- - Friday, January 3, 2020

Peter Bergen is a well-informed, animated writer on foreign policy. Though I frequently disagree with what he has to say, he usually says it rather well.

Trump and His Generals” purports to show how The Donald is a dangerous, addle-brained commander in chief, and a threat to civilization as we know it inside the Beltway. But great chunks of it, probably unintentionally, reveal what is wrong not with Mr. Trump, but with the entrenched Washington establishment that has tried to thwart his presidency at every turn.

Most of the senior sources cited by Mr. Bergen have played key roles in failed American policies — and squandered American blood and treasure — going as far back as the Vietnam War. Surely we can do better.

We read that, “Trump has spent much of his presidency undermining the institutions that undergird and defend American democracy. It used to be leftists who tended to decry the CIA, the FBI, and the Department of Justice. Now it was Trump and his supporters. A key element of the United States’ unwritten constitution has been that the president wouldn’t attack key organs of his own government. That notion now seems quaint.”

There is no “unwritten” U.S. Constitution. But if there were, the hands-off policy toward the CIA and the FBI would be based on the assumption that those agencies keep their noses out of domestic politics and do not allow themselves to be used, as they were under the Obama administration, to wage a partisan  vendetta — largely based on a slanderous, fictitious, politically-funded dossier — involving wire-tapping and attempted entrapment of innocent American citizens. 



It was the “key organs,” under rogue leaders like CIA Director John Brennan and weak-kneed sycophants like former FBI Director James Comey, who attacked Donald Trump as both candidate and president. In so doing, they gravely compromised the integrity of the agencies they headed and tainted the honor of thousands of patriotic men and women serving under them who would never dream of playing politics with their public trust.

None of this seems to bother Mr. Bergen. He worships at the altar of a higher authority, explaining that, “[t]he Vatican of the American foreign policy establishment is the Council on Foreign Relations,” and that there is very little support for our current commander in chief in that holiest of holies.

Throughout the book, quotes — often attributed to Mr. Trump at second- or third-hand and intended to show him as a buffoon or dangerously unhinged — actually reveal a common sense as shrewd as it is crude.

After one foreign policy briefing feeding him the standard establishment line that the United States should continue to pay most of the bills and make most of the sacrifices, a visibly annoyed Mr. Trump declares, “You guys have just walked through exactly what we’re not gonna do! We’re not doing this! The whole thing is on our shoulders. We’re everywhere. It’s our dollars! If NATO is so afraid of Russia, somebody must stand up and write some checks!” 

Which a number of key NATO allies have since done, thanks to presidential prodding.

Connoisseurs of black humor will enjoy a purported phone conversation wherein The Donald presses the crown prince of Saudi Arabia about the killing of dissident Saudi journalist and political activist Jamal Khashoggi: “Did you know anything about this? Did you have any role? Mohammed, I need to know. Was there a bone saw? Because if there was a bone saw, that changes everything. I mean, I’ve been in some pretty tough negotiations. I’ve never had to take a bone saw with me. ”

Approached calmly and objectively, “Trump and His Generals” contains more titillation than condemnation. It tells us what we already knew: that Donald Trump is a tough guy to work for, even if you happen to be a four star general or a former Marine commandant; that, like many successful leaders — and very few career bureaucrats — he has strong gut instincts that usually serve him well; and that he wants to do a better job of defending American interests at home and abroad than Barack Obama and his comic sidekicks, Joe and Hillary, did on their watch.

“In early November 2020 American voters will go to the polls to elect their next president,” the author writes, “ … is Trump turning over to coming generations a United States that is in as good shape or better than it was when he assumed office?”

The answer, I suspect, is a lot better than Mr. Bergen would have us believe.

• Aram Bakshian Jr., a former aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, has written widely on politics, history, gastronomy and the arts.

• • •

TRUMP AND HIS GENERALS: THE COST OF CHAOS

By Peter Bergen

Penguin Press, $30, 386 pages

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