Connect with us

Americas

Fire And Fury – Inside The Trump White House: Book Review

Saurabh Malkar

Published

on

Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury – Inside The Trump White House,’ perhaps not as read-worthy as classics like Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations or the Federalist Papers, is certainly a handy manual that provides insights into Trump and the White House operations.

While some of it seems difficult to corroborate (the author has soft pedaled on some details in news interviews), there are useful nuggets that fill out the missing gaps in some otherwise inexplicable stories or occurrences in the Trump White House.

While Trump and his aides have dismissed the author’s account as total hogwash and a bunch of baloney, some reverse engineering on part of the readers might salvage the credibility of the book and fill out those missing gaps in Trump’s actions that bewildered some of his ardent supporters, including myself.

The book trended the The New York Times Bestseller’s list at the numerouno position, with the Economist, in all its wisdom, revering the book as a ‘significant achievement.’ The book is retailing on Amazon between $4.42 and $18.65, depending on the format.

Despite being an accomplished and felicitated writer and columnist, at least judging by the list of his previous work, the book is fraught with elementary errors of the grammatical, syntactical, and typographical kinds. It is as if the editorial team rushed through the book, merely skimming over than giving it a thorough read.

Then, there are tenuous transitions that make comprehension difficult. A notable example of this is the several instances where an attempt to transition from a narrative around one of the characters’ thoughts or feelings to the author’s personal opinions is hazy at best, leaving the readers scratching their heads.

Critique aside, here is an overview of the book.

The story opens on a solemn note, depicting a dinner meeting between Trump confidants – Stephen K. Bannon and Roger Ailes. The author’s depiction is vivid and breathes life into the text.

Ailes is a Trump admirer and supporter, and the founder of Fox News – America’s right-wing news outlet. Bannon, on the other hand, is more of a borderline radical, piggybacking on some right wing values to beam his populist, economic nationalist (read ethno-nationalist) message out of the White House.

The book is arranged in chapters as if it were a handbook or a user manual to better understand the workings and the idiosyncrasies of Trump presidency.

The first chapter paints a detailed picture of Trump’s campaign. The revelation, if true, about the lack of optimism around winning and the pallid vibe in his campaign is confounding,given Trump’s show of bravado post his victory. What’s more perplexing is that even the business mogul himself has been reported to be gloomy about the outcome of the election.

The chapter also provides a primer on the ill effects of not carefully vetting the men and women who will be running the campaign.

The following chapter describes in detail, and with verifiable accuracy borne out of empirical observation, Trump’s psyche. The soon-to-be-established trend of flip-flopping on policy positions can be traced to Trump’s mental conditioning, driven primarily by shock value and showbiz.

Trump’s inauguration speech debacle and behind-the-scenes scoops are really a prelude to the dysfunction that was about to ensue.

The author wisely spent an entire chapter character-sketching Stephen K. Bannon. Despite my personal dislike for many of Bannon’s viewpoints, I found his life journey relatable. This chapter has the potential to make this much disliked character a tad bit likeable, although, only for the length of the chapter.

In the following two chapters, the author describes extensively two of the most incompetent and unqualified people in the White House and the insecure and fragile ego of the braggart commander-in-chief.

Jarvanka – a clever amalgam of the names Jared and Ivanka – the two out-of-place, liberal democrats in an otherwise right wing administration seem to not only be causing the administration to send our mixed messages, but they are also responsible for diluting out the right-wing-ness of Trump’s administration. Not to mention, their unrestricted access to the president and the familial bond raises a range of ethical issues.

The administration has split up into three verticals – the liberal democrat camp (Jarvanka et al.), the loathed establishment lackeys (Walsh, Conway, Priebus et al.), and the populist lone ranger (Bannon). Each vertical has its own agenda and motives and wants to exert maximum influence on the president, who is ideologically rudderless, to have it their way.

In the one of the subsequent chapters, the author narratesJarvanka’s growing clout over Trump and Bannon’s isolation. The climax of this transition is marked by Trump’s ‘tempered’ speech to the joint session of Congress, drafted by Ivanka, which set off the political pugilist within Bannon.

