President Donald Trump again set his Twitter sights on a favorite punching bag — the nation’s intelligence community. It’s not a fair fight.
In tweets Wednesday that were dangerously unmoored from reality, Trump attacked and insulted intelligence chiefs whose sin was to disagree with his assessment of global threats to the nation. “The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive,” one tweet started. Another ended with a taunt: “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school.” Along the way, the president declared as facts a number of things that simply are not true.
Our concern is not so much about the unseemly spectacle of a commander in chief publicly trashing his own experts, though that is troubling. More consequential and worrying is that policy is being made and actions taken based on contentions that are not true.
Case in point: the wall. Trump has declared a crisis on the Southern border, warning of bedraggled caravans of migrants mostly seeking aslyum as one of the nation’s most pressing security threats. Yet the intelligence chiefs who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Chris Wray — did not elevate it to that status. Their written report, the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” contained no backing for building a wall. But as congressional negotiators met Wednesday to craft a deal to avoid another shutdown, Trump has threatened again to declare a state of emergency if the budget includes no money for his wall.
He also pushed back on their findings about North Korea, touting his progress that offers a “Decent chance of Denuclearizaton.” Earlier tweets said the country no longer was a nuclear threat. But Coats said the rogue nation was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons, seeing them as essential to the survival of Kim Jong Un’s regime. And independent researchers recently discovered more than a dozen secret and previously unknown missile bases in North Korea, calling into question Kim’s commitment to denuclearize. As Trump prepares for another summit with Kim next month, that’s a reality he must recognize.
Trump should listen to intel pros
Old clashes over Russian interference in the 2016 election were revived when the intel chiefs stressed the increasing cyberthreat posed by that country and China. Their testimony came amid revelations that Trump again met Russian President Vladimir Putin without staff or notetakers in Argentina in November. Rather than continue to cozy up to Putin, Trump should contemplate the assessment’s finding that Russia has the ability to disable the nation’s electric grid for “at least a few hours” and is seeking to wreak longer-lasting damage.
Trump claims the Islamic State is beaten, his rationale for pulling out of Syria; Coats said ISIS is active, with thousands of fighters in Syria and Iraq. As for the experts concluding that Iran is abiding by the nuclear deal Trump has derided, the president tweeted, “They are wrong!”
As president, Trump is called to exercise his judgment on behalf of the nation’s safety and welfare. But that must be based on reality, not leftover campaign talking points. He would be wise, and the nation safer, if he listened to wiser heads than his.