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Is American Democracy Now in Peril?

A book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa shines the light on the crisis in American democracy. Polarization and partisan loyalty threaten the common bonds of citizenship essential for democracy to succeed.
Simon and Schuster

New York, USA – 15 February 2021: Simon Schuster website in browser with company logo, Illustrative Editorial © Postmodern Studio /

April 08, 2023 14:06 EDT

Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, published by Simon and Schuster, is an account of the last year of the outgoing Donald Trump Administration, and the first year of the Joe Biden Administration. It is full of atmospheric detail, easy to follow and has a coherent narrative. However, the book lacks analysis.

I found the background to the rushed US and allied exit from Afghanistan revealing, but also incomplete. I was in Washington, as the ambassador of the EU, in 2009. Barack Obama was then president. He announced to assembled ambassadors that he planned to dramatically increase US troop presence in Afghanistan. This so-called surge was supposed to wrest back control of the country from the Taliban.

Obama was motivated by a desire to strengthen the US global military position. He also wanted to make Afghanistan a human rights respecting democracy. At the time, Obama’s policy seemed overambitious to me. George W. Bush had tried a troop surge in Iraq. This 2007 surge had similar goals to the 2009 one and had failed.

Peril tells us that Joe Biden, who was Obama’s vice president at the time, was totally opposed to the surge. But Hillary Clinton, the then secretary of state, and Robert Gates, the then secretary of defense, and American generals favored the surge. They prevailed.

When Trump took over, he wanted to get US troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. But inertia and lack of focus on his part meant that Trump never actually managed to achieve his goal.  It fell to Biden to implement this part of the Trump agenda, in the same manner as he is implementing the Trump policy on China.

The US withdrawal was a botched job. Afghans who had loyally served the allies were abandoned. Woodward and Costa offer no explanations for this abandonment.

Their book does offer an insight into Biden’s style of negotiation with the Congress. He is tough and relentless in his pursuit of a deal. He was, and is, determined to put money in the pockets of working class Americans . Biden has been so good at achieving his goals that his stimulus bills may have contributed to demand-led inflation in the US.

The book also examines the fateful days that led up to the storming of the US Capitol on January 6. Did Trump’s incitement of violence and his attempts to overturn the popular vote add up to a crime for which he could be convicted in a court of law?

I believe the answer is to be found in the speech made by Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, after the second attempt to impeach Trump had failed. Describing what happened on 6 January as a “disgrace” and an “act of terrorism”, he found Trump “practically and morally responsible.” Yet he voted to acquit Trump. McConnell took the view that “by the strict criminal standard, the President’s speech probably was not incitement.”

After all he has done, Trump still leads many Republican polls. The peril to American democracy comes from kind and decent Americans, who are putting cultural and party loyalty ahead of the interests of democracy in America.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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