The Trump administration is marred by mismanagement – both of structured and unstructured matters. This is well portrayed in the author’s description of the inept handling of the revelations of the Steele Dossier and the careless shepherding of the Republican healthcare bill. Frustration with entrenched mismanagement causes Katie Walsh – one of the few aides with political experience and deft – to resign.

One of the juiciest scoops in the book is the author’s characterization of Trump’s relationship with media, which can best be described as an old-fashioned arranged marriage – ‘can’t live with them; can’t live without them.’ Trump is an optics-focused individual, for whom face value matters more than substance. Thus, despite disliking and pilloring the media, he makes sure that he has the best staff that would airbrush his perception in the media.

Trump’s gravest error in judgment is his dismal of James Comey. The recklessness can be imputed to the president’s lack of situational awareness. For him, standing up to the bureaucracy, at any cost, is paramount, and he expects lavish praise in return. Only Bannon has the foresight of what was coming. This not only shows Trump’s shortcomings, but it once again highlights the lack of protocol screening that was rife in the administration. Small wonder then that the author dedicated an entire chapter – named after the then fired director of the FBI – to depict the above.

The Russia investigation also presents an opportunity for Steve Bannon to get off the sidelines and jump into the fray in an attempt to gain visibility.

The chapter on foreign policy – “ Abroad and At Home” – although informative, is a cumbersome read, where the author seems to ramble on.

The last few chapters are dedicated to depicting the dynamics between H. R. McMaster and Anthony Scaramucci – the firebrand successor to Sean Spicer, and the ushering in of John Kelly as Chief of Staff and the consequent, long overdue imposition of discipline and protocol in the Trump White House. Scaramucci is unceremoniously fired and Bannon is hustled out.

The Epilogue describes the state of affairs in a White House with some semblance of discipline, thanks to the entry of John Kelly. But with Bannon cast away and most establishment aides out, the White House was playing the tempered Jarvanka drumbeat – a tune different from the shrill cry of the campaign trail.

Bannon, on the other hand, not disheartened by his exit, at least visibly, is hatching a plan to purge the Republican Party and cast his net on orchestrating local politics in the US.

The book is a juicy read varying in tone and effect from an exposé to an analysis to a gossip column. While some accounts bear questionable veracity, some other parts, no matter how unbelievable, can be corroborated, in hindsight, using empirical evidence.

It is clear that the author is no Trump fan (this doesn’t reflexively imply that he is a ‘never-Trumper’). Two things are clear in the author’s chronicling – the Trump White House is one of the most media transparent White Houses in living memory and that the Russia collusion theory might just be all smoke and no fire.

This book is a must read for political junkies, analysts, budding commentators, and just about anyone who has been piqued by the Trump movement.

An ex-dentist and a business graduate who is greatly influenced by American conservatism and western values. Having born and brought up in a non-western, third world country, he provides an ‘outside-in’ view on western values. As a budding writer and analyst, he is very much stoked about western culture and looks forward to expound and learn more. Mr. Malkar receives correspondence at saurabh.malkar[at]gmail.com. To read his 140-character commentary on Twitter, follow him at @saurabh_malkar

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

‘Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People’: Time to retire

Mohammad Ghaderi

Published

on

Again, another mass shooting, again a school, again a troubled teen, a racist, a white supremacist, a Bloods or Crips gangster, a refugee, a war veteran, a mad policeman, a terrorist from al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front or from the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Daesh) terrorist outfits … what difference does it make and again dead bodies lying on the ground in their blood. Who believes they were alive seconds ago. The story goes on and to my surprise it is having less effect than it used to have years ago. Why?

We are getting bad. We are not hurt anymore. Too much violence has made us numb.

What does the motto on the entrance of the United Nations building says? A poem by the Iranian influential poet Sa’adi, from the 13th century, the medieval period. The poem has many translations however one is this:

The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others,
You are unworthy to be called by the name of a Human.

Give it a thought, try to put it in practice, politician and statesmen in the United Nations, New York, United States. It is ludicrous that almost all of them call for end of wars, urge foe peace and tranquil but at the same time produce and sell arms.

