At Peak Nonsense

Oil is a finite resource and economists for years have talked about a point in time they call “peak oil” – when all the easy-to-get-to cheap oil runs out and the only stuff left is in heavy tar sands and trapped in layers of shale that must be fractured (fracked) to get it out – or it’s in places almost impossible to reach – deep under deep-sea floors or under the polar ice caps. That’s expensive to extract but there’s not much choice left. There’s not much oil left. At some point all of this was cheap and easy – that would be “peak oil” – but now it’s not. What happened? No one realized the “peak” had already come and gone.

It’s the same with any resource. It’s the same with everything. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?” The trick is to appreciate the peak moment in anything and everything, and that applies to Donald Trump. He may have just reached peak nonsense:

President Donald Trump claimed Thursday that his intelligence chiefs, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, told him that they were misquoted when they publicly contradicted him during public on-camera testimony.

He made the claim a day after he tweeted that “Intelligence should go back to school!”

“They said they were totally misquoted and totally taken out of context,” Trump said when asked by CNN if he raised the testimony with Coats and Haspel during his daily briefing on Thursday.

“They said it was fake news,” Trump said.

The President did not provide examples of the areas the intelligence chiefs said they were misquoted. Their testimony was televised, and their written assessment of global threats was made public.

The President could not provide examples of the areas in which the intelligence chiefs were misquoted. None of them were quoted. They were recorded – video with audio. They said what they said. Many saw that live on television. This was nonsense, and then Trump compounded that nonsense:

Trump followed up those comments with a tweet insisting that Coats and Haspel told him their testimony was distorted by the press and that they are all on the same page.

“Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office who told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media – and we are very much in agreement on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, etc. Their testimony was distorted press,” Trump said on Twitter.

They didn’t say that. He did, perhaps for a reason:

Several national security officials told CNN that while they don’t like the President’s latest attacks on the intelligence community they’re not paying much notice.

Sources said Trump’s comments this week don’t carry the same weight as those he made the day before he took the oath of office comparing the intelligence community to Nazi Germany, which were more demoralizing…

The national security officials said the President is more focused on making deals and using the intelligence for that, while his intelligence chiefs are looking at the same information to make threat assessments.

The president is focused on trade deals and they’re focused on keeping us safe. That’s just how it is, but then there’s Tim Weiner. He’s won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He wrote “Enemies: A History of the FBI” and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” – and he’s a bit unhappy with all this:

The chiefs of U.S. intelligence, an enterprise costing well north of $80 billion a year, report that Iran isn’t building nuclear weapons, North Korea isn’t dismantling them, and the Islamic State is undefeated in Syria and Iraq. Trump batted back their conclusions on ISIS and North Korea in tweets delivered before dawn, in who knows what dark night of the soul.

“The President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality,” tweeted Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”

This is a dangerous business:

The CIA’s spies and analysts are the lead reporters on these issues. All their work contradicts the president’s assumptions. And they are almost assuredly correct. Trump says they don’t know what they’re talking about. Why is he savaging American intelligence and its leaders? He may be playing deaf, dumb and blind to their work, fending it all off as fake news, because he thinks they have something on him. He certainly sees the CIA (and the FBI) as an instrument of a “deep state” conspiring to undo his presidency. And so he denigrates their work and dismisses their leaders as fools and naïfs.

Sure, the CIA has been tragically wrong in the past. The United States went to war in Iraq 15 years ago, in part, because of its supposition that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But it’s just as great a tragedy when it gets it right and the president won’t listen.

We are living through that kind of tragedy right now. If Trump trashes whatever the CIA tells him – just as he ignored its solid reporting that a certain Saudi prince had a contributing Washington Post journalist murdered four months ago – who knows what will happen if we have an actual crisis?

So it comes down to this:

The truth that everyone knew but no one would speak when America’s intelligence chiefs reported to the nation on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee is terrifying: the accumulating evidence that the president of the United States is a danger to our safety and security.

But there’s nothing new here:

Their predecessors have been sounding the alarm for two and a half years.

In August 2016, Mike Morell, a 33-year CIA veteran and the agency’s deputy director and acting director under President Barack Obama, wrote in the New York Times that “Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.” Morell also endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, which surely did not endear him, and the CIA, to Trump. Retired Gen. Michael Hayden told the BBC a few days later that Trump would be “very dangerous indeed” if elected.

