The first 24 hours of the Trump presidency were marked by a bizarre inauguration speech (“American Carnage”), frenzied claims of record inauguration crowds, and an unusual appearance at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency where the new president proclaimed his political brilliance. The shock of these 24 hours led pundits and politicians alike to proclaim that the so-called adults in the administration (Tillerson at State; Mattis at Defense; Coats as the director of national intelligence; and eventually General McMaster at the national security council) would exercise some restraint on a potentially unstable and unpredictable president.
The July 29 front-page article “Coats to resign as spy chief” stated that intelligence directors have “not been such vocal political supporters of a president.” Well, President Ronald Reagan’s intelligence director was William J. Casey, who was a campaign manager for Reagan in 1980 and a zealous supporter of the president. As CIA director, Casey was responsible for the cherry-picking of intelligence on the Soviet Union that exaggerated the power and influence of Moscow and missed the decline and ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Casey example is an important reminder of the danger of appointing a loyalist such as Rep.?John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) to be director of national intelligence.
In two and a half years, Donald Trump and his national security team have managed to worsen virtually every aspect of American national security policy. Trump has bullied and harangued our traditional West European allies and, as a result, bilateral relations with Britain, France, and Germany have become more difficult. France, Germany, and even Japan have begun to rethink their security policies because of the uncertainty that surrounds dealing with the Trump administration. President Barack Obama left Trump a path for dealing with traditional foes in Cuba and Iran, but the president has made these issues far more problematic and, in the case of Tehran, raised the specter of confrontation.
The United States is the most powerful nation on earth. There is no nation nor even a group of nations that can match the combined political, economic, and military power of the United States. Nevertheless, the United States faces an international arena that has become increasingly resistant and opposed to U.S. initiatives. The blundering of Donald Trump and his mediocre national security team is largely responsible for the setbacks over the past two years. But U.S. exceptionalism and even political bipartisanship carry a heavy responsibility as well.