Team of Vipers
Cliff Sims

by

Karim Chandra

Chapter 11
Summary

A Tale of Two Generals starts with a meeting convened by Steve Bannon to examine what ought to have been discussed by military generals and security experts. Sims narrates: “Bannon had asked me to attend the meeting of this group, which he had put together to discuss countering the rise of China, which Bannon viewed as the nation’s most pressing geopolitical threat, perhaps even an existential one. When I asked him what I would bring to such a discussion, he sold it to me as only he could, “Somebody’s gotta figure out how we’re going to talk about this s—. Sit there, shut the f— up, soak it in, and then come up with a way to sell it.”” Ordinarily, this is a military policy issue that ought to have been discussed by military generals. However, when it is a senior White House official who is chairing a meeting, purportedly to arrive at military decisions, one would be tempted to think Bannon is some sort of military general. Sims indicates that such a role is played by the National Security Advisor — and where “General H. R. McMaster most certainly was not aware of the meeting”. It is not even clear what the outcomes would be for this meeting, since the absence of the general meant there would be no framework for their implementation.

While Bannon’s actions were of no surprise, the caliber of participating White House officials, who he had convinced to take part in the meeting, was. In his description, of Bannon Sims mentions: “He advocated forcefully for policies that advanced his views, especially on immigration, trade, and infrastructure, and he wasn’t afraid to lose internal debates. Many operatives spent most of their time holding their finger up in the air trying to figure out which way the political winds were blowing. They just want to be on the “winning” side in the end.” Bannon had arrogated himself powers that were beyond his pay grade; he was trying to influence military policies and strategies through the backdoor. Sims, however, appreciates the resilience of Bannon, describing him as someone who would fight to the end for something in which he believed. When Bannon is convinced that he is doing the right thing, he would support it even if it means he is remaining alone in the struggle.

The media plays an important role in the development of the U.S. political agenda. Thus, it was the responsibility of political players to keep a keen eye on the media and, if possible, seek to influence their policy directions. Bannon is one who had developed such a habit, and which Sims narrates: “On one of his walls hung two giant flat-screen TVs, each displaying four panels tuned to eight different news channels: Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, CNN International, MSNBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, and C-SPAN. He stood in front of the TVs almost all day, absorbing all of it and none of it, pacing back and forth, pecking out a nonstop stream of texts and emails as ideas popped into his head.” From here, it would be possible to know what Americans think of the administration so that they may take appropriate decisions and respond accordingly.

In this Chapter, Sims again recounts the wars that characterized the White House. In this instance, Bannon has taken on Ivanka (Trump) and Jared Kushner. Although they are connected to Trump on blood and family ties, Bannon thought that he could still successfully challenge them: “A disproportionate amount of General Bannon’s war-fighting capability was focused not against Trump’s political opposition, or the media, or China, or any of his other external enemies. It was instead used to prosecute his fruitless war with Jared and Ivanka—or Javanka, as he called them. The core principle of Trump World, as even outside observers could glean after five minutes, was never pit yourself against the family.” Bannon’s conviction were so strong that even when his closest allies thought it was an unproductive venture in, he believed it was capable of gaining success in the long run.

Analysis

For Bannon to chair a security strategy meeting without the President’s and the National Security Advisor’s knowledge, it is possible for one to conclude that there was massive disorganization, indiscipline, or a total breakdown of ethical conduct in the White House. It is important for all officials to be diligent in their responsibilities — something that is not reflected by Bannon’s actions. In the same vein, Bannon was causing a lot of problems with his antagonistic approach to his relationship with some of the officials in the White House: “The President had grown frustrated with the incessant infighting and the media’s Bannon-fueled portrayal of Steve as some kind of Svengali, constantly bending the President to his will.” In the face of these challenges, the President was placed in a very difficult position since the people he relied on to help accomplish his campaign promises had their guns trained on each other. Whatever the outcome, Trump would need to let go of select people close to him so to restore order in the White House.

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