Last year, James R. Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence from 2010 to 2017, wrote: “I don’t believe our democracy can long function on lies. … I believe we have to continue speaking truth to power, even – or especially – if the person in power doesn’t want to hear the truth we have to tell him.” And on Wednesday, John Brennan, CIA director from 2013 to 2017, had this to say to Trump in a tweet: “Your refusal to accept the unanimous assessment of U.S. Intelligence on Iran, No. Korea, ISIS, Russia, & so much more show the extent of your intellectual bankruptcy. All Americans, especially members of Congress, need to understand the danger you pose to our national security.”

It’s a fact that Clapper and Brennan personally confronted Trump, two weeks before his inauguration, with what they believed was ironclad intelligence that Vladimir Putin had worked to elect him. It’s a fact that some of their colleagues suspect he may be an agent – unwitting or not – of a hostile power. And it’s a fact that the counterintelligence investigation of the president by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III relies in part on reporting by U.S. intelligence services.

And now Trump is at Peak Nonsense:

Trump sees U.S. intelligence as a direct threat to his presidency – just as the most senior intelligence veterans see him as a danger to this country.

It doesn’t get more absurd than that, and now this nonsense becomes quite expensive:

The Senate, in a bipartisan rebuke to President Trump’s foreign policy, voted overwhelmingly to advance legislation drafted by the majority leader to express strong opposition to the president’s withdrawal of United States military forces from Syria and Afghanistan.

The 68-to-23 vote to cut off debate ensures that the amendment, written by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and backed by virtually every Senate Republican, will be added to a broader bipartisan Middle East policy bill expected to easily pass the Senate next week.

Trump is now beginning to pay the price for his nonsense:

The vote was the second time in two months that a Republican-led Senate had rebuked Mr. Trump on foreign policy. In December, 56 senators voted to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen in what was the strongest show of bipartisan defiance against Mr. Trump’s defense of the kingdom over the killing of a dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

This time, the vote was even more lopsided. Mr. Trump’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State provoked a swift backlash on Capitol Hill in December when he ordered that the United States pull 2,000 troops from Syria and 7,000 from Afghanistan.

Enough is enough:

Mr. McConnell, usually a reliable ally of the president’s, drafted an amendment warning that “the precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from either country could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.”

Without directly invoking the president’s name, Mr. McConnell countered Mr. Trump’s isolationist policies, arguing that “it is incumbent upon the United States to lead, to continue to maintain a global coalition against terror and to stand by our local partners.”

Now add this:

The Senate’s support for the nonbinding amendment is one of the latest signs of an intensifying and bipartisan appetite to condemn the president’s foreign policy.

Senators Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican and Trump ally, and Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, who lost both her legs when her Army helicopter was shot down in Iraq, wrote to the president on Thursday pressing him to develop “a comprehensive plan to protect our Kurdish partners serving in the Syrian Democratic Forces and prevent armed conflict between Kurdish forces and the Republic of Turkey.” Ms. Blackburn represents Nashville, which is home to more Kurdish-Americans than any other city in the United States.

In the House, Representatives Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, and Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, unveiled two bills on Wednesday that seek to bar the Trump administration from abruptly withdrawing troops from Syria and South Korea.

The bills prohibit the use of military funds to reduce the number of active-duty troops serving in Syria below 1,500 and below 22,000 in South Korea, unless the defense secretary, the secretary of state and the director of national intelligence submit assurances to Congress that the withdrawals would not undermine the nation’s security and that allied nations had been consulted, among other stipulations.

That’s both houses of Congress, and then add his new nemesis:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California offered her own condemnation of Mr. Trump on Thursday, after he dismissed his intelligence chiefs’ national security assessments as “naïve” and suggested that “Intelligence should go back to school.”

“One dismaying factor of it all is that the president doesn’t just seem to have the attention span or the desire to hear what the intelligence community has been telling him,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference. “For him to make the statement he did yesterday is cause for concern.”

Slate’s Fred Kaplan shares that concern:

What must it be like to work in intelligence under Donald Trump? You delve as deeply as anyone into the area of your specialty, parse data from myriad sources (satellite imagery, communications intercepts, spies, open reports), weave your findings with those of 16 other agencies into carefully crafted reports. Then, the president, the sole customer for your products, denounces you on Twitter as “extremely passive,” “naïve,” and “wrong!” (The exclamation point is his.)

Let’s be clear: U.S. intelligence agencies are far from infallible, they’ve been wrong many times in the past and one of the distortions that the Age of Trump has spawned among the opposition is a romanticized worship of the wisdom and goodness of America’s spies.

But Trump’s latest Twitter jabs go beyond the pale. It would be one thing if he based his critique on conversations with outside experts, perusals of scholarly analyses, or events from his own experience. But of course, he talks with no such oracles, reads nothing worthwhile, and has accumulated no life lessons of any relevance here.

