Donald Trump told Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt this morning for an interview for Fox and Friends that he doesn’t trust our intelligence. Trump is scheduled to receive his first classified intelligence briefing today.
Earhardt asked, “do you trust intelligence?”
“Not so much for the people who have been doing it for our country. Look what’s happened over the last ten years. Look what’s happened over the years, I mean it has been catastrophic. In fact I won’t use some of the people that are sort of your standard. Just use them, use them, use them, it is very easy to use them. But I won’t use them because they have made such bad decisions,” Trump said.
“I mean you look at Iraq, you look at the Middle East, it is a total powder keg. If we would have never touched it, it would have been a lot better. It would have been a lot better off. On top of which we spent probably four trillion dollars, nobody knows what we’ve spent. So no, I have great people and General Flynn is one of them,” Trump added.
First if Trump is elected president he is totally free to make changes to the intelligence apparatus, namely put into place (upon Senate confirmation) a new CIA director, Director of National Intelligence, etc. It looks like General Mike Flynn will play a prominent role. I don’t have any reason to doubt his capabilities in that role.
Second, I would hope that Trump will separate the intelligence received over the years from the policy that was implemented. There is no doubt that President Obama’s foreign policy, as it pertains to the Middle East, has been a nightmare and Hillary Clinton having been the Secretary of State has earned some of the blame. Intelligence certainly shapes policy, but that doesn’t mean it was followed to the letter.
Third, our intelligence agencies are not infallible. No one is. I think Trump will probably be surprised to hear how many terrorist attacks have been thwarted as a result of our intelligence community. Also pre-9/11 we were very behind the eight ball on having human intelligence assets in the Middle East. We’ve also had some unreliable allies in the Middle East, like Pakistan, that have made things difficult. Trump likes to look at the world in black and white, but when it comes to intelligence there are all sorts of shades of gray. Sometimes intelligence comes down to one’s best guess and sometimes that is wrong. For instance there was consensus in the intelligence communities that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I’m still convinced he did, there was video evidence that he gassed his own people, but what we didn’t know was his capability to hide them, how much he had, and if he was able to get his arsenal out of the country.
Ultimately the decision to invade Iraq was a political decision, not an intelligence decision, and we can debate that all we want. Everyone has 20/20 vision when it comes to the past.
Fourth, it is irresponsible to dismiss the entire intelligence apparatus. If he doesn’t trust the intelligence he is provided what will he trust? Who will he listen to? He can replace the people at the top and he probably should, but does he really think he can totally gut all of the analysts and operatives who are actually the ones collecting the information? There are a lot of good people working for our nation’s intelligence apparatus, most of whom are not political appointees. What will be important going forward is to make sure that the raw intelligence that is received is properly interpreted and not just run through a political filter or spun. If there has been a failure ultimately it has been at that end, not in what intelligence is actually collected. Whomever the President is he or she will need to hear the truth unfiltered and not just be told what that person wants to hear.