Tuesday, September 14, 2021

For the Record: Big Buttons and Illegal Orders

Trump and His Big Buttons, via the Australian site Green Left.

With reference to what is presumably the finale of Bob Woodward's Trump Trilogy, Fear (2018), Rage (2020), and now Peril (to be released next Tuesday), now featuring a collaborator in the person of a WaPo colleague, Republican whisperer Robert Costa—

The advance promotion of the book from CNN offers a pretty interesting story of the very last days of the term, following the episode, just after the election, where Trump signs an order to withdraw all the US troops from Afghanistan before Biden's inauguration, by 15 January, as we've sort of known since May. Among other things, it's done in secrecy from the government, under the urging of Stephen Bannon, who's back in the scene urging Trump toward the real coup, and in tandem with the firing of defense secretary Mark Esper and all sorts of attendant intrigue in which Trump seems to be trying to seize some kind of power over DoD. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and some others are able to stop the precipitous move in Afghanistan (if you think Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan three months after the agreed date was dangerously rushed and poorly planned, you'll agree that this proposal was at least a couple of orders of magnitude worse), but Milley is spooked by this evidence of Trump's ability to sneak around the normal channels, while CIA director Gina Haspel is suspecting Trump could order an attack on Iran, and going on to ask, "He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum... This is a highly dangerous situation. We are going to lash out for his ego?"

Then, after the insurrection of 6 January, when he finds himself taking calls from the top brass of China's People's Liberation Army seriously asking if there's going to be a presidential transition at all, and then a call from Speaker Nancy Pelosi wondering if Trump might start a nuclear war, he's really worried:

"What I'm saying to you is that if they couldn't even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?"
Pelosi continued, "You know he's crazy. He's been crazy for a long time."
According to Woodward and Costa, Milley responded, "Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything."

So he's taking steps to secure the United States nuclear arsenal from a crazy president, clarifying that no officer in the US military is allowed to comply with an illegal order, and talking to Pompeo (who said Trump was "in a very dark place right now") and Pence (who actually sought out the advice of former vice president Dan Quayle, who in fact gave him pretty good advice). And a lot of really horrible things that might have happened didn't happen.

All of which is to introduce my own rant, in the face of an annoying complaint by Jeet Heer:

It shouldn't be their job, but I'm still glad somebody was around to do it.

Update: Steve M notes that by January 2021 we probably should have known that Trump was not very likely to start a nuclear war with China. Fair enough; but that's not even the main thing (though I'll bet the fear on the part of the PLA generals was genuine enough).

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