Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THOSE who appreciate a good thriller will find Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” an excellent read, not as history but as fiction. Although the initial reaction to his 321 page book on the Trump White House showed an absence of scepticism about the veracity of the many assertions he has made about what went on in the inner councils of the 45th President of the US, over the weeks, inconsistencies in the narrative are becoming clearer. Among the items hinted by Wolff (and later elaborated in an MSNBC interview) was that Trump was romantically involved with Nikki Haley, the personable US Ambassador to UN, and that both had travelled together several times on Air Force One, sometimes for long transcontinental flights.
This story was shown to be false once it came out that the only time Haley and Trump travelled together on the Chief Executive’s aircraft was on a flight from New York to Washington, a trip that would have been covered in less than an hour. Women have for long undergone the pain of being accused of using their charms to get promotions, and the Wolff titbit was presumably planted by someone in the Trump team who was unhappy at news reports suggesting that Nikki Haley may soon replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Wolff has shown himself to be an easy mark for those wishing to load him with false information in the certainly that he would write as though the falsehoods told to him were true. That the book is a work of fiction becomes clear from the first few pages, where the author goes to considerable lengths to convince the reader that Donald Trump not only did not believe he would defeat Hillary Clinton, but that he actually did not want to be President of the US.
Interestingly, channels such as CNN were discussing the sort of news channel Trump would start, certain as they were that he would lose to their favourite, Hillary. As for Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, would they have exchanged jobs in the innermost circle of power within the world’s most powerful country for an extra dash of celebrity? The first chapter of the book itself makes clear to those not blinded in their reasoning by hatred of Trump that Wolff was penning a work of fiction. Any individual with even a smidgen of insight into the personality of Donald Trump knew that the man hated to lose, and abhorred being second best. He played to win, and played only to win. But not if you believe the anonymous sources quoted by Michael Wolff, which were probably White House and other US Govt staff that had fancy titles but little responsibility, and who were inventing stories to convince Wolff that they were more important than they actually were. It must be assumed that Wolff is a journalist of integrity.
However, every scribe is only as good as her or his sources, and it would appear that his anonymous sources were pushing the Washington Beltway narrative of a US President who was out of his depth and even out of control while holding the most consequential job in the world. Someday the book will be made into a movie despite its erroneous statements, for the reason that Trump’s brand of politics creates foes who will believe the worst about him no matter how improbable such reports may be. Interestingly, around the same time as the book, a film has been released about the Pentagon Papers dealing with the Vietnam war, and the role of the Washington Post and the New York Times in publishing this trove of secret documents to fury from the Nixon White House.
The Watergate-era US President is shown as a petty individual who barred reporters from the Washington Post from coming to the White House after the newspaper disobeyed requests by government agencies to desist from releasing information that had been marked secret. The owner of the Washington Post is shown to be a courageous and idealistic publisher, who gave the “go ahead” to Editor Benjamin C Bradlee despite the risk that publication may lead to the closure of the newspaper as a consequence of hostile actions instigated by President Nixon and his combative team of Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Kissinger. The US Supreme Court made history (and in the correct way) by decreeing that newspapers “serve the governed and not the governors”, and hence that the Post and the Times could publish the secret history of the Vietnam war. Since then, the US has been through several leaks of sensitive records, such as by the Wikileaks expose of US diplomatic files (in which this columnist also figures) and the Titanic-size revelation of secrets of the National Security Agency (NSA) by Edward Snowden.
None of this has adversely affected the interests of the US, thereby proving that secrecy in the name of security is a fetish of governments related to their own desire not to allow errors to come to public attention. It may be recalled that even the “liberal” President Obama went ballistic at both Julian Assange of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. For years Assange has had to imprison himself in the Colombian embassy in London, while Snowden is in Moscow and faces a long jail term should he ever return to the US. It is clear that all those who reach the top of government undergo a mental transformation in which they believe themselves to represent the nation, so that anybody not obeying them becomes condemned as “anti-national”. That the US is still a free society is why Michael Wolff can not only write a salacious and mendacious book about the President of his country, but thrive in the proceeds and publicity of his effort. In few other countries would he have such a luxury.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.