Monday, April 30, 2018

The Fact This Potato-Headed Punk Gets a Platform Tells Me EVERYTHING I Need to Know...,

NYTimes |  Over time it has become clear to me that security decisions in the Trump administration follow a certain pattern. Discussion seems to start with a presidential statement or tweet. Then follows a large-scale effort to inform the president, to impress upon him the complexity of an issue, to review the relevant history, to surface more factors bearing on the problem, to raise second- and third-order consequences and to explore subsequent moves.

It’s not easy. The president by all accounts is not a patient man. According to The Washington Post, one Trump confidant called him “the two-minute man” with “patience for a half page.” He insists on five-page or shorter intelligence briefs, rather than the 60 pages we typically gave previous presidents. There is something inherently disturbing in that. There are some problems that cannot be simplified.

Sometimes, almost magically, he gets it right. The president’s speech last August on Afghanistan was worth listening to, clearly the product of the traditional deliberative process where intelligence sets the picture based on the best available information, and then security agencies weigh in with views that are adjudicated by the National Security Council.

But the Afghan experience has been the exception. The president continues to attack the Iranian nuclear deal and is likely to end it even in the face of intelligence that Iran has not committed a material breach of the compact, that the deal makes it more difficult for Iran to build a weapon and that it gives us visibility into its nuclear program.

Then there is Russia. The president only recently and grudgingly agreed to impose sanctions on Russians believed to have interfered in the American election, and he continues to characterize the investigation as a “witch hunt” while relentlessly attacking agencies of his own administration.
He humiliated the attorney general, undercut his national security adviser and engaged in personal vendettas against senior F.B.I. officials.

A few months after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, I got a call from a colleague who thought he might be on a very short list for a very senior position. He asked my opinion. I told him that three months earlier I would have talked to him about his duty to serve. Now I was telling him to say no. “You’re a young man,” I said. “Don’t put yourself at risk for the future. You have a lot to offer. Someday.”

When asked for counsel these days by officers who are already in government, especially more junior ones, I remind them of their duty to help the president succeed. But then I add: “Protect yourself. Take notes and save them. And above all, protect the institution. America still needs it.”

That creates a deeper dilemma. Intelligence becomes a feeble academic exercise if it is not relevant and useful. It always has to adapt to the idiosyncrasies, learning style, policies and priorities of any president to preserve its relevance and utility. But there have to be limits. History — and the next president — will judge American intelligence, and if it is found to have been too accommodating to this or any other president, it will be disastrous for the community.

These are truly uncharted waters for the country. We have in the past argued over the values to be applied to objective reality, or occasionally over what constituted objective reality, but never the existence or relevance of objective reality itself.

In this post-truth world, intelligence agencies are in the bunker with some unlikely mates: journalism, academia, the courts, law enforcement and science — all of which, like intelligence gathering, are evidence-based. Intelligence shares a broader duty with these other truth-tellers to preserve the commitment and ability of our society to base important decisions on our best judgment of what constitutes objective reality.

The historian Timothy Snyder stresses the importance of reality and truth in his cautionary pamphlet, “On Tyranny.” “To abandon facts,” he writes, “is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so.” He then chillingly observes, “Post-truth is pre-fascism.”