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An Insider’s Look at Infighting in the White House

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avatar by Daniel Retter


Sunset is seen over the White House, in Washington, DC, Nov. 6, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Carlos Barria / File.

Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump by Tevi Troy (Regnery, 2020)

In a new, partially insider history book of the White House, aptly called Fight House, we learn that the “wars” of the Trump White House are not much different than those occurring in the White House 75 years ago. Interestingly, the book’s author, Tevi Troy, is a scrupulous observant Jew who worked in the “Fight House” from 2002-2007, and in this book he relates some critical anecdotes relating to Jewish concerns, making it a must-read, especially during these shelter-at-home weeks and months.

The book begins with the fierce debate in the “Fight House,” between Clark Clifford, Truman’s White House counsel and George Marshall, Truman’s Secretary of State and a World War II hero, regarding the recognition of Israel by the United Nations in 1948. Truman was ill at ease, since he practically “worshiped” the ground upon which Marshall stood, but he ultimately sided with Clifford and supported the creation of the Jewish state. The author explains Truman’s decision in part with the following intriguing words, “Truman had read the Bible as a child, as well as a book called ‘Great Men and Famous Women,’ which celebrated among others the Persian King Cyrus, who returned the Israelites to their land after the Babylonian exile.”

The book’s premise is that fights like the one between Clifford of the White House and Marshall of the State Department, although both appointed by the same president, have been more the rule than the exception.

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We become aware how foreign governments, including Israel, search for these fissures between policy makers, and gravitate to the decision maker whom they believe will successfully convince the president of their position.

Included in this book is the infighting between two of Eisenhower’s appointees: Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and White House advisor Harold Stassen, the former governor of Minnesota, over nuclear disarmament and “open skies” policies with the Soviets. The author recounts that Winston Churchill, no great fan of Dulles, once quipped, “Dull, Duller, Dulles” when describing the officious Secretary of State.

Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger successfully fought with Secretary of State William Rogers and “froze” him out of the historic meeting between President Nixon and China’s Mao Tze Tung, when Nixon to the great surprise of the world arrived in China. Sharp elbows and even sharper minds is what Nixon wanted, allowing his two most senior appointees to “fight it out,” so to speak, to help Nixon “make” his own foreign policy.

The Kennedy years, which involved animosity — perhaps hatred — between JFK’s brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, the Vice President, brim with inside stories, which reverberated through the Johnson administration, once LBJ became president following JFK’s death.

The book traces the well-known rivalries between Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cyrus Vance, and Stuart Eizenstat, all appointed by Jimmy Carter, over the sale by the US of F-15 jets to Saudi Arabia. These fights also extended to such episodes as the disastrous attempted rescue of the Iranian embassy hostages.

The book is a gold mine for serious students of White House history and politics, and even has some insight into Jewish influences in the White House. Key players in the fights over the years have been Jewish, including Ted Sorensen under Kennedy, Kissinger under Nixon, Eizenstat under Carter, and Dick Morris under Clinton, among others

I recommend this book as an important work, which allows the interested reader to understand what really goes on in the White House behind closed doors.

Daniel Retter, Esq., author of the Sefer HaMafteach®, an Indexed Reference Guide to Talmud Bavli and the Mishnayos, in Hebrew and English, now a free app, is a frequent contributor of feature articles to The Jewish Press, and practices immigration, real estate, and business law in New York City. He can be contacted at [email protected].

This review was originally published by The Jewish Press.

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