FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Last of the Adults on Trump’s National Security Team

Photograph Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence – Public Domain

The first 24 hours of the Trump presidency were marked by a bizarre inauguration speech (“American Carnage”), frenzied claims of record inauguration crowds, and an unusual appearance at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency where the new president proclaimed his political brilliance. The shock of these 24 hours led pundits and politicians alike to proclaim that the so-called adults in the administration (Tillerson at State; Mattis at Defense; Coats as the director of national intelligence; and eventually General McMaster at the national security council) would exercise some restraint on a potentially unstable and unpredictable president.

Well, the last of these adults, director of national intelligence Dan Coats, has resigned and, like the previous successions in the national security team, his nominated successor, Representative John Ratcliffe (R-TX) is a political ideologue, a political loyalist, and a substantive know-nothing. This pattern follows the dangerous successions that have taken place at State (Mike Pompeo); the national security council (John Bolton); and particularly Defense, where acting directors continue to rotate.  If the first round of cabinet appointments were considered to be experienced hands who would counsel the president, the current appointments constitute a war cabinet that will encourage Trump’s worst instincts.  The British and French ambassadors to the United States have already recorded their views on this dangerous transition.

Coats, the former Senator from Indiana, may have been a conservative appointment, but he was willing to tell truth to power on such issues as climate change, the Iran nuclear accord,  North Korean nuclear forces, and Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election of 2016.  Coats has been on thin ice with the president since July 2018 when he reacted with surprise and sarcasm at learning from a TV journalist that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin would be holding a second summit meeting in the wake of the first disastrous one.  Coats did a double take at the news, laughing, and uttering the memorable phrase “OK…that’s going to be special” upon learning of the meeting, which had not been discussed by the national security team.  Even more troubling, Coats conceded that he didn’t “know what happened at the first meeting”

There is great risk in appointing a political loyalist to become the director of national intelligence.  In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed one of his campaign directors, William Casey, to be director of central intelligence.  Casey was an ideological zealot and an intense political loyalist on behalf of Reagan.  Casey and his deputy director for intelligence, Robert M. Gates, proceeded to cherry-pick intelligence on the Soviet Union in order to justify Reagan’s enormous defense budgets, which at the time represented the largest peacetime increases in defense spending in the nation’s history.

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union had entered a decade of decline which resulted in the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.  Casey and Gates, however, falsely conjured a picture of a Kremlin that was ten-feet tall and an ominous threat to U.S. interests.  They exaggerated Soviet defense spending at a time when the Soviets were in facing cuts in defense spending as well as the reduced lethality of Soviet weaponry, which was in fact falling behind the technological superiority of the U.S. arsenal.  Casey and Gates warned of Soviet threats in the third world at a time when Moscow was pulling its forces out of the Asian-Pacific region as well as the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.  The failure to warn of the Soviet decline was a huge CIA intelligence failure and an excellent example of the danger of politicized intelligence.

The worst example of politicized intelligence took place in 2002-2003, when CIA director George Tenet and his deputy, John McLaughlin, committed themselves to producing the intelligence that President George W. Bush was seeking to justify war against Iraq.  Tenet lied to Congress about the nature of the Iraqi relationship with al Qaeda, and McLaughlin prepared the phony speech that Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to the United Nations several weeks before the U.S. invasion.  Sixteen years later, we are still losing blood and treasure in Iraq, where Iran has the dominant role in external power and influence.

Ratcliffe, who has no intelligence experience, has already signaled his opposition to agreed assessments within the 17 agencies and departments of the $70 billion intelligence community.  He doesn’t believe that the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election; he supports the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord as well as the use of military coercion against Iran; and he is a prominent skeptic on climate change.  Ratcliffe is considered one of the strongest conservatives in the Republican caucus and his rude interrogation of Robert Mueller at last week’s hearings was considered his audition for the job of director of national intelligence (DNI).

The director of national intelligence may have to defer to the Pentagon on most budget and personnel matters within the intelligence community, but he has a great deal of power in providing substantive briefings to the president in the form of the President’s Daily Brief and authoritative National Intelligence Estimates.  Ratcliffe will have a great deal of latitude in this role because of the weakness of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, as well as the unpredictability of national security adviser John Bolton.

The danger of politicization of intelligence has never been greater. We have civilian deference to the military community; unprecedented bipartisan support for bloated defense budgets; weak congressional oversight; and an “American First” strategy that has isolated the United States in many areas of the international arena.  Over the past several decades, we have had too many intelligence directors (Bill Casey, Bob Gates, George Tenet, and Porter Goss), who have been unwilling to tell truth to power and have cherry-picked intelligence for their presidents.  With so many national security decisions facing the United States regarding Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia, it is particularly worrisome to have a weak and truckling DNI at the service of an unstable and unpredictable president.

More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent book is “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing), and he is the author of the forthcoming “The Dangerous National Security State” (2020).” Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
Evan Jones
BNP Before a French Court
Norman Solomon
Kerry’s Endorsement of Biden Fits: Two Deceptive Supporters of the Iraq War
Torsten Bewernitz – Gabriel Kuhn
Syndicalism for the Twenty-First Century: From Unionism to Class-Struggle Militancy
Matthew Stevenson
Across the Balkans: From Banja Luka to Sarajevo
Thomas Knapp
NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog. Euthanize It.
Forrest Hylton
Bolivia’s Coup Government: a Far-Right Horror Show
M. G. Piety
A Lesson From the Danes on Immigration
Ellen Isaacs
The Audacity of Hypocrisy
Monika Zgustova
Chernobyl, Lies and Messianism in Russia
Manuel García, Jr.
From Caesar’s Last Breath to Ours
Binoy Kampmark
Going to the ICJ: Myanmar, Genocide and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Gamble
Jill Richardson
Marijuana and the Myth of the “Gateway Drug”
Muzamil Bhat
Srinagar’s Shikaras: Still Waters Run Deep Losses
Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation
Farzana Versey
What Religion is Your Nationalism?
Clark T. Scott
The Focus on Trump Reveals the Democrat Model
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Do Bernie’s Supporters Know What “Not Me, Us” Means? Does Bernie?
Peter Harley
Aldo Leopold, Revisited
Winslow Myers
A Presidential Speech the World Needs to Hear
Christopher Brauchli
The Chosen One
Jim Britell
Misconceptions About Lobbying Representatives and Agencies
Ted Rall
Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does
Mel Gurtov
Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and the Insecurity of China’s Leadership
Nicky Reid
Dennis Kucinich, Tulsi Gabbard and the Slow Death of the Democratic Delusion
Tom H. Hastings
Cross-Generational Power to Change
John Kendall Hawkins
1619: The Mighty Whitey Arrives
Julian Rose
Why I Don’t Have a Mobile Phone
David Yearsley
Parasitic Sounds
Elliot Sperber
Class War is Chemical War
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail