Mad Dogs and Oilmen
In The Tank For Donald Trump
So, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker shared an excerpt from their upcoming book with the Washington Post:
This piece focuses on Donald's relationship with top-level military officials and former Secretary of State Rich Texan, during their futile attempts to teach him something, anything about how the world actually works in the hopes that he’d stop blurting out plans for war crimes and basing military decisions on gut feelings and grievances.
It's a lot of stuff that we've heard about over the past couple of years anyway, fleshed out some and collected in one place. Many aspects of the article have been discussed, including Trump deriding the men he once affectionately referred to as "his generals" as "a bunch of dopes and babies" and telling them he would never go to war with them. (As though that needed to be said.)
There's one part I haven't seen mentioned in particular, and I'd like to discuss it here.
Now, I’ll preface this by saying I've never needed an explanation for why neither the military nor the intelligence community nor the secret service ever validates negative press reports about their relationship with Donald. Even laying aside anything about the chain of command, it's a simple fact that whatever happens today, they as institutions have to get up tomorrow and work with him.
They can't take their business elsewhere. They can't ask to speak to his manager. They can't hang up and call be in to see if a different president answers the phone.
So whatever they think about him, they will do whatever it takes to keep the bridge unburned, even if it means running around putting out fires that he lit.
That principle is on display here, in this description of Mattis's exit:
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.”
That is about what I figured for why even departing members of these institutions aren't turning around and putting the administration on blast. Which isn't to say that I approve of that choice. I feel they're putting loyalty to an institution over loyalty to the republic, under the idea that the institution can still serve and still save the republic if it's protected from the ire of Hair Furor. This is a mistake, and every escalation documented in this piece proves it.
All of that said, here is what I wanted to talk about, with emphasis added by me:
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.”
Okay. I don't know where that characterization comes from. If somebody involved described it that way, somebody close to those involved did, ro Leonnig and Rucker are describing what it looks like to them, from the outside.
If it's accurate... woo, boy. That is. That is bad. I didn't think the situation was good. I know that the mood of the day is we're defending these courageous men of principle and virtue over the cowardly bully who has so debased and dishonored their service, but read this:
...so thoroughly shocked the conscience of military leaders that they tried to keep it a secret.
It shocked their conscience so much that they buried it, pretended it never happened, lied to the media, denied and downplayed reports that it had went badly. They lied to us, to the country and the world, because their conscience was offended?
If this is accurate, then we are talking about moral cowardice. We are talking about abandoned posts and dereliction of duty. We're talking about a betrayal — not treason, which has a more specific definition, but a betrayal — of their oaths, of their obligations to this country and its peoples.
I never expected Mattis to be the adult in the room who saves us. I never expected anyone in Donald's cabinet or his orbit or his chain of command would do that. But even with everything that's come out and everything that we know about him and everything we have reason to suspect... I didn't think anyone was seeing the problem this clearly, this up close and this personal, then looking around the room, shrugging, and going, "Welp, time to bury this in the memory hole."
Certainly not as far back as 2017.
They're shocked? I'm shocked. I didn't think it was possible for Tex Richman or James Mattis or any of the other players in this sad, sordid drama to disappoint me... and yet here I am.
If anyone is still thinking that we can wait for Pence or anyone else still standing in the vicinity of the West Wing to "come to their senses" and end this for us, it's long past time to give up that fantasy. Between Mark Esper validating Trump's fantasy about embassy threats, this piece, and the increasingly transparent performances of his allies in the Senate, it should be apparent: there is no breaking point.
Even when they know what he’s doing is wrong, even when they are shocked and dismayed and insulted, their solution is and will always be to cover it up. “The good ones” are doing the same thing as his gleeful co-conspirators.
They have made their choice. They have all made their choice, and they are going to ride this to the bitter, ugly, and destructive end.