White House strategist Steve Bannon was in constant conflict with national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and at one point thought he would rid himself of his nemesis by convincing President Trump to promote the active-duty Army general and put him in charge of the Afghanistan war, according to the just-released book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
“Bannon believed McMaster would be out by August. He was sure he had the president’s word on this. Done deal,” writes Michael Wolff. “In Bannon’s scenario, Trump would give McMaster a fourth star and ‘promote’ him to top military commander in Afghanistan.”
Wolff quotes a “triumphal” Bannon as boasting, “McMaster wants to send more troops to Afghanistan, so we’re going to send him.”
Many details of the tell-all book have been disputed, but Bannon has confirmed that he talked to Wolff at length on the record.
The chapter on Afghanistan describes how Trump had to be convinced grudgingly over many months to approve the recommendation of McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to dispatch reinforcements to carry out a new, more robust strategy to defeat the Taliban after 16 years of stalemate.
Bannon was pushing a plan to send private contractors and the CIA instead of more troops and was convinced he had the option that appealed to Trump, who was “pissed off that he was being handed the same problem and the same options that were handed [to President Barack] Obama.”
And the book claims Trump shared Bannon’s intense dislike for the national security adviser and “continued to heap spleen and mockery on McMaster.”
The book recounts a July 19 meeting of the national security team in the White House situation room in which Trump “lost it.”
“For two hours, he angrily railed against the mess he had been handed. He threatened to fire almost every general in the chain of command. He couldn’t fathom, he said, how it had taken so many months of study to come up with a nothing-much-different plan,” Wolff writes.
“The generals were punting and waffling and desperately trying to save face – they were, according to Bannon, talking pure ‘gobbledygook’ in the situation room. ‘Trump was standing up to them, said a happy Bannon, ‘Hammering them. He left a bowel movement in the middle of their Afghan plans.’ ”
One month later, three days after Bannon was fired, Trump announced he had approved his generals’ recommendation. “My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you're president of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my Cabinet and generals to complete our strategy.”