January 17, 2020

THE ENABLERS (profanity alert):

'You're a bunch of dopes and babies': Inside Trump's stunning tirade against generals (Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker , Jan. 17, 2020, Washington Post)

Before they could debate the Iran deal, Trump erupted to revive another frequent complaint: the war in Afghanistan, which was now America's longest war. He demanded an explanation for why the United States hadn't won in Afghanistan yet, now 16 years after the nation began fighting there in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Trump unleashed his disdain, calling Afghanistan a "loser war." That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders at the table but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey their commander in chief's commands, and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war.

"You're all losers," Trump said. "You don't know how to win anymore."

Trump questioned why the United States couldn't get some oil as payment for the troops stationed in the Persian Gulf. "We spent $7 trillion; they're ripping us off," Trump boomed. "Where is the f---ing oil?"

Trump seemed to be speaking up for the voters who elected him, and several attendees thought they heard Bannon in Trump's words. Bannon had been trying to persuade Trump to withdraw forces by telling him, "The American people are saying we can't spend a trillion dollars a year on this. We just can't. It's going to bankrupt us."

"And not just that, the deplorables don't want their kids in the South China Sea at the 38th parallel or in Syria, in Afghanistan, in perpetuity," Bannon would add, invoking Hillary Clinton's infamous "basket of deplorables" reference to Trump supporters.

Trump mused about removing General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in charge of troops in Afghanistan. "I don't think he knows how to win," the president said, impugning Nicholson, who was not present at the meeting.

Dunford tried to come to Nicholson's defense, but the mild-mannered general struggled to convey his points to the irascible president.

"Mr. President, that's just not . . .," Dunford started. "We've been under different orders."

Dunford sought to explain that he hadn't been charged with annihilating the enemy in Afghanistan but was instead following a strategy started by the Obama administration to gradually reduce the military presence in the country in hopes of training locals to maintain a stable government so that eventually the United States could pull out. Trump shot back in more plain language.

"I want to win," he said. "We don't win any wars anymore . . . We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we're not winning anymore."

Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn't taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.

"I wouldn't go to war with you people," Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, "You're a bunch of dopes and babies."

For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called "locker room talk," this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. The flag officers in the room were shocked. Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room. A few considered walking out. They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. "How does the commander in chief say that?" one thought. "What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?"

This was a president who had been labeled a "draft dodger" for avoiding service in the Vietnam War under questionable circumstances. Trump was a young man born of privilege and in seemingly perfect health: six feet two inches with a muscular build and a flawless medical record. He played several sports, including football. Then, in 1968 at age 22, he obtained a diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that exempted him from military service just as the United States was drafting men his age to fulfill massive troop deployments to Vietnam.

Tillerson in particular was stunned by Trump's diatribe and began visibly seething. For too many minutes, others in the room noticed, he had been staring straight, dumbfounded, at Mattis, who was speechless, his head bowed down toward the table. Tillerson thought to himself, "Gosh darn it, Jim, say something. Why aren't you saying something?"

But, as he would later tell close aides, Tillerson realized in that moment that Mattis was genetically a Marine, unable to talk back to his commander in chief, no matter what nonsense came out of his mouth.

The more perplexing silence was from Pence, a leader who should have been able to stand up to Trump. Instead, one attendee thought, "He's sitting there frozen like a statue. Why doesn't he stop the president?" Another recalled the vice president was "a wax museum guy." From the start of the meeting, Pence looked as if he wanted to escape and put an end to the president's torrent. Surely, he disagreed with Trump's characterization of military leaders as "dopes and babies," considering his son, Michael, was a Marine first lieutenant then training for his naval aviator wings. But some surmised Pence feared getting crosswise with Trump. "A total deer in the headlights," recalled a third attendee.

Others at the table noticed Trump's stream of venom had taken an emotional toll. So many people in that room had gone to war and risked their lives for their country, and now they were being dressed down by a president who had not. They felt sick to their stomachs. Tillerson told others he thought he saw a woman in the room silently crying. He was furious and decided he couldn't stand it another minute. His voice broke into Trump's tirade, this one about trying to make money off U.S. troops.

"No, that's just wrong," the secretary of state said. "Mr. President, you're totally wrong. None of that is true."

Tillerson's father and uncle had both been combat veterans, and he was deeply proud of their service.

"The men and women who put on a uniform don't do it to become soldiers of fortune," Tillerson said. "That's not why they put on a uniform and go out and die . . . They do it to protect our freedom."

There was silence in the Tank. Several military officers in the room were grateful to the secretary of state for defending them when no one else would. The meeting soon ended and Trump walked out, saying goodbye to a group of servicemen lining the corridor as he made his way to his motorcade waiting outside. Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn were deflated. Standing in the hall with a small cluster of people he trusted, Tillerson finally let down his guard.

"He's a f---ing moron," the secretary of state said of the president.


Sorry, but sitting there listening to him and continuing on the job in silence is not honorable service.


Posted by at January 17, 2020 4:49 PM

  

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