Our patriotic determination to Make America Great Again received a great boost this week – perhaps the greatest we’ve gotten in years.
It happened not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing room. On Tuesday, America’s six leading intelligence agency officials sat shoulder-to-shoulder and courageously spoke truth to power. And most importantly in a democracy, the intel chiefs also spoke their truths to all the people.
Led by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, the former conservative Republican Indiana senator who Trump appointed, the intelligence chiefs summarized for the senators the unusually straight-talking findings contained in a 42-page report that is available online for all the world to see. And after they were done, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Democratic stalwart who has always championed bipartisan problem-solving, declared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show: “This is why I have faith in democracy.”
The findings of the intel chiefs contradicted some of President Donald Trump’s rosy scenario claims about worldwide flashpoint crises:
— “North Korea … is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities” – contrary to Trump’s claims that he’s moving North Korea to denuclearize.
— “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device” – contrary to Trump’s claims that his predecessor’s Iran nuclear pact was a failure.
— “ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, and it still maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks, and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world” – contrary to Trump’s claims that ISIS has been soundly defeated in Iraq and Syria.
— “Russia in 2016 and…as recently as 2018…conducted cyber activity that has targeted US election infrastructure” – contrary to Trump’s claims that Russia’s Vladimir Putin has strongly denied all of that.
The intel chiefs voiced perhaps their loudest contradiction with the sound of silence: In summarizing America’s most urgent security crises, they didn’t even mention illegal Mexican border immigration. Trump famously labeled it his campaign theme crisis, proclaiming we needed a huge border wall to solve it and promising Mexico would pay for it. When neither Mexico nor his own Republican Congress would pay for it, Trump shut down the government for a record 35 days. Now he’s threatening to close it again.
How did the intel chiefs’ truth-telling help Make America Great Again? Think back just a bit to the way we bungled ourselves into a war that spun out of control – after that era’s intel chiefs failed to tell tough truths to the powers who were predetermined to invade.
REWIND – to President George W. Bush’s Oval Office. On Dec. 21, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet and his team briefed the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and others on evidence that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein possessed and might use weapons of mass destruction. When Bush wanted more, Tenet assured his boss that it would be a “slam dunk.” Bob Woodward wrote in his book, “Plan of Attack,” that Tenet threw his arms straight up as he said it. (Tenet insists he said it, but didn’t pantomime it.)
Tenet’s real failure was in not fully conveying the toughest truths to powers that were predetermined to go to war. Months earlier, Cheney had told the Veterans of Foreign Wars, “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction …There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, our allies, and against us…Many of us are convinced that (Saddam) will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.”
Saddam definitely had and used chemical weapons, but not nukes. As Tenet later admitted in his book, “At the Center of the Storm,” Cheney went “well beyond what our analysts could support” – especially about nukes. “I should have told the vice president privately that, in my view his VFW speech had gone too far,” Tenet wrote. Privately? No, Tenet needed to immediately – and firmly! – tell Bush, Cheney, et al, U.S. intelligence didn’t support Cheney’s claims.
FAST FORWARD – to the first day of Trump’s presidency. Standing in front of the CIA headquarters memorial wall honoring those who gave their lives for their country, Trump told the CIA employees: “There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community than Donald Trump,” said Trump. “You’re going to get so much backing. And you’re going to say: ‘Please don’t give us so much backing, Mr. President. Please we don’t need that much backing!”
This week, Trump weathered the chiefs’ inconvenient intelligence truths by launching yet another vindictive and even juvenile tweet storm:
Tweet: “The intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naïve…They are wrong!”
Tweet: “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”