It takes courage and conviction, backed by hard intelligence, to walk into the Oval Office and tell the president of the United States things he doesn't want to hear. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, has provided crucial, albeit unappreciated, input in daily White House briefings when President Donald Trump felt more inclined to trust his gut rather than the intelligence.
Coats, probably more times than the nation will ever know, has helped prevent Trump from driving the nation off a national security cliff. But it appears Coats has reached the limit of his patience and is resigning. To replace him, Trump has chosen Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, whose unquestioning loyalty to Trump will help assure a daily briefing more to the president's liking.
America has been down this road before, and it never ends well. The Vietnam War exploded into an uncontrollable mess in large part because President Lyndon Johnson didn't want to hear the insistent warnings of senior advisers that the war was unwinnable. President George W. Bush, likewise, ignored intelligence advice to the contrary and opted to invade Iraq.
The stakes under Trump are exceedingly high. In spite of advice from Coats, who oversees 17 intelligence agencies, Trump refused to believe that Iran was abiding by the 2015 accord it signed with the United States and five other governments to dramatically curtail its uranium-enrichment program. Rejecting Coats' advice, Trump unilaterally canceled the accord, reimposed sanctions on Iran, and has since been working hard to escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf to the point where a military strike could become necessary.
Coats told Trump that North Korea was unlikely to relinquish its nuclear-weapons program and that, no matter what the president thought he had negotiated with dictator Kim Jong Un, the reality was that North Korea would keep its nuclear capabilities secretly in place. Trump ignored Coats, met with Kim and triumphantly announced that the two had reached an agreement. Coats has since been proven correct, and North Korea has resumed a belligerent posture.
Coats warned Trump that all national intelligence assessments affirmed Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections and that Russia continued to violate U.S. sovereignty. Trump ignored Coats, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and announced publicly that he believed Putin over his own intelligence advisers. No wonder Coats is quitting.
Ratcliffe earned his reputation as a blind loyalist during last week's House hearings with former special counsel Robert Mueller — hearings called to evaluate Mueller's report about Russian meddling. Ratcliffe turned the hearings, instead, into a virtual trial in which Mueller himself became the defendant.
Ratcliffe has no intelligence experience, unlike Coats and previous directors. His absence of qualifications, combined with no track record of standing up to Trump, should be justification enough for Missouri Republican Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley to reject his confirmation.
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