War, violence and killing is simply unacceptable, nasty and painful in any kind and form, whether it occurs in a house, street, city, countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine or the United States of America.

U.S. teen confesses to mass shooting at Florida Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

A troubled teen with alleged ties to a white supremacist group confessed on Thursday to murdering 17 people at his former high school in Florida, as the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) admitted it had received a tip-off about the 19-year-old gunman yet failed to stop him.

As Americans reeled from the country’s worst school massacre since the horror at Sandy Hook six years ago, the U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the root cause of the violence was a crisis of mental health — and defied calls to address gun control.

Terrified students hid in closets and under desks on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, texting for help as the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, stalked the school with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.

Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, appearing on Thursday afternoon before a judge who ordered him held without bond.

After being read his legal rights, “Cruz stated that he was the gunman who entered the school campus armed with a AR-15 and began shooting students that he saw in the hallways and on the school grounds,” court documents showed.

Cruz also admitted he discarded his rifle — which he bought legally in Florida — and tactical gear in order to blend in with the crowd to flee the campus, the documents showed.

The recent mass shooting at a school in Florida is the latest reminder that the United States is a “very violent country,” a journalist in Detroit says.

After the shooting, he stopped at a Wal-Mart store and then McDonald’s, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters. He was detained 40 minutes later, after police identified him using school security camera footage.

Expelled from school for disciplinary reasons, Cruz was known to be fixated on firearms — and had reportedly been identified as a potential threat to his classmates.

In a somber televised address to the nation in response to the 18th school shooting so far this year, Trump vowed to make mental health a priority — after tweeting about the “many signs” the gunman was “mentally disturbed” — while avoiding any talk of gun curbs.

Earlier in the day, Trump had asserted that “neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

But U.S. authorities themselves were under scrutiny, after the FBI confirmed it was alerted last September to a message posted on YouTube, in which a user named Nikolas Cruz vowed: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

In a statement, the FBI said it had carried out “database reviews and other checks” but was unable to identify the person who made the post.

Trump cites mental health, not guns, in speech on shooting

Declaring the nation united and grieving with “one heavy heart,” Trump promised on Thursday to tackle school safety and “the difficult issue of mental health” in response to the deadly shooting in Florida. He made no mention of the scourge of gun violence.

Not always a natural in the role of national comforter, Trump spoke deliberately, at one point directly addressing children who may feel “lost, alone, confused or even scared.”

“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be,” Trump said. “You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.”

However, the ones killed were alone when they were shot in cold blood in fear and hope. The ones who lost their precious lives had many hopes and ambitions.

Now they are dead, and it could be every and each one of us, at a school, stadium, concert hall, cinema, home, Middle East, Americas… anywhere, it could be.

Such incidents are cause of sorrow and pain, I cannot explain how I felt when I saw the horrible pictures of the Florida High School shooting, just like how I felt when I saw the massacre committed by the ISIL terrorists killing cadets in Camp Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq. At the time of the attack there were between 4,000 and 11,000 unarmed cadets in the camp. ISIL terrorists singled out Shia and non-Muslim cadets from Sunni ones and murdered them.

Who arms and supports terrorist groups like ISIL? No one can be so naeive to believe that they have just popped out. I recall the U.S. President Trump as saying on his election campaign to Hillary Clinton that the U.S. created ISIL. Well done!

While Trump stressed the importance of mental health and school safety improvements, his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, the major source of federal funding for treating mental health problems, and cut school safety programs by more than a third. Last year, he signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.

Trump’s silence on guns was noted with displeasure by many who are seeking tougher firearm restrictions. But the White House said the president wanted to keep his remarks focused on the victims.

Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some tighter gun regulations. But he embraced gun rights as a candidate, and the National Rifle Association spent $30 million in support of his campaign.

During his brief, televised statement, Trump said he wanted to work to “create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life,” a phrase likely to resonate with his conservative base.

In contrast, former President Barack Obama tweeted out a call for “long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws.” Obama wrote: “We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job.”

In reacting to previous mass shootings, Trump has largely focused on mental health as a cause, dismissing questions about gun control. After a shooting at a Texas church in November left more than two dozen dead, the president said, “This isn’t a guns situation.”
The US has averaged one school shooting every 60 hours since the beginning of 2018, data shows.

