Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2021, 482 pages)
Book Review by Dennis Moore
“We have much to do in this winter of peril.” -- President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in his inaugural address, January 20, 2021, at the United States Capitol
October 12, 2021 (San Diego) -- Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa is the scariest book that I have read among my more than 400 book reviews, for it portends the destruction of our democracy as we once knew it. The publishers of this well written book, Simon & Schuster, states: “The transition from President Donald J. Trump to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stands as one of the most dangerous periods in American history.”
This book is scary for all the revelations made in it about the former president, which is ongoing in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 attempt at a coup at the Capital Building in Washington, DC, and the ties between former President Trump and his supporters. The co-author of this book, Robert Costa, gives a riveting audio presentation to NPR, which readers can listen to by clicking here.
From tense meetings in the war room of the Pentagon to screaming showdowns in the Oval Office, Peril is the extraordinary story of the epic collapse of one presidency and the beginning of another, and represents the culmination of Bob Woodward’s news-making trilogy on the Trump presidency, along with Fear and Rage. And it is the beginning of a collaboration with fellow Washington Post reporter Robert Costa that will remind readers of Woodward’s coverage, with Carl Bernstein, of President Richard M. Nixon’s final days in 1974 including breaking the Watergate scandal.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is one of the key figures in this book, as he confided in a phone call with a House member as a mob stormed the Capital on January 6, 2021, “I think that he likes this,” referring to then President Trump. He further stated: “He wants his supporters to be fighting to the bitter end.” Two days later, Milley confronted his fear that the riot could be a precursor to what he called a Reichstag moment’ a Trump version of when Adolf Hitler manufactured crisis in 1933 and cemented his absolute power in Germany. It should be noted that former President Trump is of German heritage.
Significant in this spellbinding book by Woodward and Costa, is Milley stating: “This is fucked up and this is a political event and I’m out of here. We’re getting out of here. I’m fucking done with this shit.” This was in regard to the former president leading an entourage of cabinet members, including himself, from the White House and across Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020 after George Floyd’s death, and the civil unrest and uprisings throughout the country.
There are many anecdotes in this book by Woodward and Costa that puts the state of affairs in our country, and the world, in proper perspective. Namely, one particular passage states: “Joe Frazier is still voting here – kind of hard, since he died five years ago, Giuliani joked, referring to the late boxing legend. “But Joe continues to vote. If I recall correctly, Joe was a Republican. So maybe I shouldn’t complain. But we should go see if Joe is voting Republican or Democrat now, from the grave. He also claimed Will Smith’s father, who died in 2016, had voted twice since he died. “I don’t know how he votes, because his vote is secret. In Philadelphia, they keep the votes of dead people secret.”’
Perhaps the most controversial passage in this book by the authors is stated: “”On Friday, October 30, four days before the election, Chairman Milley examined the latest sensitive intelligence. What he read was alarming: The Chinese believed the United States was going to attack them.”
Woodward and Costa further went on to state: “Milley knew it was untrue. But the Chinese were on high alert, and whenever a superpower is on high alert, the risk of war escalates. Asian media reports were filled with rumors and talk of tensions between the two countries over the Freedom of Navigation exercises in the South China Sea, where the U.S. Navy routinely sails ships in areas to challenge maritime claims by the Chinese and promote freedom of the seas.”
Miscommunications were often the seeds of war. In 1987, Admiral William J. Crowe, chairman of the Joints Chiefs under President Ronald Reagan, had established a back channel relationship with the head of the Soviet Union’s military, to avoid an accidental war. Crowe had not informed President Reagan about his decision to take national security into his own hands and work directly with Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, the chief of the Soviet General Staff.
Trump was attacking China on the campaign trail at every turn, blaming them for the coronavirus. “I beat this crazy, horrible China virus,” he told Fox News on October 11. Milley knew the Chinese might not know where the politics ended and possible action began.
To give the call with Li a more routine flavor, Milley first raised mundane issues like the staff-to-staff communications and methods for making sure they could always rapidly reach each other.
Finally, getting to the point, Milley said, “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay. We are not going to attack or conduct any kinectic operations against you.”
“General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise. It’s not going to be a bolt out of the blue.”
“If there was a war or some kind of kinectic action between the United States and China, there’s going to be a buildup, just like there has been always in history.” This is just the sort of revelation by Woodward and Costa that makes this book scary, the thought and possibility of a nuclear war!
The authors note in this spellbinding book that Senator Kamala Harris was selected by Biden as his running mate on August 11, 2020. She had been a force on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Biden had once served as chairman, and brought governing experience and political capital to the ticket. While serving as California’ attorney general, she developed a bound with Biden’s son, the late Beau Biden, who had served as Delaware’s attorney general. On January 20, she became the first woman, Black American, and person of South Asian descent to serve as vice president of the United States.
The authors, Woodward and Costa, have left a lot to our imagination in this spellbinding book, but new revelations keep unfolding everyday, such as subpoenas being issued to Trump supporters regarding who was actually behind the January 6th insurrection. Additionally, a federal indictment has recently been filed against the leader of the "Oath Keepers" and their group as indicated here.
Having earlier written a review of Dr. Bandy Lee’s book; The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which profiles 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, this book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa puts the state of affairs in our country in perspective.
Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, recently wrote an op-ed stating: “How Dumb Can a Nation get and Still Survive?” After reading Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa we may still be asking that question.
A poignant and profound statement in this book by the authors says it all, and it is by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley: “To the contrary, Milley believed January 6 was a planned, coordinated, synchronized attack on the very heart of American democracy, designed to overthrow the government to prevent the constitutional certification of a legitimate election won by Joe Biden. It was indeed a coup attempt and nothing less than ‘”treason,’” he said, and Trump might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘”Reichstag moment.’”
Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine in San Diego and the book review editor for SDWriteway, and online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine. Mr. Moore can be contacted at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.