Former President Donald Trump was talked out of ordering a strike against Iran in the final days of his presidency following the November 2020 election by his acting defence chief, who says in a new interview that he had to act like a “f****** madman” to prevent the attack.
ABC News’ Jonathan Karl writes in his book Betrayal, released on Tuesday, that acting Defence Secretary Christopher Miller explained his extreme mindset in the days and weeks after leaving the administration, as part of an attempt to dissuade the president’s immediate instincts.
That strategy centred around acting like the craziest person in the room, Mr Miller described, explaining that by taking more extreme positions than even the president, he managed to get Mr Trump to back off the idea.
"I would play the fucking madman," Mr Miller says in Betrayal. "And everybody else would be like, 'All right, he's the new guy. He's f****** insane. Don't listen to him.'”
Mr Miller added: “I have found oftentimes with provocative people, if you get more provocative than them, they then have to dial it down. They’re like, ‘Yeah, I was f****** crazy,’ but that guy’s bats***.’”
The strategy worked to dissuade the president from ordering an attack on Iran in late 2020, Mr Miller claimed, explaining that he presented a potential plan to the president in which roughly 100 Air Force and Marine aircraft would launch a targeted strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, under the justification of supposedly preventing Iran’s government from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
That fear apparently sprung from a US report presented to the president indicating that Iran could have enough nuclear material for a weapon within in a year. Iran’s government has repeatedly claimed that its nuclear program is solely focused on energy production.
According to Mr Miller, the plan he presented came with a risk of US service members being shot down by Iran’s sophisticated defence systems.
"We're probably going to lose some planes," Mr Miller said he told the president. "It's just the nature of the business. You'll probably see some three, four, or six planes shot down. I just want to make sure you are comfortable with that."
According to Mr Karl, others in the meeting including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were alarmed by the acquiescence of Mr Miller to a strike on Iran, and actively pushed back against the idea and urged the president not to listen to the defence chief.
Mr Pompeo even went as far as to raise concerns about the stability of senior leadership at the Department of Defence as a result of the meeting, Mr Karl reports.
The former secretary of state has been floated as a potential 2024 candidate, and is rumoured to be considering a bid even if his former boss jumps in the ring. Other top former members of the Trump administration are also embarked on similar campaigns to stay in the public eye over the course of the Biden administration.
The news of Mr Trump’s supposed desire to launch a strike against Iran mirrors a previously-reported episode involving Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gen Milley came under intense (but brief) criticism from conservatives on Capitol Hill after it was reported in another Trump book that he had discussed with a top Chinese general the former president’s increasingly erratic behaviour in the days following the November 2020 election, and even reassured the general that a US military strike targeting China was not being considered.
All of the these potential military actions would have occurred as the president and his allies were simultaneously involved in an effort to weaken confidence of the results of the 2020 election and eventually overturn Mr Trump’s loss entirely.
The president’s post-election behaviour has become the focus of a House select committee’s investigation as it looks into the events that led to the deadly attack on the US Capitol earlier this year, when the president’s supporters battled police while trying to halt the certification of his defeat.
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