I have not read Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig’s book A Very Stable Genius. Indeed, I doubt I would bother, apart from a quick flick. I have read several reviews: none were entirely impressed or sufficiently enthusing to make me want to spend time, money and effort acquiring a text which seems to add little to what we hear otherwise about the on-going three-ring circus that is the Trump presidency.
Even so, I was taken aback by the assurance with which Justin Webb began his piece in today’s The [London] Times:
I would so like to read a book about what the Democrats are up to. Why they seem so keen to fade angrily into history as their nation burns around them. Why they are so cross with each other that Hillary Clinton said, this week, that she could not at the moment commit herself to endorsing Bernie Sanders if he gets the nomination. This is real history, folks. This is where the talents of investigative reporters ought to be focused.
But I digress. Instead of that book we are presented with another of these breathless inside-the-Trump-White-House takes. The good news, I suppose, is that it is worth reading because we have years of Donald Trump still to come. The bad news is, well, the same.
The first of those paragraphs amounts to “Nothing to see here, folks! Look over there!”
The second and we have years of Donald Trump still to come anticipates the outcome of the first Tuesday after the first Monday this November (that’s Election Day).
All this under the all-revealing sub-header:
uncouth, unhinged, but holding on. Donald Trump’s behaviour is awful, but the prissy tone here almost tempts Justin Webb to side with the president
Almost? Aw, c’mon! Webb falls for the whole Trump schtick. We learn that Trump is a.k.a. the orange-skinned one — now where have we not had that revelation previously? Then to the confirmation hearings on Justice Kavanaugh, and we are told to feel for Trump on very specious grounds:
You may remember that Kavanaugh came to the Supreme Court via a set of Senate hearings that count among the most dramatic seen in Washington. Trump backed him in spite of allegations of sexual assault, made to senators on live TV by Christine Blasey Ford.
The authors are sniffy about the Trump fightback. They point out that the allegations were serious and credible. It is obvious that they believe her, or want to. But of course what she said was not proven and for many Americans (including the mothers of sons who might one day face similar unproven allegations at university or in later life) the matter was not settled.
What about the mothers of daughters who might one day face similar sexual assaults at university or in later life? Trump has personal form here. He has on his charge sheet:
26 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” and 43 instances of inappropriate behaviour.
Next up, Trump’s confrontation with his military élite:
He does not, the book tells us, get on with his generals. We already knew this, because quite a few generals have fled the battlefield of his administration. One scene in A Very Stable Genius has received the full open-mouthed horror treatment on America’s left-wing TV channels: the shocking moment he derides America’s generals as “dopes and babies”, and says: “I wouldn’t go to war with you people.”
Err, no, Mr Webb. No US general has fled the battlefield: don’t over-egg your pudding. Several have quit government service because their Commander-in-Chief was intolerable. But that has to be topped by another Webb hyperbole:
Hilariously, given the left’s previously uneasy relationship with American military might, the generals are now regarded by the Democrats (and enemies of Trump, like the authors of this book) as stable geniuses whose every move is judicious and internationalist.
Do come off it. The fresh account of the meeting in July 2017, in which secretary of state Rex Tillerson stands up to Trump when none of the generals dare to, is meant to make the reader fall even harder for the square-jawed chaps in uniform and despise the draft-dodger-in-chief.
The hilarity is side-splitting. There might, perchance, be very good reasons why square-jawed chaps in uniform wouldn’t spit on the deck or talk back to the captain.
According to the book, this is the argument that Trump makes: “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 any more.’”
Trump is being told how to ‘win’ in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Since last November he has Frank Wuco whispering in his ear. Wuco is another graduate of shock-jock radio. He is prone to any variety of conspiracy theories: that Obama was not US-born, that former CIA Director John Brennan converted to Islam, that Hillary Clinton’s one-time aide Huma Abedin is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, that former Attorney General Eric Holder was a Black Panther member. So Wuco knows how to deal with Afghanistan:
My preference would have been to have dropped a couple of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons over Afghanistan the day after 9/11 to send a definite message to the world that they had screwed up in a big way.
Wuco is now senior adviser at the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. Trump would somehow go even further than Wuco:
On Aug. 20, Trump repeated his talking point that the U.S. military could kill 10 million people in Afghanistan within a week, adding “this is not using nuclear [weapons].”
A variation of that was he could win the Afghan war in just 10 days by wiping out Afghanistan but did not want to kill 10 million people.
If anyone is in doubt that Trump is a nuke-enthusiast, let it be recalled he has suggested their use in weather control:
Donald Trump has reportedly suggested on more than one occasion that the US military should bomb hurricanes in order to disrupt them before they make landfall.
According to US news website Axios, the president said in a meeting with top national security and homeland security officials about the threat of hurricanes: “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?”
“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?”
Quoting unnamed sources who were present at the meeting, Axios report that the response from one official was “We’ll look into this.”
There’s another official who knows his/her place and refrains from deck-spitting and back-chatting.
Eventually Webb winds his way to a querulous conclusion:
Can he do “almost anything”? Will he, if re-elected in November? A former official is quoted: “This is a presidency of one . . . unleashed, unchained, unhinged.” A constitutional expert adds: “The law has no force without people willing to enforce it.” So who are they? Where are they? A Very Stable Genius, like all these books, ends with this plaintive thought.
A rather dodgy book, but a very unsatisfactory review — except for a Rupert Murdoch vehicle.