It all comes from Fox News in general and “Fox and Friends” specifically, and Eugene Robinson adds this:

After Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told Congress this week that North Korea is unlikely ever to give up its nuclear weapons, Trump tweeted that there is a “decent chance of Denuclearization Progress being made – big difference.”

After CIA chief Gina Haspel said that Iran is abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal that Trump renounced, the president used a tweet to slap her down: “The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Take a moment to absorb how crazy this is. The informed assessments of the president’s intelligence chiefs disagree with Trump’s uninformed or misinformed prejudgments – so he attacks and belittles his own handpicked team.

What are Coats, Haspel and all the others who work for Trump supposed to do? Grin and bear it? Shrug and carry on? Quit and write books telling how the chaos and dysfunction inside Trumpworld are worse than we could possibly imagine?

There are no good choices here:

One of the scariest things about Trump’s tweets is that you can read them and immediately know what he’s been watching on television. He often repeats what he has just heard on Fox News – to the point that the hosts of his favorite show, “Fox and Friends,” often appear to be setting the administration’s agenda. If I worked for the president, I’d watch the show to get my marching orders for the day.

So it comes down to this:

The president won’t accept the conclusions of the intelligence community, which are synthesized by thousands of public servants with great expertise in their subject areas. But he treats three blow-dried talking heads sitting on a couch in Manhattan as Delphic oracles.

That’s Peak Nonsense:

How can the nation respect the presidency when it can’t believe a word the president says?

That’s a good question, and the New York Times interview didn’t help:

A defiant President Trump declared on Thursday that he has all but given up on negotiating with Congress over his border wall and will build it on his own even as he dismissed any suggestions of wrongdoing in the investigations that have ensnared his associates.

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump called the talks “a waste of time” and indicated he will most likely take action on his own when they officially end in two weeks. At the same time, he expressed optimism about reaching a trade deal with China and denied being at odds with his intelligence chiefs.

He was in another world:

Addressing a wide range of subjects, Mr. Trump brushed off the investigations that have consumed so much of his presidency, saying that his lawyers have been reassured by the departing deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, that the president himself was not a target. “He told the attorneys that I’m not a subject, I’m not a target,” Mr. Trump said. But even if that is the case, it remains unknown whether the matter would be referred to the House for possible impeachment hearings.

That is a worry, but he seems more worried about the cash:

At one point, he scoffed at the notion that he was making money from the presidency, calling the job a “loser” financially.

“I lost massive amounts of money doing this job,” he said. “This is not the money. This is one of the great losers of all time. You know, fortunately, I don’t need money. This is one of the great losers of all time. But they’ll say that somebody from some country stayed at a hotel. And I’ll say, ‘Yeah.’ But I lose, I mean, the numbers are incredible.”

He’s angry that he’s not making money in this effort, and angry with Nancy Pelosi:

Mr. Trump had gambled that he could force her to back down through the government shutdown and was vexed when he could not.

“I’ve actually always gotten along with her, but now I don’t think I will anymore,” Mr. Trump said. “I think she’s doing a tremendous disservice to the country. If she doesn’t approve a wall, the rest of it’s just a waste of money and time and energy because it’s desperately needed.”

But she’s not really the problem:

Mr. Trump has been considering an emergency declaration to spend money on a wall even without congressional approval, an action that even some Republicans have objected to and that would certainly draw a court challenge. “I’ll continue to build the wall and we’ll get the wall finished,” he said.

We will? That was not the issue here:

President Trump wanted to talk. He initially invited A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, to an off-the-record dinner. Mr. Sulzberger countered with a request for an on-the-record interview that included Times reporters. The White House accepted.

That might have been a bad move:

On all matters related to the special counsel’s investigation and questions about his business ties to Russia, Mr. Trump calmly took a nothing-to-see-here approach.

He played down his interest in building a skyscraper in Moscow, calling it a “very unimportant deal.”

He said he never directed Mr. Stone, who was indicted last week, to correspond with WikiLeaks to gain information about hacked Democratic emails.

Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, has assured Mr. Trump’s lawyers that he is not a target of the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, the president said. And he added that he was not engaging in witness tampering when he suggested that the father-in-law of Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, should be investigated.

And so on and so forth. He says things, lots of things. Most of it is nonsense. Maybe all of it is nonsense now. In fact, we have reached Peak Nonsense, and that raises an important question. Now what?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to At Peak Nonsense

  1. Annie Coffman says:

    Well done!

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