Last week, intelligence officials testified publicly that Iran has not resumed its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon. The next day, President Trump called these officials “extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” and advised, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
The first-blush response to this presidential outburst was to dump it in the same category as Trump’s other public eruption against members of his government who undercut his preferred narratives with inconvenient facts. That response is probably correct: this Trump tantrum is probably like all the other Trump tantrums. But there is another possible meaning to this episode: Trump’s rejection of intelligence assessments of Iran’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities eerily echoes the Bush administration’s rejection of Iraq’s WMD capabilities a decade and a half earlier.
Shortly after their testimony, the intelligence officials were summoned to the Oval office for a photographed session in which they publicly smoothed over their breach with the president, and (according to Trump) assured him that their remarks had been misconstrued, despite having been delivered in public and broadcast in their entirety. Yet Trump’s interview broadcast Sunday with Margaret Brennan on CBS made clear how little little headway they made in regaining his trust.
Trump told Brennan he plans to maintain troops in Iraq because, “I want to be able to watch Iran … We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.” But would he accept the assessments that he received? No, Trump replied, he wouldn’t.
His reason for rejecting this intelligence was consistent. Trump is unable to separate the question, Do I like Iran’s government and its foreign policy? from the question Is Iran building a nuclear weapon? Tell Trump that Iran is abiding by its nuclear commitment, and what he hears you saying is, “Iran is a lovely state run by wonderful people.”
In fact, intelligence officials did not deny Iran has caused problems. They simply asserted facts about its nuclear weapons. Trump cannot hear those facts without translating it into Iran being comprehensively “wonderful.”
Even more remarkably, Trump explained that intelligence assessments could not be trusted because they had failed in the run-up to the Iraq war:
Trump’s understanding of this history is almost perfectly backwards. U.S. intelligence officials never said Iraq “had nuclear weapons,” or even anything close to that. They did overstate Iraqi weapons capabilities. But — crucially — the Bush administration also pressured intelligence agencies to inflate their findings, as John Judis and Spencer Ackerman reported in 2003, and administration officials overstated the intelligence that was produced, as the Senate Intelligence Committee found in 2008.
The backdrop to this episode does have some important differences with the current moment. The Bush administration had been plunged into an adrenal panic by the 9/11 attacks. Its rush toward war was largely choreographed by Dick Cheney, a skilled bureaucratic operator, and enjoyed broad public legitimacy created by the national unity bestowed upon Bush by the surprise attack. None of these conditions apply to the easily distracted, childlike, and deeply unpopular sitting president.
And while Cheney has departed the scene, National Security Council director John Bolton has assumed a somewhat parallel role. An ultrahawk with a long record of punishing subordinates who undermine the factual basis for his preferred policies, Bolton has emerged as Trump’s most influential foreign policy adviser. Bolton in 2015 insisted that Iran was racing toward a nuclear weapon. (“Even absent palpable proof, like a nuclear test, Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident.”) He likewise concluded that diplomacy could never work (“The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program”) and that “only military action” could stop it.
As Trump has grown alienated from his national security apparatus, Bolton appears to be the one remaining official who has retained a measure of his trust. And while he may not have a Cheney-like ability to manipulate the president, Bolton does benefit from a near vacuum in rival power sources.
Other parallels leap out between Trump’s view of Iran and Bush’s view of Iraq. Bush and Cheney rejected skeptical intelligence about Iraq’s weapons in part because, like Trump with Iran, they conflated their assessment of Iraq’s overall foreign policy behavior with its weapons capability. They assumed that a dictator who had repeatedly attacked his neighbors must be intent on weapons of mass destruction. Like Trump, they nurtured their thinking in a conservative movement bubble that dismissed bureaucratic expertise as a biased liberal elite. They couldn’t distinguish their strategic goals from the facts that might be brought to bear upon them.
Trump’s apparent conclusion from Bush’s Iraq debacle is that a president who has a gut-level suspicion of a Middle Eastern regional power should disregard all intelligence that complicates his hawkish impulses. If there is any chance history repeats itself, it is because Trump has turned the lesson of history upside down.
Trump Is Doing the Same Thing on Iran That Bush Did on Iraq
Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States, a CNN investigation has found.
