Woodward tells how allies tried to rein in ‘childish’ Trump’s foreign policy

Julian Borger in The Guardian:

Four days before ordering a drone strike against the Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani, Donald Trump was debating the assassination on his own Florida golf course, according to Bob Woodward’s new book on the mercurial president. Trump’s golfing partner that day was Senator Lindsey Graham, who had emerged as one of his closest advisers, and who urged him not to take such a “giant step”, that could trigger “almost total war”. Graham warned Trump he would be raising the stakes from “playing $10 blackjack to $10,000-a-hand blackjack”. “This is over the top,” the senator said. “How about hitting someone a level below Suleimani, which would be much easier for everyone to absorb?”

Trump’s chief of staff at the time, Mick Mulvaney, also begged Graham to help change Trump’s mind. Trump would not be persuaded, pointing to Iranian-orchestrated attacks on US soldiers in Iraq, which he said were masterminded by the Iranian general, the leader of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Suleimani was killed in Baghdad on 3 January, triggering a retaliatory Iranian missile strike against a US base in Iraq, but so far not the large-scale conflict Graham and others warned the president about. The golf course exchange is described in a forthcoming book, Rage, a second volume on the Trump presidency by Woodward, a veteran investigative reporter famous for covering the Watergate affair and the consequent fall of an earlier scandal-ridden president, Richard Nixon.

The portrait that emerges is familiar by now: a volatile president, easily swayed by authoritarian leaders and capable of swinging dramatically from fiery bellicosity to fawning over America’s most ardent adversaries. Nowhere was that whiplash more violent than in policy towards North Korea. The book chronicles the period between July and November 2017 when Pyongyang tested a succession of long-range missiles capable of hitting the US mainland and carried out its sixth underground nuclear test. Conscious that the next missile could be heading towards the US, and that decisions would have to be taken in minutes that could put the country on the path to nuclear war, the then defence secretary, James Mattis, took to sleeping in his gym clothes and having a flashing light and bell installed in his bathroom in case a missile alert happened when he was in the shower.

More here.