President Donald Trump is becoming “increasingly frustrated with his administration’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan and is even considering firing the region’s top military commander, according to senior administration officials who witnessed a tense meeting at the White House.
Trump told his Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford that he was possibly wanting to replace Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan because ‘he is not winning the war.’
During the meeting, Trump brought up the prospect of taking advantage of the country’s mineral wealth, and even brought up a story that, according to NBC News, ‘seemed to compare their advice to that of a paid consultant who cost a tony New York restaurateur profits by offering bad advice.’
Trump told a story about Manhattan’s elite ’21’ Club, saying it had shut its doors for a year and hired an expensive consultant to craft a plan for a renovation. After a year or so, Trump said, the consultant’s only suggestion was that the restaurant needed a bigger kitchen.
Trump’s point was that the lousy advice cost the owner a year of lost business and that talking to the restaurant’s waiters instead might have yielded a better result. He said the tendency is to assume if someone isn’t a three-star general he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that in his own experience in business talking to low-ranking workers has gotten him better outcomes.
When Trump told his advisers this, he was trying to convey the idea that low-ranking military veterans would be better served at advising him than his own generals or high-ranking staff even. This appeared to upset Defense Secretary Mattis, who reportedly left the meeting upset at this comment and was stunned along with the rest of Trump’s advisers when the president left the meeting without making a decision on strategy going forward.
At the meeting were Trump’s senior White House advisers including Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and then chief-of-staff Reince Priebus, plus Mattis, Dunford, Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“The clear message if you heard the story was: high-priced consultants or high-priced anybody, expensive supposedly-big-brained people, but who are physically far from the source of the problem, often give you much worse advice than the supposedly low-ranking guys who are right there,” the official said.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, dismissed Trump’s comments, saying the president was completely off base. Not only is General Nicholson not doing a bad job, but he says Trump should listen to him more.
“I can’t think of a good reason to fire the general. I think he’s done an admirable job.
If the president doesn’t listen to the generals, like Gen. Nicholson and he goes down the road that President Obama went, Afghanistan is going to collapse,” Graham said. “Here’s my advice to the president — listen to people like Gen. Nicholson and McMaster and others who have been in the fight.”
Trump’s own national security adviser H.R. McMaster even disagrees with Trump’s assessment of General Nicholson. He openly praised him on MSNBC on Wednesday:
“I’ve known him for many years,” McMaster said. “I can’t imagine a more capable commander in any, on any mission.”
At this point, it is unclear what Trump is going to do regarding the matter, but so far all he is doing is isolating those around him.