- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
- President Donald Trump bemoaned a US-led coalition mission to provide aid to Afghanistan and derailed a meeting with top military officials last year, according to an upcoming book by an aide to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
- “Seriously, who gives a s— about Afghanistan?” Trump said, according to Guy Snodgrass, a retired US Navy commander and Mattis’ former speechwriter. “So far we’re in for $7 trillion, fellas … $7 trillion including Iraq. Worst decision ever and we’re stuck with it.”
- Snodgrass, who was assisting Mattis with PowerPoint slides for the president, said he prepared his presentation by taking into account Trump’s tendency to dislike slides with “too much information.”
- Instead of using complicated military information in the briefing, Snodgrass opted for the “more straightforward approach: just pictures,” he said.
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President Donald Trump bemoaned a US-led coalition mission to provide aid to Afghanistan and derailed a meeting with top military officials last year, according to an upcoming book by an aide to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
During the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting at the Pentagon in January 2018, Trump was briefed by Mattis on the Defense Department’s strategies and internal assessments, Guy Snodgrass, a retired US Navy commander and Mattis’ former speechwriter, said in his book, “Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis,” out next Tuesday.
Snodgrass, who was assisting Mattis with PowerPoint slides for the president, said he prepared his presentation “of paramount importance” by taking into account Trump’s tendency to dislike slides with “too much information.” Instead of adding statistics and explanations, Snodgrass opted for the “more straightforward approach: just pictures.”
Mattis started the briefing by saying that Trump had “inherited a military that has languished for a long time,” Snodgrass said.
“After years of reduced defense budgets and continuing resolutions, you can now ask for more money from Congress as it fits within your strategy,” Mattis said, according to Snodgrass.
Mattis also mentioned to Trump a looming government shutdown, which would eventually play out two days after the meeting.
“To be clear: You’ll have no strategy if [Congress] shuts down the government in the coming months,” Mattis said. “Trying to implement a strategy without a fully enacted budget is a hallucination, nothing more. This is the situation you inherited.”
As Mattis went on, Trump shook his head and demurred. “Just terrible … terrible situation,” he said, Snodgrass recalled.
Mattis later mentioned the US’s strength in relying on its allies. Trump interrupted by railing against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for not spending as much on defense as the US.
NATO’s 29 members have agreed to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. The US spends about 3.4% of its GDP on defense, or 69% of the overall defense spending among NATO members, in large part because it is the world’s largest economy.
- US Navy
Snodgrass said Trump was making “a good point” until the president derailed his talking point.
Trump, referring to himself in the third person, said that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg “is by far the biggest fan of Trump.”
“You know, I blame everything on the Democrats,” Trump added before glancing at Mattis.
“What about Afghanistan?” Trump said. “How are we doing over there?”
Mattis began speaking, and Trump interrupted again.
“We’re really not helping ourselves … We’re helping everyone else out there,” Trump said, according to Snodgrass. “You know, Kazakhstan is a very rich country. On my last visit they kept saying, ‘Oh thank you, thank you.’ Well, why aren’t they paying us? Why aren’t they fighting?”
Trump was “not impressed” by the US’s and allies’ previous efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, Snodgrass wrote.
“Seriously, who gives a s— about Afghanistan?” Trump said, according to Snodgrass. “So far we’re in for $7 trillion, fellas … $7 trillion including Iraq. Worst decision ever and we’re stuck with it.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday morning.
Nearly a year before the briefing, Trump spoke out against the US’s military spending in the Middle East, saying it had spent $6 trillion. He’s said as recently as the State of the Union address last February that the US has spent more than $7 trillion in the Middle East.
That amount appears to come from a study’s projection of the future costs of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan that includes debt interest and veterans’ benefits up to 2056.
Snodgrass, a former Top Gun instructor and F/A-18 pilot, served as Mattis’ chief speechwriter for 17 months. He resigned amid infighting with other senior members of Mattis’ staff.
Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, resigned as defense secretary in December after serving for two years. In his resignation letter, Mattis said he was no longer able to carry out Trump’s policies and that as the commander in chief, Trump was entitled to a defense secretary “whose views are better aligned.”