The weapons have also made their way into the hands of Iranian-backed rebels battling the coalition for control of the country, exposing some of America’s sensitive military technology to Tehran and potentially endangering the lives of US troops in other conflict zones.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its main partner in the war, have used the US-manufactured weapons as a form of currency to buy the loyalties of militias or tribes, bolster chosen armed actors, and influence the complex political landscape, according to local commanders on the ground and analysts who spoke to CNN.
Perhaps people have become wise to the fact that national gun reform is still a long ways off?
Conventional wisdom and gun company earnings statements have long held that nothing juices firearm sales quite like the fear of new gun laws that follows mass shootings. But new federal data shows that last year, fear-based buying appears to have fizzled out.
Gun sales tumbled for the second year in a row in 2018, according to an analysis of background check totals by Jurgen Brauer, an economist at Augusta University whose consulting firm, Small Arms Analytics, monitors gun transfers. That’s despite one of the highest-profile mass shootings in American history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, as well as sustained gun control activism, and electoral victories by Democrats who almost uniformly promised to pursue stronger gun laws.
A counterpoint to all the political doom and gloom: Americans generally like their lives
Tremendous numbers of people are coming up through Mexico in the hopes of flooding our Southern Border. We have sent additional military. We will build a Human Wall if necessary. If we had a real Wall, this would be a non-event!
Less than a month after Democrats — many of them running on “Medicare for All” — won back control of the House of Representatives in November, the top health policy aide to then-prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Blue Cross Blue Shield executives and assured them that party leadership had strong reservations about single-payer health care and was more focused on lowering drug prices, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
Pelosi adviser Wendell Primus detailed five objections to Medicare for All and said that Democrats would be allies to the insurance industry in the fight against single-payer health care. Primus pitched the insurers on supporting Democrats on efforts to shrink drug prices, specifically by backing a number of measures that the pharmaceutical lobby is opposing
Hiring undocumented workers was par for the course for the Trumps, until reporters started digging around. Now, they’re getting rid of them.
President Trump’s company has fired at least 18 undocumented workers from five golf courses in New York and New Jersey in the past two months, part of a purge set in motion after a series of reports about the clubs’ employment of workers without legal status.
Eric Trump, the president’s son, confirmed the firings to The Washington Post on Monday. Those dismissed included three undocumented workers at the Trump National Golf Club Colts Neck near Montrose, N.J., and three more at the Trump National Golf Club Philadelphia in Pine Hill, N.J.
Another was dismissed from Trump National Golf Club Hudson Valley in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., Eric Trump said. Eric and his brother, Donald Trump Jr., have day-to-day control of the Trump Organization.
Republicans aren’t keen on Trump declaring a national emergency to get his wall, as it might allow a Democrat to combat the actual emergency threatening the planet
Mr. Trump is not expected to declare the state of emergency during Tuesday’s address. But he continues to threaten that he will divert funding for other military and infrastructure projects to build the wall, with or without congressional approval. He has told people close to him that he views the threat as his last remaining leverage in the fight.
That has some Republicans openly fretting that such a declaration would embolden a Democratic president to declare a national emergency on climate change or gun violence.
“It would be a bad precedent, I think, for the president to decide to invoke national security as a way to bypass a congressional logjam,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. “And I can imagine future presidents using that for purposes I would find very objectionable.”
That sentiment has been expressed by about a dozen Republican senators, publicly and privately, including Roy Blunt of Missouri, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Marco Rubio of Florida, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and John Cornyn of Texas, who is considered to be among the most influential members of his party on immigration.
“The whole idea that a president — whether it’s President Trump or President Warren or President Sanders — can declare an emergency and then somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific projects without Congress getting involved is a serious constitutional question,” Mr. Cornyn said on Monday.
But the most important critic of the declaration is Mr. McConnell. “I don’t think much of that idea,” Mr. McConnell said last month when asked about the declaration. “I hope he doesn’t go down that path.”
The theme of Trump’s State of the Union: Republicans and Democrats should come together … to give me my wall
Facing growing political head winds, President Trump on Tuesday will try to convince the nation that his presidency remains strong and viable in a State of the Union address that aides described as a sincere appeal to broaden his governing coalition.
But Trump is also expected to reaffirm his demand for Congress to support his hard-line immigration agenda and offer a robust defense of foreign policy initiatives that have engendered fierce criticism from Democrats who have asserted newfound power to try to blunt his agenda.
The same David Malpass who was the chief economist at Bear Sterns just before it collapsed
Confirmed: Trump to nominate David Malpass, under secretary of treasury, to be the next World Bank chief, administration officials