[Vision2020] Trump on the Generals: They are a bunch of "dopes and babies"

Debi Robinson-Smith debismith at moscow.com
Fri Jan 17 18:11:05 PST 2020

Thank you, Nick. I know his "base" can't take their fingers out of their 
ears, their hands of their eyes, or utter "I was wrong"....but the truth 
is out there.

Debi R-S

On 1/17/2020 12:08 PM, Nicholas Gier wrote:
> carol.leonnig at washpost.com <mailto:carol.leonnig at washpost.com>
> philip.rucker at washpost.com <mailto:philip.rucker at washpost.com>
> excerpts from "A Very Stable Genius"
> There is no more sacred room for military officers than 2E924 of the 
> Pentagon, a windowless and secure vault where the Joint Chiefs of 
> Staff meet regularly to wrestle with classified matters. Its more 
> common name is “the Tank.” The Tank resembles a small corporate 
> boardroom, with a gleaming golden oak table, leather swivel armchairs 
> and other mid-century stylings. Inside its walls, flag officers 
> observe a reverence and decorum for the wrenching decisions that have 
> been made there.
> Hanging prominently on one of the walls is The Peacemakers, a painting 
> that depicts an 1865 Civil War strategy session with President Abraham 
> Lincoln and his three service chiefs — Lieutenant General Ulysses S. 
> Grant, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, and Rear Admiral David 
> Dixon Porter. One hundred fifty-­two years after Lincoln hatched plans 
> to preserve the Union, President Trump’s advisers staged an 
> intervention inside the Tank to try to preserve the world order.
> By that point, six months into his administration, Secretary of 
> Defense Jim Mattis, Director of the National Economic Council Gary 
> Cohn, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had grown alarmed by gaping 
> holes in Trump’s knowledge of history, especially the key alliances 
> forged following World War II. Trump had dismissed allies as 
> worthless, cozied up to authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere, 
> and advocated withdrawing troops from strategic outposts and active 
> theaters alike.
> Trump organized his unorthodox worldview under the simplistic banner 
> of “America First,” but Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn feared his 
> proposals were rash, barely considered, and a danger to America’s 
> superpower standing. They also felt that many of Trump’s impulsive 
> ideas stemmed from his lack of familiarity with U.S. history and, 
> even, where countries were located. To have a useful discussion with 
> him, the trio agreed, they had to create a basic knowledge, a shared 
> language.
> So on July 20, 2017, Mattis invited Trump to the Tank for what he, 
> Tillerson, and Cohn had carefully organized as a tailored tutorial. 
> What happened inside the Tank that day crystallized the commander in 
> chief’s berating, derisive and dismissive manner, foreshadowing 
> decisions such as the one earlier this month that brought the United 
> States to the brink of war with Iran. The Tank meeting was a turning 
> point in Trump’s presidency. Rather than getting him to appreciate 
> America’s traditional role and alliances, Trump began to tune out and 
> eventually push away the experts who believed their duty was to 
> protect the country by restraining his more dangerous impulses.
> The episode has been documented numerous times, but subsequent 
> reporting reveals a more complete picture of the moment and the 
> chilling effect Trump’s comments and hostility had on the nation’s 
> military and national security leadership.
> Just before 10 a.m. on a scorching summer Thursday, Trump arrived at 
> the Pentagon. He stepped out of his motorcade, walked along a corridor 
> with portraits honoring former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, and 
> stepped inside the Tank. The uniformed officers greeted their 
> commander in chief. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph F. 
> Dunford Jr. sat in the seat of honor midway down the table, because 
> this was his room, and Trump sat at the head of the table facing a 
> projection screen. Mattis and the newly confirmed deputy defense 
> secretary, Patrick Shanahan, sat to the president’s left, with Vice 
> President Pence and Tillerson to his right. Down the table sat the 
> leaders of the military branches, along with Cohn and Treasury 
> Secretary Steven Mnuchin. White House chief strategist Stephen K. 
> Bannon was in the outer ring of chairs with other staff, taking his 
> seat just behind Mattis and directly in Trump’s line of sight.
