Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward has been writing Washington exposés for nearly 50 years and has built a cult-like following inside the beltway for his gossipy inside accounts of various presidential administrations. His recent books on the Trump administration — Fear and Rage — play to the anti-Trump hysteria that has gripped official Washington since 2017.
His most recent effort is called Peril and promises to be the most anti-Trump of them all.
Woodward is in the gossip-mongering business. If journalism is the “first draft of history,” as Washington Post publisher Bob Graham called it, gossip-mongering is journalism’s evil twin.
Woodward couldn’t get half of what he writes in his book in any newspaper with minimum standards of reporting. But that’s why he writes his books — not to inform, but to entertain.
And if you’re anti-Trump, Woodward can certainly be an entertaining guy.
In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa.
One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated President Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by his supporters in a quest to cancel the vote.
The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China.
Ah, yes. The dreaded “belligerent rhetoric” starting a war ploy. Note how Woodward mixed in some fact flakes about the real causes of the tension: China’s own belligerence in challenging the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea.
Beijing had dealt with Trump for four years and didn’t care if Trump called them names. They cared more about what our aircraft carriers were doing in the region than anything Trump said about them.
This is Woodward’s schtick. And the Washington insiders never tire of it.
“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”
In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. “General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”
Milley had made a determination that the president of the United States — the man he had taken an oath to obey as his commander in chief — was unbalanced and could not be trusted to give lawful orders.
Did Milley really commit treason by saying he would give a heads-up to a nuclear-armed enemy about when we would attack? Milley was making a political decision that rightly belongs only to the president of the United States.
If he said it, he should be cashiered and court-martialed. That’s why this entire incident seems far more likely a gossipy tidbit that Woodward somehow got wind of and decided to include in his book. It’s just not credible.
Related: Bob Woodward’s Own Reaction Shows His Big Trump Virus
Trump’s disdain for convention and traditions notwithstanding, he showed no signs at the end of his presidency that he was mentally ill and has certainly not shown any since he left office. Woodward is going to have to come up with a lot more evidence to back up his extraordinary allegations. Instead, he plays to people’s preconceived notions of the mental health of Donald Trump.