In Michael Wolff’s now bestselling Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the word “Pakistan” appears a grand total of zero times — as does “India,” for those keeping count.
With “Taliban,” “ISIS,” and “terrorism” featuring a mere six times combined, there’s nothing that could remotely link the White House ‘exposé’ to South Asia — let alone Pakistan.
And yet, in chronologically narrating the developments inside the White House, and in turn shedding light on the functioning of the US President Donald Trump’s mind, Wolff’s ‘tell-all’ helps the reader in our neck of the woods comprehend the current American administration’s confrontational stance on Islamabad.
In this regard, the timing of the book’s release, in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s outrageous and much derided tweet against Islamabad — his first in 2018 — helps address the questions that the reader in Pakistan might have.
The same, perhaps, can’t be said for those well versed in American politics and have closely followed the anomalous election of the 45th US President from his campaign to his first year charge. For, the fact that Trump is ill-suited to govern any realm, let alone the United States of America, is hardly breaking news or indeed the fact that he has more in common with Hulk Hogan than any former president.
Why the marriage with Melania Trump is a façade, he wanted to surround himself with family inside the Oval Office, there was “secret communication” with the Russians, and Steve Bannon — the source responsible for almost the entirety of the book — is no longer the White House Chief Strategist, are questions that have been convincingly answered elsewhere and on numerous occasions. Even the theory that Trump and his entourage actually planned on losing the election has been done to death.
What might be more interesting for us to know is what was happening in the White House when Trump announced his South Asia policy in August last year, which asserted that Islamabad gives “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,” or when he used the word “positive” in the context of the Pak-US relations in October.
For instance, Trump’s first foreign trip was a nine-day expedition across Middle East and Europe in May that began from Riyadh, where the US President led Arab Islamic American summit, which was attended by representatives of 55 Muslim majority states including the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“The itinerary — May 19 to 27 — was too long for any president, particularly such an untested and untutored one. (Trump himself, full of phobias about travel and unfamiliar locations, had been grumbling about the burdens of the trip.) But coming immediately after [the firing of the then FBI director James] Comey and [commencement of investigations under Robert] Mueller it was a get-out-of-Dodge godsend. There couldn’t have been a better time to be making headlines far from Washington.”
Those headlines were made with a “$110 billion arms deal” with Saudi Arabia, and a keynote speech at the “Islamic” summit. It was in that speech that Trump not only identified India as a victim of terror — deeming Kashmiri militant struggle synonymous with terrorism, at an Islamic summit — he failed to acknowledge Pakistan as one.
Similarly, it was four days before Trump’s speech on the US South Asia Policy that Steve Bannon — the heart and soul of Fire and Fury — was fired.
In the final chapter, dedicated entirely to Bannon’s firing, Wolff narrates the questions then floating across the White House, especially vis-à-vis Chief of Staff Gen John F Kelly’s influence in policymaking.
Where exactly did the new chief of staff fit in Trump’s world? While Kelly stood somewhere right of center on the political spectrum and had been a willing tough immigration enforcer at Homeland Security, he was not anywhere near so right as Bannon or Trump. “He’s not hardcore” was Bannon’s regretful appraisal.”
It was in an October press conference that Gen Kelly lauded Pakistan’s efforts in rescuing the Canadian-American couple Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman, “Let me just say the Pakistanis, they’re great partners in this regard that they are. And I don’t think — I think there’s been a change.”
Meanwhile, “…the linchpin of Trumpism was China. The story of the next generation, he believed, had been written, and it was about war with China. Commercial war, trade war, cultural war, diplomatic war — it would be an all-encompassing war that few in the United States now understood needed to be fought, and that almost nobody was prepared to fight.”
And no war with China, especially one that currently pivots around wrestling control over Afghanistan, can be fought with Pakistan as an ally.
But let’s not mistake Fire and Fury for a commentary on Trump’s policies — domestic or foreign — and the many flaws that they have. In a nutshell, it is the reconfirmation of the many allegations surrounding the Trump regime — from internal chaos to downright incompetence.
The book cashes in on the most popular tropes that anyone mildly interesting in political reading frequently comes across, centred around the now established narrative that Trump is a disaster for humankind, and extrapolates those claims through unsubstantiated sources — and Bannon, who of course has more than just a bone to pick with Trump.
But at the same time Fire and Fury also helps establish why it is those that do not, or cannot, read that proved to be the differential in the last American elections.
For those looking to dig out a global offshoot, the book sums up the current US diplomacy as: “If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two.”
And even though this is no major revelation, it is the manner in which Michael Wolff helps the reader sit next to those advisers that reaffirms everyone’s confirmation bias.