I’m a long-time admirer of Bob Woodward, and so it’s disappointing to say the least that he’s just provided more evidence that his sensational (literally) new book Fear is as much of a Hail Mary to restore the (deservedly) shredded reputation of the nation’s bipartisan globalist policy establishment as an effort to portray “the real inside” story of the President Trump’s White House.
At this point, I should confess that I still haven’t read the book. But enough of it had come out through about a week ago that I felt justified in analyzing Woodward’s treatment of Korea-related trade and security issues and arriving at the above conclusion. The new evidence comes from the long-time Washington Post reporter’s interview this past Friday night on PBS’ Washington Week talk show, so it seems as an equally sound basis for judging Woodward’s thinking.
Korea issues again come into play, but so does the President’s recent decision to impose tariffs on most of the foreign steel attempting to enter the U.S. Market. Let’s look at Woodward’s assessment of the steel situation first.
The author’s first problem with the levies is his belief that they represent an instance of Mr. Trump’s alleged habit of “just [doing] what he wants; and he’ll listen up to a point, then he will dismiss….” This disquiet is easily dismissed itself, as it sounds like the President seeks advice from his advisers and then, after a finite period of time, decides what course he’ll take. What does Woodward think Mr. Trump is supposed to do? Listen indefinitely? Or until he’s convinced he’s wrong?
But the Woodward’s second problem with the steel tariffs is much more revealing of his own blinders – and therefore much more disturbing. Here it is:
“Now, if you took a thousand economists and say do steel tariffs make sense – and I quote a document in the book where experts on the left, the right, the economists, Nobel Prize winners, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, leading Democratic and Republican economists, send him a letter saying don’t do this; this will not work. And, of course, he does it….
“But now we are in the world of these trade wars, which he says he thinks he can win. Wow. Danger, danger.”
In other words, Mr. Trump’s great crime is failing to listen to the supposed experts. I say “supposed” because the two he mentioned specifically – former Federal Reserve Chairs Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke – have little enough claim to minimal competence in their own economic specialty, monetary affairs. The former spearheaded the disastrous monetary and regulatory policies that helped trigger the world’s worst financial crisis and depression in decades. The latter was caught with his pants below his ankles when the crisis struck, and “solved” it by flooding the economy with so much new credit that it was bound to stay afloat. You needed a Ph.D. to pretend that money “does grow on trees”?
But according to Woodward, the President should have followed their recommendations on trade policy, about which they have no special credentials? For good measure, Greenspan knows about as much about manufacturing industries like steel as Hillary Clinton knows about winning presidential elections. After all, he’s the genius who once referred to manufacturing as “something we were terrific at fifty years ago,” and “essentially a nineteenth- and twentieth-century technology.” So please, Mr. Woodward, spare us the experts worship.
By contrast, Woodward’s latest Korea example warrants more concern about the President’s competence on the job and knowledge of the issues – but unwittingly exposes the status quo as just as worrisome. Woodward had reported that last December, Mr. Trump wanted to tweet that the dependents of the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea would be evacuated. The problem with this tweet? In th author’s words:
“[J]ust at the time, the top North Korean leader had sent a message through intermediaries to H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, on December 4th of last year saying if you start withdrawing dependents, we will take that as a signal that war is imminent. Now, you have a volatile leader, Kim Jong-un. He’s got these nuclear weapons and there’s no predictable path for understanding how he might respond. And the Pentagon leadership went nuts about this and just said, you – and the tweet never went out, but had it, you know, God knows.”
If you actually start thinking about the Korea crisis, however, you recognize that the current situation is even more dangerous. For as I’ve repeatedly written, these U.S. forces are deployed to South Korea not to help South Korean forces repel a North Korean attack. They’re deployed to South Korea to serve as a tripwire whose impending defeat will create overwhelming political pressure on an American president to save the day by using nuclear weapons. And the presence of these soldiers spouses and children is being counted on to make this pressure completely irresistible.
As I’ve also written, when North Korea was unable to strike American territory with nuclear weapons of its own, this strategy arguably made sense. For the nuclear threat was likely to succeed in preventing that North Korean attack in the first place because carrying it out pose no risk to America’s core security.
Now, with the rapid recent (and apparently continuing) development of North Korean nuclear forces capable of reaching North America, those days of U.S. invulnerability are unmistakably nearly over, and the American troops’ presence in South Korea are putting U.S. cities in the line of nuclear fire. Worse, they are the only recognizable source of this danger – unless you believe that North Korea has a reason to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack on the United States, and sign its literal nuclear death warrant.
In other words, because the Korean peninsula remains such a powderkeg, and because the North’s leaders are so little known and unpredictable, the danger that Woodward’s Pentagon sources allegedly are so terrified President Trump might have created exist right now, have existed ever since North Korea’s progress toward producing nuclear weapons platforms with intercontinental capabilities became known, and will continue to exist as long as Mr. Trump keeps following the Pentagon’s advice and keeps any American military presence on the peninsula.
Ironically, moreover, the best guarantee of preventing a North Korean nuclear warhead from landing on American city or two is for the President to follow his instincts, pull the troops and their dependents out, and let the local countries take the lead in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Something else disturbing about the Woodward Washington Week interview: Anchor the clear reverence for the globalist Washington establishment demonstrated also by the show’s moderator, Robert Costa, who, like Woodward, works for the Washington Post. It came through when Costa told Woodward that what most surprised him about the book was “the effort that’s being made by so many people around him to bring him back into the mainstream, back towards certain norms.” It came through in his reference to “keeping President Trump in line” and “keep Trump moving toward the center.” And it came through in his question to Woodward,
“Do the people around [Trump] who are taking documents off of his desk, different trade agreements the president’s trying to rip up, do they see themselves, when you talk to them, as heroes? Or do they know they are, in a sense, mounting, as you call it, an administrative coup d’etat?”
What Costa, Woodward – and so many other Mainstream Media journalists – need to understand is that the “norms” reportedly being protected in Woodward’s book aren’t the Ten Commandments or any other code of decency, justice, or democracy. The administration officials reportedly defying the President’s wishes aren’t some modern collective embodiment of Moses. And the center isn’t ipso facto the location of policy wisdom, or even sanity.
Instead, the norms are positions developed by flawed and often self-interested human beings. More specifically, the administration’s Never Trump-ers could also be motivated by simple desires to protect and restore the positions of power, privilege, and wealth their kind enjoyed almost unchallenged until the Trump Revolution. And fetishizing the center amounts to judging these positions only by their relationship to other alternatives that may be widely voiced but also equally off-base, not by their relationship to realities on the ground.
That is, Woodward’s globalist sources for Fear need to be scrutinized just as thoroughly as the President they oppose – especially since their often catastrophic failures did much to put Mr. Trump in power. You could even write a book.