Trump was criticized in early August for saying that both white nationalists and counter-protesters were responsible for the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

While Trump has offered somber responses to some tragedies, he has also drawn criticism for other reactions.

After the Orlando shootings at a gay nightclub that left 49 dead in June 2016, then-candidate Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” In the wake of a deadly terror attack in London last June, he went after Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter.

Sadiq Khan compares the US president’s rhetoric against Islam to tactics used by ISIL to inspire terror attacks in Western cities.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

Continue Reading

Americas

On Jettisoning Failed Leaders and Mass Shootings in the U.S.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

Published

on

The scene is the House of Commons; the date May 7, 1940.  A simple motion to adjourn for the ten-day Whitsun recess is of little concern to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who has a comfortable 213 seat majority.  Then things take a turn.  A plan approved by the first Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to land troops in Norway and engage the Germans directly has been a disaster with huge losses, and the eventual naval evacuation of the expeditionary force — an Arctic Dardanelles planned by the same man.

Chamberlain rises to defend Churchill and the conduct of the war in what has now come to be known as the “Norway Debate”.  In the most unlikely of scenarios and with no evidence of Winston trying to put his name forward — in fact the opposite — when the tide turns against Chamberlain, within three days as more favored candidates are shed, he has become prime minister.  Such is the parliamentary system.  Margaret Thatcher is another example, toppled shortly after success at the polls.

The American system, however, puts the president beyond such reach other than through a laborious impeachment.  Analogous to the third Roman Emperor Caligula, Donald Trump, too, has no military or political experience.  Caligula made his horse a senator or some say consul; Trump has the equivalent running government departments and agencies.  Caligula declared himself a god; Trump tweeted he is a ‘stable genius.’  If Caligula’s reign ended with assassination, Trump’s will be more prosaic — just disaffected voters.

Another mass shooting this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Seventeen are dead and  many more injured.  The gunman, identified as Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15 assault type rifle, a weapon far deadlier than a pistol — perhaps he watched the coverage of the Las Vegas shooting.  He was a former pupil who had been suspended from the school, and who students recalled as disturbed and scary.

President Trump in his remarks following the incident did not bring up the obvious question of why an AR-15 was so easily available for purchase.  Gun owners and the gun lobby are part of his constituency.

Following a mass shooting in April 1996 when a man armed with two semi-automatic rifles killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, the Australian government put together strict gun laws.  They were supplemented with a mandatory gun-buyback program through which 650,000 firearms were destroyed.  Did the program work?  The data tells the story more vividly:  From 1979 to 1996, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings; since 1997 it has had none.

Under his usual theme of ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, President Trump continues to talk about finding ways to deal better with disturbed people.  The sure Australian way is to stop them acquiring guns.

Lost in the Florida school story was another shooting the same day when trigger-happy guards let loose at a National Security Agency entrance.  The forested area is a confused mass of entries and exits.  It has happened before that somebody inadvertently makes a wrong turn and panics when faced with shouting armed guards.  In this incident, bullet holes can be seen in the windshield and the three men in the car were injured.

Introducing the Gates Foundation’s annual philanthropic letter a few days ago, Bill and Melinda Gates appealed to Donald Trump to not cut foreign aid — “even a 10 percent cut could lead to 5 million deaths in the next decade”, Bill Gates warned.  Will President Trump listen?

Despite the many wonderful aspects the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, when it comes to jettisoning incompetent leaders, it is difficult to best the parliamentary system for immediacy.

Continue Reading

Americas

Trump’s new nuclear doctrine just rhetoric

Published

on

Recently the US President Donald Trump unveiled his new nuclear doctrine which had remained unchanged since 2010. Many experts consider Trump’s new doctrine which enjoys many ambiguities as just campaign rhetoric. To shed more light on the issue we reached out to Prof. Filip Kovacevic, University of San Francisco geopolitics.

The US new nuclear doctrine was published several days ago. This document had remained unchanged since 2010. What are the reasons for new changes?

