In his new book, Fear, Bob Woodward says that Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine NATO and NAFTA and the trade agreement with South Korea were threats to American national security, and Trump was heroically foiled by his own aides.
But when it comes to Trump’s destruction of the Iran deal, Woodward all but approves it, portraying Iran as a “malign” threat to world order and an “existential threat to the Jewish state.”
Woodward’s bias is the conventional national security bias in the official press. On the one hand, “the international order” established by trade agreements and security treaties preserves stability and prevents World War 3. But when it comes to the Middle East, the only standard for order is Israel’s order. President Barack Obama is treated with derision in Woodward’s story, because he allowed the Israel-U.S. relationship to “deteriorate” and didn’t want to intervene more strongly against Iranian proxies in the region.
The investigative reporter gave vent to this worldview on Fresh Air yesterday, when he told Terry Gross that it “would have been a disaster” if Trump had followed through on draft statements to end NAFTA , the North American Free Trade Agreement, and a trade agreement with South Korea that is linked to the treaty under which the U.S. keeps 28,000 American troops on the peninsula.
Former economic adviser Gary Cohn took these agreements off Trump’s desk so as to protect national security, Woodward said, and Defense Secretary James Mattis teamed up with him to do it.
Cohn and Mattis had an alliance. We are going to protect the country… So Mattis came into the Oval Office and said to the president, don’t withdraw from this trade agreement. It’s critical to United States national security. And also part of his argument was, please, please don’t do this.
In the end, Trump did not withdraw from NATO, NAFTA or the South Korean military treaty.
But of course Trump did trash the Iran deal, and here Woodward strikes a different tone. His book reflects Mattis’s and other security operatives’ view that Iran threatens our national security. As CentCom commander under Obama, Mattis had tried to explain to the Democratic administration that Iran “remained the greatest threat to the United States interests in the Middle East,” because it was going to provoke a war with Israel, but Obama aides dismissed the advice in their effort to come to terms with the country and Mattis was sent packing.
While Woodward characterizes Mattis as a “hawk” and a “globalist,” he routinely echoes Mattis’s views, including that Obama had sacrificed “U.S. military credibility” in the region.
Woodward also parrots the Israeli view that the deal had only empowered Iranian proxy Hezbollah, the Islamist political and military group in Lebanon, and Hezbollah represents a “ticking time bomb” that is “committed to destroy Israel.”
The sensitive intelligence showed that Hezbollah had more than 48,000 full-time military in Lebanon, where they presented an existential threat to the Jewish state… Hezbollah had a stunning 150,000 rockets. In the 2006 war with Israel they’d had only 4,500.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders were integrated into the Hezbollah structure. Iran was paying Hezbollah’s bills–at a staggering $1 billion a year. That did not include what Hezbollah made from money laundering, human trafficking, the cocaine and opium trades, and selling ivory tusks from Mozambique….
Hezbollah was a perfect proxy for Iran to use to pressure and attack Israel, whose air bases could be pummeled with rockets… [NSC analyst Derek] Harvey argued [to Jared Kushner] there was a potential for a catastrophic war, with immense humanitarian, economic and strategic consequences. An Iranian-Israeli conflict would draw in the United States and unhinge efforts to bring regional stability…
[Harvey] pushed to follow up on Trump and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreements from their meeting in February –the importance of a strategic dialogue to take a fresh look and confront the new realities on the ground. He wanted to enhance the relationship that he believed had deteriorated over eight years under the Obama administration.
Later Woodward characterizes Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel in May 2017, in which Trump solidified the regional front against Iran, as a “home run.” Trump was confronting Iran’s “malign actions.”
“The Obama approach of straddling was over.”
Mattis approved of the new approach. Iran was the “key destabilizing influence in the region.” His approach was: “Push them back, screw with them, drive a wedge between the Russians and Iran, but no war.”
Woodward does treat Trump’s decertification of the Iran deal as part of his general contempt for international agreements. He reports that Mattis and former secretary of state Rex Tillerson pushed back against the president, by pointing out that Iran was complying with the deal, even if the president didn’t like it. But Trump slapped them down, saying “That’s too establishment,” and “Rex, you’re weak” and maintaining that European countries are profiting from Iran.
But Woodward has no more to say about the matter. The destruction of the deal never figures in his catalog of national security threats. He never points out that the deal was forged with all the powers that be, Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany and the EU. He never addresses the end of the deal as a threat to stability, even as he harps on Iran as a threat to stability.
Woodward reflects tenets of the foreign policy establishment in Washington (See Politico’s report preparing the ground for Trump leaving the deal). If treaties and trade agreements in Europe and Asia collapse, it’s world war 3. But in the Middle East, that order means doing what Israel wants– or we’ll get world war 3 when Israel gets into a fight with Iran.
So the signature achievement of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is treated by Woodward as destabilizing, because it undermines the U.S.’s special relationship with Israel and because Iran represents “an existential threat to the Jewish state.”
Needless to say, Palestinians go unmentioned in Woodward’s book. Though Hezbollah and Iran have both cited Palestinians’ lack of freedom as a bone of contention with Israel.
Also unmentioned is Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which has already cost a lot of lives and surely put an end to the vaunted peace process of the last 25 years, which you’d think would be a strut in Woodward’s international order.
As for Sheldon Adelson, who gave $35 million to Trump and has sought the embassy move, the destruction of the Iran deal, the end of the peace process, and a nuclear attack on Iran, he also is unmentioned by Woodward. The Koch brothers, big donors to Republicans, do come in for a jab, though.