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The 2019 Annual Threat Assessment – Its Donald Trump

     On January 29, 2019, an impressive array of defense and intelligence experts provided the annual U.S. Threat Assessment to the Senate.  These career professionals were loyal Republicans appointed by President Trump.  Nevertheless, in what was an unfortunately rare case of integrity among the Trump cabinet, to a person they completely refuted all of Trump’s ongoing statements concerning our national defense and security threats.  Their detailed, credible testimony further demonstrated President Trump’s ongoing dishonesty and failure to understand these critical security and policy issues.  He refuses to listen to his experts, instead publicly rebuking them to his great disadvantage and discredit.  Trump himself has become the biggest threat to the security of the United States.    

Contrary to Trump’s repeated false assertions, the biggest threats facing the U.S. continue to be Russia, ISIS, North Korea, and Iran.  Chinese economic and intelligence espionage remains a substantial threat on multiple levels.  Climate change poses an existential threat because of increasingly catastrophic strategic, economic, health and other consequences.  Lastly, they spoke about how our adversaries are perfecting and expanding their use of social media to undermine elections and create discord.  There was not a single mention of a crisis at the southern border, immigration, MS 13, or any basis for President Trump’s wall or hate speech.

Kudos to the collective defense and intelligence leadership for speaking truthfully about these most vital national interests, despite anticipating juvenile and baseless backlash from Trump Tweets.  He Tweets because he lacks the knowledge or understanding to speak intelligently or substantively.  Kudos also to Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Whip John Thune for condemning Trump’s ongoing attacks and refusal to learn these important matters.  Long time Trump ally and defender Chris Christie said that when there is such consensus among the intelligence community, the President really needs to listen to them, not attack them.

     Trump was wrong about each of the threats discussed by HIS intelligence team.  North Korea continues to develop its nuclear weapon capabilities posing a serious threat to the U.S.  Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un was an abject failure.  Trump gave multiple concessions while Kim gave none.  Yet Trump says he and Kim fell in love…  Well, he does love ruthless dictators and enemies of democracy.  Trump was wrong about ISIS.  He claimed ISIS was defeated (on his watch) and the U.S. would immediately withdraw from Syria.  This cedes the country to Russia, providing Putin the stronghold in the Middle East he craves, not to mention support for Turkish slaughter of our Kurd allies.  More importantly, ISIS is anything but defeated, having over 30,000 dedicated fighters.  

     The Iran deal was seriously flawed, in part because it failed to include Iran’s support of international terrorist organizations and efforts to destabilize its neighbors.  That said, the focus of the agreement was Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power, which the rest of the world could never allow to happen.  Iran has continued to comply with the terms of the agreement even after Trump foolishly withdrew the U.S.  Lastly is Afghanistan.  Peace talks, including with the Taliban, are essential to bringing about an end to the war after 18 years.  That requires a legitimate, lasting agreement, not the complete capitulation to the Taliban Trump supports out of ignorance and just for expediency.  His positions prove Trump fails to understand these critical national interests, does not read the materials his staff compiles, and does not seek or accept their advice.  He is dangerous and reckless, including with our national security.      

     Russia is our adversary and Putin engages in overt and clandestine efforts to try and undermine NATO and democracy.  Russia continues to illegally occupy sovereign Ukrainian territory involving having annexed the Crimea.  They persist in acts of aggression including the recent unprovoked attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Sea of Azov wherein they kidnapped and still hold hostage Ukrainian personnel.  Putin violated longstanding missile defense treaties that have helped maintain the peace between east and west and prevent nuclear war.  Russia has offered to work with North Korea to build a nuclear “power plant” on Russia territory near their border.  This directly undermines ongoing U.S. sanctions and efforts to prevent North Korea from achieving nuclear weapons capabilities.  Lastly, there is Russia’s enduring campaign to interfere with U.S. and European elections.       

  Despite this, Trump has had many private meetings with Putin without allowing U.S. advisors, staff, or even translators in the room.  This dangerous and unprecedented activity has one reason – to conceal the meetings from everyone including his own staff.  Trump wants absolutely no evidence of their conversations which can only mean he is engaging in improper discussions with Putin.  Perhaps he is making secret deals with Putin or otherwise forming agreements before coordinating with Congress or our allies.  Why not allow the staff to prepare him for the meetings like every other President.  This would be especially helpful as Trump lacks substantive knowledge or even basic understanding of the array of complex issues facing the nations.  Trump and Putin have one visible partnership – they endeavor to undermine and defeat the Special Counsel Mueller investigation.  Trump and Putin both fear the results of that effort.  We know why.    

     Trump policies align tightly with Putin’s priorities and world view.  They are opposite of our own dedicated, capable career experts, including those Trump appointed and inexplicably ignore the strong consensus of seventeen defense and intelligence agencies.  Why does Trump shun U.S. interests and priorities in favor of Russia’s?  It begs the ongoing questions as to whether he is pursuing personal business interests at the expense of U.S. national interests or whether Putin has compromising information on him of a financial and/or salacious nature.  At this point we do not yet know why, but we do know what.  Trump has private meetings with Putin for which he goes to great lengths to prevent any accounting or evidence.  He espouses Putin’s policies over longstanding U.S. and allied policies.  He refuses briefings from our own experts or to learn critical issues.  He repeatedly denigrates and inexplicably dismisses U.S. career professionals and his own political appointees, all of whom are trying to help him.  Looking at the range of serious national security threats facing the nation, Trump himself may be the biggest.          

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