Trump reportedly once asked his 27-year-old assistant what he should do in Afghanistan

President Donald Trump Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump is said to seek advice from anyone who happens to be around him in the White House.
  • On one occasion, he reportedly pressed his personal assistant at the time for input on the war in Afghanistan.
  • Trump has continued and expanded US involvement in Afghanistan, despite criticising US military engagement overseas.

Despite criticising his predecessor’s approach to the war in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump has maintained US involvement there – though he reportedly seeks counsel on the war effort from unexpected places.

Part of Trump’s improvisational approach to governing leads him to seek advice from anyone who might be around him during the day, according to “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s recent book documenting Trump’s tumultuous time in office.

Trump “would seek opinions from anyone who might be around – from cabinet officials to security guards,” Woodward writes. “It was his form of crowdsourcing.”

“He once asked Johnny McEntee, his 27-year-old body man, if he should send more troops to Afghanistan.”

“It doesn’t make any sense to me, ” McEntee replied, according to Woodward.

Others in the West Wing would demur when hit with questions about the war in Afghanistan, which was launched weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks and is approaching its 17th anniversary.

“I think you really ought to talk to H.R. about that because he’s the expert,” staffers would tell Trump, referring to H.R. McMaster, the White House national-security adviser who was fired earlier this year. (McMaster is also working on a book.)

“No, no, no,” Trump once responded, Woodward writes. “I want to know what you think.”

“I know what I read in the newspapers,” Trump’s interlocutor replied.

“No,” the president said, “I want to know what you think.”

McEntee, a former University of Connecticut quarterback, was fired in early 2018 amid a Homeland Security Department investigation into financial crimes.

‘Lousy advice’

Trump has repeatedly criticised former President Barack Obama for saying what action the US would take in Afghanistan and Iraq. As president, Trump has hinted he wants to leave Afghanistan but has expanded the US presence and intensified US operations there.

US bombing in the war-torn country has hit record levels, and military officials, including the incoming US commander in Afghanistan, have said it’s not clear when the US may leave.

Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial mercenary firm Blackwater and brother-in-law of Education Secretary Betsey DeVos, has touted a plan to privatize the war effort there, though it’s not clear how seriously the administration is considering it.

But Trump’s unorthodox way of thinking about the campaign in Afghanistan is not limited to Prince’s proposal or exchanges with his body man.

In July 2017, Trump reportedly dismissed the input of high-ranking military commanders, indicating that his thinking about the war effort had been influenced by a previous meeting with veterans from the war, who told him NATO forces on the ground there had not been helpful.

To make his point, Trump reportedly referenced the renovation the 21 Club, a well-known Manhattan restaurant, in the 1980s.

Trump reportedly told advisers the restaurant shut its doors for a year and hired an expensive consultant to plan a redesign – suggesting only to build a bigger kitchen. Officials said he stressed the idea that “lousy advice” cost the owner a year of business. (The restaurant closed for two months in 1987 for a full renovation.)

“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,” a senior administration official told NBC News of the meeting.