US President Donald Trump branded his own intelligence services “naive” on Iran and in need of schooling in a deepening and unusually public row Wednesday.
The Twitter broadside was a riposte to the more sober but equally emphatic rejection by the intelligence community Tuesday of many of Trump’s foreign policy claims.
Insisting that Iran’s nuclear program remains dangerous, Trump said his intelligence advisors — who believe Tehran is largely abiding by an international commitment to shelve nuclear weapons ambitions — should be more realistic.
“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” Trump tweeted. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
Trump also touted what he said were his successes in Syria, where he has alarmed allies by abruptly announcing a withdrawal of US troops, and in North Korea, where he believes he can persuade reclusive leader Kim Jong Un to give up nuclear weapons.
In congressional testimony Tuesday, the nation’s top intelligence chiefs challenged all those positions.
This was far from the first time Trump has publicly doubted his national security experts. But the vehemence of his response Wednesday showed the depth of that split.
Reaction from Democratic opponents was swift.
Adam Schiff, who heads the intelligence committee in the House of Representatives, said Trump’s dismissal of his officials’ advice was “deeply dangerous.”
“The president has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality,” Senator Mark Warner, the vice chair of the upper house’s intelligence committee, tweeted.
– Clashing assessments –
Trump’s administration has been consistently hawkish on Iran. He pulled the United States from a complex international deal meant to secure Iran’s abandonment of nuclear weapon ambitions, arguing that Tehran was cheating.
However, US intelligence agencies in an annual joint report published Tuesday said they “assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.”
There was also pushback from the intelligence officials on North Korea.
Trump has put great store by his personal relationship with Kim, whom he plans to meet in the near future for a second summit. On Wednesday he insisted again that there is a “decent chance” of North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons.
But in the intelligence report, the view on North Korea was that its leaders continue to “view nuclear arms as critical to regime survival.”
Likewise, Trump boasted that the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, which once covered vast areas of Iraq and Syria, will “soon be destroyed,” something “unthinkable two years ago.”
But in testimony to the Senate on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats offered a less optimistic view, noting that “ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria… and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world, despite significant leadership and territorial losses.”
Closer to home, Trump has described illegal immigration by poor Central Americans as a national security crisis that he likens to an invasion and can only be stopped by building border walls.
The issue dominates his domestic agenda and has pushed him into a debilitating row with Congress, which so far has refused to provide wall funding.
Tellingly, the intelligence agencies’ group assessment on Tuesday referred to migration and cross-border crime, but did not mention any need for a wall.
Touching on one of the most explosive subjects in Washington, the agencies also underscored that they believe Russia meddled deeply on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 presidential election — which he has repeatedly denied — and can be expected to do the same in 2020.