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Biden overruled Blinken and Austin's attempts to extend US presence in Afghanistan, new Woodward/Costa book says

By Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart, CNN

Updated: Tue, 14 Sep 2021 22:55:03 GMT

Source: CNN

Editor's Note: The story below contains explicit language.

In their new book "Peril," journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa explore the opening months of Joe Biden's presidency, including how Biden was hellbent not to let the military stop him from withdrawing from Afghanistan and how Donald Trump's shadow hangs over the Biden presidency.

The book explores Biden's determination to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan despite resistance from top advisers. Biden was resolute on getting US troops out, having wrestled with the issue for nearly 20 years -- and having watched, as vice president, military and national security leaders box in then-President Barack Obama in his first year when he wanted to end the US war in Afghanistan.

Biden believed the military manipulated Obama.

"The military doesn't fuck around with me," Biden told others in 2009, implying they had with Obama, according to the book.

CNN obtained a copy of 'Peril" ahead of its September 21 release.

Woodward and Costa write that Biden's Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin both pushed for a slower withdrawal. After a March meeting of NATO ministers, Blinken changed his recommendation about removing all US troops.

"Previously, he had been foursquare with Biden for a full withdrawal," the authors write. "His new recommendation was to extend the mission with US troops for a while to see if it could yield a political settlement. Buy time for negotiations."

Blinken told Biden on a call from Brussels he was hearing from the other NATO ministers "in quadraphonic sound," or surround sound, that the US should leverage its departure to gain concrete steps toward a political settlement, according to the book.

Austin also came up with a new proposal at around the same time, the authors write, proposing a "gated" withdrawal in three or four stages that would provide leverage for diplomatic negotiations.

But Biden was unconvinced and determined not to allow "mission creep" to justify keeping US troops there. "Our mission is to stop Afghanistan from being a base for attacking the homeland and US allies by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, not to deliver a death blow to the Taliban," Biden said, according to the book, during one of 25 National Security Council meetings held during a robust foreign policy review.

While much of "Peril" focuses on the end of the Trump presidency and his hold on the GOP after leaving office, Woodward and Costa devote a significant portion of the book to the Biden administration. The book traces the arc of Biden's initial decision to run for the White House into the first months of his presidency, detailing conversations with lawmakers including GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as Biden negotiates a massive Covid-19 relief package.

Trump's legacy looms throughout, Woodward and Costa write.

Biden and his advisers hated to utter Trump's name, Woodward and Costa write, and aides "frequently warned each other to please avoid the 'T' word." In the White House one night, Biden discovered a room where a huge screen covered the wall, which Trump used to virtually play famous golf courses, according to the book.

"What a fucking asshole," Biden once said of Trump, according to the authors.

Trump was also consumed with Biden after leaving office, according to the book. He told a group of friends and donors he golfed with that he was thinking of using his private plane to taunt Biden and was considering getting it painted in the red-white-and-blue paint scheme like the Air Force One redesign that was proposed during the Trump administration.

"That's my brand. I don't do the corporate jet thing," Trump said, according to the book. "I'm not going to show up in a little Gulfstream like a fucking CEO."

'Unfinished business'

"Presidents live in the unfinished business of their predecessors," Woodward and Costa write in "Peril." For Biden, that meant stepping into the White House with a pandemic still raging, just weeks after the violent insurrection on January 6 at the US Capitol.

It wasn't a comfortable transition. Biden started privately calling the White House "the tomb," and he found the White House cold and lonely, according to the book.

"He is not comfortable living in the White House," Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, told others, according to the authors.

Woodward and Costa write that Biden summoned Klain to Delaware to talk about his decision to run in March 2019. "I just feel like I have to do this," Biden said. "Biden's next words would stick forever with Klain," the authors write: "This guy just isn't really an American president."

The bitter campaign against Trump alienated Biden from some Republicans he was once close with. Woodward and Costa write that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, spoke to Biden in the days after the 2020 election, but the conversation soured when it turned to Graham's attacks on his son, Hunter Biden.

"Graham made no apologies," the authors write, adding that Biden believed Graham had "crossed a red line."

"Biden and Graham would not talk again for months -- and if Biden had anything to do with it, they likely would never talk again," Woodward and Costa write.

Biden could be testy at times, the authors write, and the book highlights an incident in which Biden snapped at a question from CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins in June, which Biden apologized for later in the day.

Biden's tendency toward gaffes prompted Klain and other aides to try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, Woodward and Costa write. "They called the effect 'the wall,' a cocooning of the president."

Biden's aides could not help him when he stumbled on the steps up to Air Force One during a March trip to Atlanta. Woodward and Costa write that Biden's stumble, which was replayed repeatedly on conservative media, frustrated the President.

"Fuck," Biden whispered once aboard Air Force One. "Fuck!" he said, "loud enough for others to hear him," according to Woodward and Costa.


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