President Donald Trump blasted top military officials as “losers” and “a bunch of dopes and babies” for a lack of success in the recent wars during a tense meeting early in his presidency that set a negative tone for the relationship between the Pentagon and White House, according to a new book except released Friday.
The volume — “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America,” written by a pair of Washington Post reporters — chronicles the first three years of Trump presidency, offering interviews with insiders about high-level administration discussions the authors say have not been made public before.
That includes a meeting at the Pentagon in the summer of 2017, six months into Trump’s presidency, where key Pentagon leaders and other top administration officials (including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, all of whom have since stepped down from those posts) met with Trump to discuss U.S. alliances and military posture overseas.
The essence of the meeting has been chronicled before. But sources interviewed for the book say the meeting quickly devolved into an angry rant by Trump, who accused top U.S. military officials of incompetence.
He called Afghanistan a “loser war” and told generals assembled there that “you don’t know how to win anymore.” He attacked the group for the costs of ongoing military operations overseas and said that the United States should have gotten payments in oil from allies it assisted in the Middle East.
“I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” the book quotes Trump as saying to the military officials. “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
According to the authors, Tillerson defended the military leaders and told Trump his criticism was “totally wrong.” That added to a growing rift between the men, and Tillerson’s dismissal in March 2018.
Mattis, a former Marine Corps general who still remains popular among members of the military, stepped down from his Cabinet post about nine months later, citing differences with Trump over support for foreign allies.
Reached by Military Times, Mattis declined comment on the new book.
During the course of the meeting, the authors wrote, Trump also suggested charging “rent” to South Korea for U.S. military forces positioned there and suggested that NATO countries owed America direct payments totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, a claim that left many in the room confused.
Publicly, Pentagon leaders characterized the meeting in a positive light. But the book authors said the incident led to a strained relationship between top generals and Trump, and the eventual departure of several high-ranking officials who were upset over the administration’s policies.
The full book is scheduled to be released on Jan. 21.
Military Times managing editor Howard Altman contributed to this story.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.