CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and other top officials joined [Director of National Intelligence Daniel] Coats in a discussion that covered a wide array of national security challenges, including cyber attacks that will aim to disrupt the 2020 presidential election and the continued threat posed by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.
Coats, speaking on behalf of the assembled officials, gave a global tour of national security challenges, focused mainly on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
In short, a lot of what Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been saying is flat-out wrong:
[Coats] said that North Korea was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” which the country’s leaders consider “critical to the regime’s survival.”
That assessment threw cold water on the White House’s more optimistic view that the United States and North Korea will achieve a lasting peace and that the regime will ultimately give up its nuclear weapons. . . .
None of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall.
On a list of critical topics, the nation’s top intelligence officials took positions entirely at odds with definitive statements made by Trump, Pompeo and/or national security adviser John Bolton. (“Officials also warned that the Islamic State was capable of attacking the United States and painted a picture of a still-formidable organization. Trump has declared the group defeated and has said he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as a result. . . . The officials assessed that the government of Iran was not trying to build a nuclear weapon, despite the Trump administration’s persistent claims that the country has been violating the terms of an international agreement forged during the Obama administration.”)
By Wednesday morning, Trump was simultaneously trashing his own intelligence appointees (“passive and naive”) and seeking to roll back some of his outlandish claims. He had previously said the Islamic State was already defeated, but now he tweets merely that “tremendous progress made.” Instead of ruling out the North Korean nuclear threat, he says, well, at least there is a “decent” chance of denuclearization. If nothing else, Trump’s intelligence advisers seem to have embarrassed him into acknowledging his many nonsensical pronouncements. Maybe he should start reading what they write.
In his Worldwide Threat Assessment, Coats includes a matter-of-fact but striking condemnation of the administration’s foreign policy. He writes that “some US allies and partners are seeking greater independence from Washington in response to their perceptions of changing US policies on security and trade and are becoming more open to new bilateral and multilateral partnerships.” We are, in other words, losing friends due to the feckless, incompetent and ignorant U.S. president.
While Trump continues to bow and scrape before Putin, “Russia’s social media efforts will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities, and criticizing perceived anti-Russia politicians," Coats explains in the report. "Moscow may employ additional influence toolkits—such as spreading disinformation, conducting hack-and-leak operations, or manipulating data—in a more targeted fashion to influence US policy, actions, and elections.”
Trump’s tough talk about Iran has been entirely ineffective in addressing Tehran’s regional and non-nuclear conduct. Coats writes, “We assess that Iran will attempt to translate battlefield gains in Iraq and Syria into long-term political, security, social, and economic influence while continuing to press Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates] by supporting the Huthis in Yemen.” Those gains occur, of course, as Trump retreats from Syria. Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement was supposed to (somehow) free us up to check Iran’s non-nuclear conduct. It hasn’t; Iran is becoming bolder and the United States less influential.
And contrary to Trump’s climate denialism, Coats recognizes, “Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond. Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.”
In essence, Coats’s written submission and the testimony of the intelligence professionals offer stunning critiques of their boss’s failures and lies. Candidates seeking to displace Trump should highlight these findings.
We should take great comfort and pride in the sober professionalism of our intelligence professionals who refuse to carry Trump’s water, sugarcoat his failures or rationalize his lies (unlike Pompeo, who often does all three.) However, Trump remains commander in chief — and that is the problem.
All of this comes at a time where the United States is negotiating withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan in a way that amounts to “surrender,” according to former ambassador Ryan Crocker. Negotiating without the Afghan government has “delegitimized the government we claim to support,” Crocker warns. “This current process bears an unfortunate resemblance to the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War.”
Candidates who want to be our next commander in chief should not mince words: Before we can decide what policies should replace Trump’s we need to be forthright that his views and policies are based on ignorance, as well as hyperpartisan, cartoonish views of the Obama administration’s work, and frightening gullibility. The first step to rebuilding our influence and credibility in the world must be to recognize the world as it is, refusing to fabricate or ignore facts so as to facilitate a series of discordant moves aimed at satisfying Trump’s domestic constituents.
Ryan Crocker: I was ambassador to Afghanistan. This deal is a surrender.
Max Boot: The intelligence chiefs’ report strikes a blow for truth in the Age of Trump
David Ignatius: The lesson we should learn from the killing fields of Afghanistan and Yemen
The Post’s View: Trump’s plan for our troops is opaque. He owes the country a better explanation.