> Mattis, Cohn, and Tillerson and their aides decided to use maps, 
> graphics, and charts to tutor the president, figuring they would help 
> keep him from getting bored. Mattis opened with a slide show 
> punctuated by lots of dollar signs. Mattis devised a strategy to use 
> terms the impatient president, schooled in real estate, would 
> appreciate to impress upon him the value of U.S. investments abroad. 
> He sought to explain why U.S. troops were deployed in so many regions 
> and why America’s safety hinged on a complex web of trade deals, 
> alliances, and bases across the globe.
> An opening line flashed on the screen, setting the tone: “The post-war 
> international rules-based order is the greatest gift of the greatest 
> generation.” Mattis then gave a 20-minute briefing on the power of the 
> NATO alliance to stabilize Europe and keep the United States safe. 
> Bannon thought to himself, “Not good. Trump is not going to like that 
> one bit.” The internationalist language Mattis was using was a trigger 
> for Trump.
> “Oh, baby, this is going to be f---ing wild,” Bannon thought. “If you 
> stood up and threatened to shoot [Trump], he couldn’t say ‘postwar 
> rules-based international order.’ It’s just not the way he thinks.”
> For the next 90 minutes, Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn took turns trying 
> to emphasize their points, pointing to their charts and diagrams. They 
> showed where U.S. personnel were positioned, at military bases, CIA 
> stations, and embassies, and how U.S. deployments fended off the 
> threats of terror cells, nuclear blasts, and destabilizing enemies in 
> places including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Korea Peninsula, and 
> Syria. Cohn spoke for about 20 minutes about the value of free trade 
> with America’s allies, emphasizing how he saw each trade agreement 
> working together as part of an overall structure to solidify U.S. 
> economic and national security.
> Trump appeared peeved by the schoolhouse vibe but also allergic to the 
> dynamic of his advisers talking at him. His ricocheting attention span 
> led him to repeatedly interrupt the lesson. He heard an adviser say a 
> word or phrase and then seized on that to interject with his take. For 
> instance, the word “base” prompted him to launch in to say how “crazy” 
> and “stupid” it was to pay for bases in some countries.
> Trump’s first complaint was to repeat what he had vented about to his 
> national security adviser months earlier: South Korea should pay for a 
> $10 billion missile defense system that the United States built for 
> it. The system was designed to shoot down any short- and medium-range 
> ballistic missiles from North Korea to protect South Korea and 
> American troops stationed there. But Trump argued that the South 
> Koreans should pay for it, proposing that the administration pull U.S. 
> troops out of the region or bill the South Koreans for their protection.
> “We should charge them rent,” Trump said of South Korea. “We should 
> make them pay for our soldiers. We should make money off of everything.”
> Trump proceeded to explain that NATO, too, was worthless. U.S. 
> generals were letting the allied member countries get away with 
> murder, he said, and they owed the United States a lot of money after 
> not living up to their promise of paying their dues.
> “They’re in arrears,” Trump said, reverting to the language of real 
> estate. He lifted both his arms at his sides in frustration. Then he 
> scolded top officials for the
> untold millions of dollars he believed they had let slip through their 
> fingers by allowing allies to avoid their obligations.
> “We are owed money you haven’t been collecting!” Trump told them. “You 
> would totally go bankrupt if you had to run your own business.”
> Mattis wasn’t trying to convince the president of anything, only to 
> explain and provide facts. Now things were devolving quickly. The 
> general tried to calmly explain to the president that he was not quite 
> right. The NATO allies didn’t owe the United States back rent, he 
> said. The truth was more complicated. NATO had a nonbinding goal that 
> members should pay at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product 
> on their defenses. Only five of the countries currently met that goal, 
> but it wasn’t as if they were shorting the United States on the bill.
> More broadly, Mattis argued, the NATO alliance was not serving only to 
> protect western Europe. It protected America, too. “This is what keeps 
> us safe,” Mattis said. Cohn tried to explain to Trump that he needed 
> to see the value of the trade deals. “These are commitments that help 
> keep us safe,” Cohn said.
