Donald Trump faced a problem last week. The international nuclear agreement with Iran has proven to be effective and stabilizing, but the president, reflexively opposed to each of his predecessor’s accomplishments, had concluded he hated the Iran deal anyway.
The dilemma, of course, was coming up with a coherent justification for putting the policy’s future at risk. For the most part, Trump stuck to demonstrably false claims, but there was another point in the president’s speech on Friday that stood out for me.
“There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea. I am going to instruct our intelligence agencies to do a thorough analysis and report back their findings beyond what they have already reviewed.”
If we accept the rhetoric – part of the prepared written remarks – at face value, Trump seemed to concede that there is no meaningful evidence that Iran is dealing with North Korea. If such proof existed, he would’ve said so, instead of referring to some vague “people” who “believe” the allegation.
But therein lies the point: the president has apparently decided to “instruct” intelligence agencies to take another look at the claim Trump seems eager to believe, telling intel professionals to go “beyond what they have already reviewed.”
The not-so-subtle message seemed to be, “I didn’t like what the intelligence said, so try again to tell me what I want to hear.”
If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because we saw a similar dynamic unfold in the Bush/Cheney era, when the Republican White House pressed intelligence agencies to help make the case for a war in Iraq.
If memory serves, this didn’t work out well for anyone.
And yet, here we are again, only this time, we see a different Republican president applying pressure, not behind the scenes, but out in the open. George W. Bush, for all of his many faults and failures, never appeared before a national television audience and “instructed” intelligence professionals to go “beyond what they have already reviewed.”
This probably won’t end well.
Postscript: Trump is on record belittling, mocking, and dismissing U.S. intelligence agencies for presenting him with facts the president found politically inconvenient. If intel professionals go “beyond what they have already reviewed,” and they come to the same conclusion about Iran and North Korea, is there any reason to believe Trump will believe them?