As the controversy builds over Donald Trump's choice of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to serve as the director of national intelligence, Time magazine published a discouraging report this morning:
In a sign of how dysfunctional President Trump's relationship with the intelligence community has become already, some senior spies and analysts say having a political ally as DNI may not make much of a difference at this point.
Trump, these senior officials point out, pays only sporadic attention to his daily briefings, routinely ignores analysis that contradicts his own views, and in many cases pursues policies that analysts have concluded are fruitless or misguided.
This, in a rather twisted way, is intended to suggest Ratcliffe wouldn't be all that important, at least when advising the president on matters related to intelligence and national security. Why? Because Trump makes his own assumptions and doesn't much care what his own country's intelligence community has to say.
Alas, this is very easy to believe. Circling back to our earlier coverage, the president sat down with CBS News' Margaret Brennan in February, and the host asked if he's prepared to “trust the intelligence” he receives from his own national security team. In a normal administration, the question might’ve seemed bizarre. In this president’s administration, no one could be sure of the answer.
Trump said in response, “I am going to trust the intelligence that I’m putting there.” I still haven’t the foggiest idea what that was supposed to mean.
Soon after, in the same interview, the host noted that the administration’s intelligence chiefs have concluded that Iran is abiding by the terms of the international nuclear agreement. “I disagree with them,” Trump replied, indifferent to the fact that his team’s assessment was based on facts, and his disagreement was based on his preferred version of reality.
The Republican went on to argue, “I have intel people, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree. President Bush had intel people that said Saddam Hussein in Iraq had nuclear weapons, had all sorts of weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? Those intel people didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and they got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in.”
Trump, however, learned the wrong lesson from George W. Bush’s presidency. To the current president, Iraq offers proof that American intelligence professionals are unreliable. In reality, Iraq offers proof of what happens when a White House pressures intelligence agencies to produce results intended to bolster preconceived ideas and political agendas.
Or put another way, what went wrong in the Bush/Cheney era is eerily similar to what’s happening now.