> Bannon interjected. “Stop, stop, stop,” he said. “All you guys talk 
> about all these great things, they’re all our partners, I want you to 
> name me now one country and one company that’s going to have his back.”
> Trump then repeated a threat he’d made countless times before. He 
> wanted out of the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama had struck in 
> 2015, which called for Iran to reduce its uranium stockpile and cut 
> its nuclear program.
> “It’s the worst deal in history!” Trump declared. “Well, actually 
> . . .,” Tillerson interjected. “I don’t want to hear it,” Trump said, 
> cutting off the secretary of state before he could explain some of the 
> benefits of the agreement. “They’re cheating. They’re building. We’re 
> getting out of it. I keep telling you, I keep giving you time, and you 
> keep delaying me. I want out of it.”
> 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.
> The plan by Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn to train the president to 
> appreciate the internationalist view had clearly backfired.
> “We were starting to get out on the wrong path, and we really needed 
> to have a course correction and needed to educate, to teach, to help 
> him understand the reason and basis for a lot of these things,” said 
> one senior official involved in the planning. “We needed to change how 
> he thinks about this, to course correct. Everybody was on board, 100 
> percent agreed with that sentiment. [But] they were dismayed and in 
> shock when not only did it not have the intended effect, but he dug in 
> his heels and pushed it even further on the spectrum, further 
> solidifying his views.”
> A few days later, Pence’s national security adviser, Andrea Thompson, 
> a retired Army colonel who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq, reached 
> out to thank Tillerson for speaking up on behalf of the military and 
> the public servants who had been in the Tank. By September 2017, she 
> would leave the White House and join Tillerson at Foggy Bottom as 
> undersecretary of state for arms control and international security 
> affairs.
> The Tank meeting had so thoroughly shocked the conscience of military 
> leaders that they tried to keep it a secret. At the Aspen Security 
> Forum two days later, longtime NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell 
> asked Dunford how Trump had interacted during the Tank meeting. The 
> Joint Chiefs chairman misleadingly described the meeting, skipping 
> over the fireworks.
> “He asked a lot of hard questions, and the one thing he does is 
> question some fundamental assumptions that we make as military leaders 
> — and he will come in and question those,” Dunford told Mitchell on 
> July 22. “It’s a pretty energetic and an interactive dialogue.”
> One victim of the Tank meeting was Trump’s relationship with 
> Tillerson, which forever after was strained. The secretary of state 
> came to see it as the beginning of the end. It would only worsen when 
> news that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” was first reported in 
> October 2017 by NBC News.
> Trump once again gathered his generals and top diplomats in December 
> 2017 for a meeting as part of the administration’s ongoing strategy 
> talks about troop deployments in Afghanistan in the Situation Room, a 
> secure meeting room on the ground floor of the West Wing. Trump didn’t 
> like the Situation Room as much as the Pentagon’s Tank, because he 
> didn’t think it had enough gravitas. It just wasn’t impressive.
> But there Trump was, struggling to come up with a new Afghanistan 
> policy and frustrated that so many U.S. forces were deployed in so 
> many places around the world. The conversation began to tilt in the 
> same direction as it had in the Tank back in July.
> “All these countries need to start paying us for the troops we are 
> sending to their countries. We need to be making a profit,” Trump 
> said. “We could turn a profit on this.”
> Dunford tried to explain to the president once again, gently, that 
> troops deployed in these regions provided stability there, which 
> helped make America safer. Another officer chimed in that charging 
> other countries for U.S. soldiers would be against the law.
> “But it just wasn’t working,” one former Trump aide recalled. “Nothing 
> worked.”
> Following the Tank meeting, Tillerson had told his aides that he would 
> never silently tolerate such demeaning talk from Trump about making 
> money off the deployments of U.S. soldiers. Tillerson’s father, at the 
> age of 17, had committed to enlist in the Navy on his next birthday, 
> wanting so much to serve his country in World War II. His great-uncle 
> was a career officer in the Navy as well. Both men had been on his 
> mind, Tillerson told aides, when Trump unleashed his tirade in the 
> Tank and again when he repeated those points in the Situation Room in 
> December.
