WASHINGTON — The White House disarray we’ve witnessed of late can’t be good for national security. Having a president kept out of the intelligence loop can only invite disaster.
Having fired Michael Flynn as his national security adviser for a lack of trust born of bizarre dealings with Russians and subsequent lies, Donald Trump quickly reversed thrust and portrayed Flynn as a victim of the agencies we rely on to keep track of our enemies and often our friends. The spies, he said, took down the good general by leaking his dealings with the Russian ambassador to the hated press.
At the same time, the man who during his campaign for the presidency praised WikiLeaks and others for helping get at the truth of Hillary Clinton’s misuse of emails that included sensitive classified material, suddenly condemned the insidiousness of such leaks, which are now affecting him.
You can’t make this stuff up. Hollywood would laugh you all the way to the end of Sunset Boulevard.
Last summer, we saw Flynn shouting, “Lock her up!” from the stage of the Republican National Convention. Perhaps it was a prophetic message about his own fortunes and disgraceful performance as a member of the Trump administration, which ended just weeks after it had begun.
But this goes much deeper than Flynn, who had no business being named to such a post in the first place, given his penchant for hip-shooting and promoting ridiculous rumors like Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Washington pizza parlor. Then again, maybe the general promoted that wicked, nonsensical trash because he was pushed to do so by his then-chief of staff, his son, who was fired.
Whatever. What’s important now is that there seems to be a sudden reluctance by the multibillion-dollar intelligence gathering apparatus to let The Donald know what is going on in the netherworld of spying. For his part, Trump has seemed to welcome that, preferring to skip detailed daily briefings and getting on with his business. Ho hum.
Other occupants of the Oval Office certainly had their differences with the cloak-and-dagger set. Jack Kennedy was furious with the intelligence community after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, and both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were embarrassed by bad info about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Thankfully, though, our agencies have notched more victories than defeats and have averted more disasters than they’ve allowed.
All those stars on the CIA’s wall of honor remind us the spy business will always be an imperfect-but-necessary one.
The days when gentlemen didn’t read other gentlemen’s mail are long gone, if they ever existed. While Trump is an utter novice in the art of government, as displayed by one off-the-wall, naive action after another, he can’t be as stubborn as to believe he can operate without the full cooperation of the silent services. He should also realize that cooperation is a two-way thing.
Both William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the architect of our nation’s modern spy-craft, and Franklin Roosevelt, who sanctioned it, must be spinning like tops somewhere as this unfolds.
An increasing alarmed Congress, including members of Trump’s Republican majority, is poised to begin looking into the new administration’s cuddling with Russia. There have been reports that contact between Trump’s staff and the Russians extended well beyond Flynn during the campaign. The New York Times reported there was a flurry of intercepted phone calls to Russian intelligence officials.
Sadly, it seems doubtful the Congress will be able to overcome its partisanship and get to the bottom of this.
But that doesn’t mean the new chief executive needn’t get his act together and put aside his differences with those who have dedicated their lives to providing him and us with the information needed for our security.
No one is perfect here, but someone needs to be as close as possible in a tumultuous world. That necessarily needs to be the person who wanted the commander in chief’s job.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: email@example.com.