According to the US military establishment, the most important reason for changes is that the world has been a more dangerous and geopolitically unstable place. What the generals are not saying, though, is that it was their own actions which are responsible for this state of affairs. The hegemonic US foreign policy, the attempt to force a neo-liberal Pax Americana on the diversity and richness of the world’s cultures and traditions, is the cause of the present world problems.

Of course, you won’t find this stated openly in the doctrine. What you will find there, in a typical manipulative fashion, are the accusations of others for the problems that the US foreign policy has caused itself. In fact, this hypocritical pattern of behavior, where you take the legitimate reactions of others to your own provocations and aggressive moves as the main cause of tensions and conflicts, goes back many decades into the past.

What is the most significant difference between the new doctrine and the previous one?

In my opinion, the most significant difference is that a lot more money will be poured into the development of nuclear weapons. This will inevitably lead to a nuclear arms race with other states and to the proliferation of nuclear weapons as more and more countries will want to acquire them. But it will bring tremendous profits to the US military-industrial complex. In fact, the Trump administration is completely under the control of this section of the US corporate oligarchy. Trump is essentially breaking down all the institutional checks and balances in the US political system and paving a way for a military dictatorship. I have no doubt that the next US president will be a military officer. This means that we are about to see more wars and more deaths around the world, including in the Middle East. Many old, frozen conflicts will be re-opened across Asia and, apparently, the US is also setting a stage for the first-time use of a low yield nuclear weapon. Let’s not forget, though, that the bombs with depleted uranium have already been extensively used in the US /NATO conflicts, starting with the attack on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999, causing horrific public health and environmental problems for generations to come.

In new doctrine, the use of nuclear weapons is allowed in extraordinary situation. There are some ambiguities around this. What are those extraordinary situations exactly?

The fact that the US reserves the right to respond with a nuclear weapon to a non-nuclear attack is nothing new. In fact, the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though there was no nuclear threat from the Imperial Japan. However, what is new in this doctrine is that now the US considers the potential use of a nuclear weapon against a large-scale cyber-attack. This is extremely worrying, because, as is well known, it is very difficult to correctly attribute the source of a cyber-attack. This could make a false-flag attack by some rogue terrorist faction or by the inside provocateurs misinterpreted as an attack by another nuclear power and lead to the nuclear annihilation of all life on Earth.

As the US considers the first strike on Russia acceptable, it means the spirit of the cold war is governing this new doctrine. Why has the US taken this approach?

Provoked by the rapid and aggressive expansion of the US political, economic, and cultural influence in Central and Eastern Europe under the umbrella of NATO, Russia has embarked on the campaign of re-arming and strengthening its defense and security apparatus in recent years. It appears that the US thought that Russia would cave in under its demands and accept to be a third-rate power in Eurasia. However, this was a serious misunderstanding of the Russian history and tradition. Now that Russia pushes back, the US establishment does not know what else to do but to make threats. However, these are empty threats because any kind of use of nuclear weapons against Russia or against its allies within the Collective Security Treaty Organization would quickly lead to mutual destruction. The spirit of the old Cold War has returned, and it will be with us for a long time to come. Accordingly, we will see the flare-up of proxy conflicts and covert actions across the world.

How do you assess the US new doctrine toward Iran? What are the new points?

Iran is one of only four states separately mentioned in the doctrine. The others are Russia, China, and North Korea. Iran is given the least coverage because it is not seen as an immediate nuclear danger to the US .The main emphasis is on what will happen after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ends in 2031. It is stated that after this period, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear weapon within a year. Interestingly, there is no mention of the US getting out of the JCPOA before that time, which is in contradiction to what the US president Donald Trump has been saying recently. It appears that Trump’s statements are just campaign rhetoric intended to please some important and wealthy interest groups, but that, in reality, it will be difficult for the US to get out of the JCPOA, considering that all other signatories are still backing it. However, this is not to say that the US will not use all other means at its disposal, including its vast media and intelligence resources, to sow discord within the Iranian political elite and create an economic and political crisis in the country.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

Continue Reading

Latest

Newsletter

Trending

Copyright © 2018 Modern Diplomacy