> “We need to get our money back,” Trump told his assembled advisers.
> That was it. Tillerson stood up. But when he did so, he turned his 
> back to the president and faced the flag officers and the rest of the 
> aides in the room. He didn’t want a repeat of the scene in the Tank.
> “I’ve never put on a uniform, but I know this,” Tillerson said. “Every 
> person who has put on a uniform, the people in this room, they don’t 
> do it to make a buck. They did it for their country, to protect us. I 
> want everyone to be clear about how much we as a country value their 
> service.”
> Tillerson’s rebuke made Trump angry. He got a little red in the face. 
> But the president decided not to engage Tillerson at that moment. He 
> would wait to take him on another day.
> Later that evening, after 8:00, Tillerson was working in his office at 
> the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters, preparing for the 
> next day. The phone rang. It was Dunford. The Joint Chiefs chairman’s 
> voice was unsteady with emotion. Dunford had much earlier joked with 
> Tillerson that in past administrations the secretaries of state and 
> Defense Department leaders wouldn’t be caught dead walking on the same 
> side of the street, for their rivalry was that fierce. But now, as 
> both men served Trump, they were brothers joined against what they saw 
> as disrespect for service members. Dunford thanked Tillerson for 
> standing up for them in the Situation Room.
> “You took the body blows for us,” Dunford said. “Punch after punch. 
> Thank you. I will never forget it.”
> Tillerson, Dunford, and Mattis would not take those body blows for 
> much longer. They failed to rein in Trump’s impulses or to break 
> through what they regarded as the president’s stubborn, even dangerous 
> insistence that he knew best. Piece by piece, the guardrails that had 
> hemmed in the chaos of Trump’s presidency crumpled.
> In March 2018, Trump abruptly fired Tillerson while the secretary of 
> state was halfway across the globe on a sensitive diplomatic mission 
> to Africa to ease tensions caused by Trump’s demeaning insults about 
> African countries.
> Trump gave Tillerson no rationale for his firing, and afterward acted 
> as if they were buddies, inviting him to come by the Oval Office to 
> take a picture and have the president sign it. Tillerson never went.
> Mattis continued serving as the defense secretary, but the president’s 
> sudden decision in December 2018 to withdraw troops from Syria and 
> abandon America’s Kurdish allies there — one the president soon 
> reversed, only to remake 10 months later — inspired him to resign. 
> Mattis saw Trump’s desired withdrawal as an assault on a soldier’s 
> code. “He began to feel like he was becoming complicit,” recalled one 
> of the secretary’s confidants.
> The media interpretation of Mattis’ resignation letter as a scathing 
> rebuke of Trump’s worldview brought the president’s anger to a boiling 
> point. Trump decided to remove Mattis two months ahead of the 
> secretary’s chosen departure date. His treatment of Mattis upset the 
> secretary’s staff. They decided to arrange the biggest clap out they 
> could. The event was a tradition for all departing secretaries. They 
> wanted a line of Pentagon personnel that stretched for a mile 
> applauding Mattis as he left for the last time. It was going to be 
> “yuge,” staffers joked, borrowing from Trump’s glossary.
> But Mattis would not allow it. “No, we are not doing that,” he told 
> his aides. “You don’t understand the president. I work with him. You 
> don’t know him like I do. He will take it out on Shanahan and Dunford.”
> Dunford stayed on until September 2019, retiring at the conclusion of 
> his four-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One of 
> Dunford’s first public acts after leaving office was to defend a 
> military officer attacked by Trump, Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander 
> Vindman, a National Security Council official who testified in the 
> House impeachment inquiry about his worries over Trump’s conduct with 
> Ukraine. Trump dismissed Vindman as a “Never Trumper,” but Dunford 
> stepped forward to praise the Purple Heart recipient as “a 
> professional, competent, patriotic, and loyal officer. He has made an 
> extraordinary contribution to the security of our nation.”
> By then, however, Trump had become a president entirely unrestrained. 
> He had replaced his raft of seasoned advisers with a cast of enablers 
> who executed his orders and engaged his obsessions. They saw their 
> mission as telling the president yes.
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