25-minute dressing-down of the generals and senior officials” in the National Security Council.
“Look, you can’t think of Afghanistan in isolation,” former Sec. of State Rex Tillerson told Trump. “You’ve got to think about it in a regional context. We’ve never before taken this sort of multilateral approach to Afghanistan and the region.”
Then Trump began to sound like an anti-war Bob Dylan song.
“But how many more deaths?” he asked. “How many more lost limbs? How much longer are we going to be there?”
“The quickest way out is to lose,” Mattis said.
“Why can’t we pay mercenaries to do the work for us?” Trump demanded to know.
“We need to know if the commander in chief is fully with us or not,” Mattis finally said. “We can’t fight a half-assed war anymore.”
3. John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis “joked darkly” that Trump cared more about fighting allies than enemies.
Just shy of Trump’s first year in office, the president had a secure conversation with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
In several secure phone conversations with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Trump had intensified his criticism of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).
“Trump’s obsessive and unfiltered venting had brought him to the edge once again,” the book said.
Trump apparently told Moon he was going to destroy the trade relationship, ranting that the country was “ripping us off.” Moon, on the other hand, was shocked an ally would approach it from this perspective and said there was a misunderstanding.
Trump belittled their trade agreement and railed against the US paying for South Korea’s anti-ballistic system that would aid the world if North Korea decided to go nuclear.
“Kelly, McMaster, Tillerson and Mattis joked darkly that it was inexplicable that the president was voicing more ire at South Korea than our adversaries—China, Russia, Iran, Syria and North Korea,” Woodward wrote. “The senior White House staff and national security team were appalled. They didn’t know what the president might say or do.”
4. Mike Flynn admitted to talking to Trump about Russia as far back as 2015 — but not in a positive way.
After being canned by President Barack Obama, Woodward called Flynn to talk about Russia.
“Several intelligence and Pentagon officials had told me that Russia had moved in recent years to modernize and improve their nuclear capability with a new Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile and two new ICBMs,” Woodward wrote. Flynn agreed with the assessment on the record. He called it “outsmarting” the US rather than outmatching.
When Flynn first met Trump he began talking to the candidate about Russia.
“My counsel to the boss, I said we are going to have to devote time, energy and resources to this,” Flynn told Woodward.
“He said Trump’s plan was to talk and act tough—send ‘a shot across the bow’ of Putin. He added, ‘We will be leaning on the Reagan playbook.’ Be aggressive and then negotiate. “’We have to make it clear at the same time that we’ll deal with Russia. You can’t just have one view of Russia.’”
5. Hope Hicks hates the media as much as Trump does.
President Donald Trump’s irrational war with the media is easy for many to understand, however misguided. But communications strategist Hope Hicks had her own theories about the press.
According to Woodward’s book, “Hicks was convinced the media had ‘oppositional defiance syndrome,’ which is a term from clinical psychology most often applied to rebellious children. ‘Oppositional defiance syndrome; is characterized by excessive anger against authority, vindictiveness and temper tantrums.”
She felt that term nailed the press.
6. Steve Bannon doesn’t think we’re ever going to “win” in Afghanistan.
When Trump gave a nationally televised address about the Afghanistan Strategy in Aug. 2017, it was the first time he’d broached the issue publicly.
“My original instinct was to pull out—and historically, I like following my instincts,” Trump said in his speech to “My original instinct was to pull out—and historically, I like following my instincts,” Trump said.
“Three times he said the goal was to ‘win’ and said, ‘We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military,'” the book said. “With that, Trump dodged Bush’s and Obama’s Achilles’ heel. His strategy had the effect of pushing the Afghanistan War debate away, off the front page and out of the news unless there was a major act of violence.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) actually praised the speech, saying it was a step in the right direction and even Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said it was a step in the right direction.
But Bannon was furious.
“What the f*ck was that speech about?” Bannon asked Stephen Miller. “First of all, it just went around in circles.”
While the speech didn’t exactly do that, it was more of the same Obama strategy, which Bannon felt lacked “realism.”
“You can’t have him sitting there talking about victory. There’s not going to be a victory,” Bannon said.
RawStory is continuing to go through the Woodward book and we’ll update you as we find more interesting tidbits of information.