On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted. About how his own intelligence community was wrong.
“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, buta source of potential danger and conflict. They are testing Rockets (last week) and more, and are coming very close to the edge. There economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
The context: In an appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, the country’s top intelligence officials delivered their annual global threat assessment. In it – and their answers to questions posed by members of the committee – the collective intelligence community offered views on the threats posed by ISIS, North Korea and Iran that ran directly counter to Trump’s public comments.
On Iran in particular, Trump said this in 2018 by means of explaining his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal: “It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement.”
On Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said this: “We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.”
This is, of course, shocking. From Coats to CIA Director Gina Haspel to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Trump picked most of the people who make up the upper echelon of the intelligence community. Presumably he did so because he trusted their judgment and knew that he needed experts in the field whose decades of experience could and would provide him the necessary context to make decisions on massive geopolitical issues.
To then not only disagree with the assessment of those experts – the experts you chose! – but do so publicly (in front of your 50-plus million Twitter followers) simply because their conclusions don’t jibe with your own is absolutely unreal.
But because this is Trump, the surreal has become almost pedestrian. In fact, this isn’t even the first time Trump has thrown intelligence experts under the bus because, well, he doesn’t like what they say.
In an intelligence community assessment dated January 6, 2017, the heads of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency concluded this:
“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Pretty cut and dry, right? The intelligence community concluded that interference in the 2016 election was directed by Putin and had the clear goal of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.
And yet, Trump chose not to heed those conclusions because, again, they didn’t fit his feel for what had actually happened.
At a press conference following a summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in 2018 – and with Putin standing at a podium next to him – Trump made his view plain about Russia’s interference campaign: “I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. … And I think we’re all to blame.”
All to blame!
Later, Trump uncorked this line: “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” (He later clarified that what he meant to say was “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be.”
And this one: “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Remember what we’re talking about here: An attempt by a rival country to influence a presidential election in hopes of electing someone they believed would be better for their interests. And remember why we know that: The US intelligence community concluded it way back in January 2017.
Trump’s belief that he knows more about, well, everything than longtime experts in the field is well-established.
“I know tech better than anyone,” he boasted in a tweet last December.
“I now more about ISIS than the generals do,” he said at an Iowa campaign rally in 2015.
But simply because we know it’s something he does – thinking he’s smarter than anyone based on scant or no evidence – doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Presidents have advisers and experts because no one, no matter how bright they are, can be president and know everything about every subject that comes up in the course of a single day at the White House.
We have a President who doesn’t seem to understand that. And who ignores expert opinions based solely on the fact that they don’t jibe with his own view. All of which is hugely problematic.