BOOKS: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE
The noted British newspaper, The Guardian, has acquired an early version of a book, Full Disclosure, written by the porn film star, Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford), about her life and alleged affair with President Donald Trump. Apart from highlighting the president’s quirky personal characteristics, it is also rich in salacious detail about the putative affair. Once published, it will probably complement what two other books, including Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House and Omarosa Manigault’s Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of The Trump White House, have revealed both about the tribulations of the campaign trial and the subsequent chaotic workings of the White House under the Trump presidency.
Bob Woodward’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House, is also replete with details pertaining to the turbulence that has marked decision-making within the White House since Trump assumed office. Woodward, a journalist with an extraordinary pedigree harking back to the days when he and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post broke the story on the Watergate burglary, does not, unlike the other tell-all accounts published thus far, write in breathless prose. However, he provides detailed, telling and troubling accounts about how the president reached a series of critical decisions laden with much import for both the United States and the world.
Trump’s choices on a series of matters dealing with South Asian politics will be of particular interest to the readers of this magazine. Among other matters, Woodward devotes a fair bit of a chapter to Trump’s views about Afghanistan. He reminds readers that during the campaign, Trump had repeatedly and sharply criticised the US involvement in Afghanistan and had threatened to withdraw American forces from the country if elected.
Once in office, he hewed to his original position even as his aides, most notably the then National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster, sought to devise a new strategy for ending the war. Trump, sceptical of any plan that involved adding more troops, had little use for the new strategy and categorically told McMaster as much in rather colourful language. More to the point he even countered McMaster stating that his friend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, had informed him that the US had not benefitted from its long involvement in Afghanistan. Worse still, Trump insisted that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was busy extracting Afghanistan’s substantial mineral wealth.
Simultaneously, he made clear to his aides that the payments to Pakistan would have to end unless it was willing to cooperate. On the questions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Trump proved to be unyielding. However, the hawkish Senator from South Carolina, Lindsay Graham, eventually persuaded him to augment American forces in Afghanistan arguing that a failure to stabilise the country would inevitably damage his presidency.
Ironically, despite Trump’s stated fondness for Modi, Woodward also reports that it was McMaster who had to make a spirited but ultimately unsuccessful case for inviting Modi to Camp David. Despite McMaster’s advocacy, Trump decided to simply host Modi at the White House. This curious unwillingness to invite Modi to Camp David notwithstanding, Woodward shows that Trump genuinely believes in the power of personal diplomacy. This is evident from the discussions that Woodward recounts about Trump’s dealings with Chinese president Xi Jinping. When the PRC signed off on a raft of new sanctions on North Korea, Trump attributed them to his personal chemistry with Xi. Yet, true to his mercurial self, he had no compunctions about imposing significant tariffs on the PRC when it suited his perceived electoral needs. As he completes nearly two years in office, Woodward’s book provides a fascinating aperture into the tumultuous White House.
Despite Trump’s stated fondness for Modi, McMaster was unable to convince Trump to invite Modi to Camp David. Trump decided to simply host him at the White House
FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE Bob Woodward Simon & Schuster 420 pages; `467 (UK price)