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Trump tells intel chiefs to ‘go back to school’ after they break with him

On North Korea, President Donald Trump said that the historically isolated country’s relationship with the U.S. is the “best it has ever been.” | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Foreign Policy

The president reopened his feud with the intelligence community in a series of heated tweets.


President Donald Trump lit into the U.S. intelligence community on Wednesday, telling his intel chiefs to “go back to school” just one day after they publicly contradicted him on several of his foreign policy priorities.

“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but a source of potential danger and conflict.”

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He continued, “They are testing Rockets (last week) and more, and are coming very close to the edge. There economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Trump’s tweets were a direct rebuttal of the public testimony his top intelligence chiefs gave Tuesday morning while discussing the gravest threats to the U.S. worldwide. The attack also marked the latest example of Trump’s public feud with the intelligence community. The president has often cast doubt on the official assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to aid his candidacy, and even publicly sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the matter.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel both indicated on Tuesday that there is significant daylight between the president and the intelligence community on major issues. They testified that the Islamic State remains a forceful presence in Iraq and Syria, that North Korea is not likely to give up its nuclear weapons, and that Iran is not yet seeking a nuclear weapon.

They also warned about foreign interference in U.S. elections, and declined to classify the migrant crisis on the southern border a security crisis as Trump has previously claimed.

On Wednesday, Trump insisted that his administration had made significant progress toward wrapping up the U.S. military’s longstanding engagements in the Middle East, contrasting the gains of his administration with those made under former presidents.

He wrote that “tremendous progress” had been made in the fight against Islamic State militants since he assumed office two years ago, “especially over [the] last 5 weeks,” when he abruptly announced they had already been defeated and that he would pull U.S. forces out of Syria.

The Islamic State’s self-declared “Caliphate will soon be destroyed, unthinkable two years ago,” he claimed.

That position puts the president at odds with what Coats told lawmakers Tuesday, when he predicted that the Islamic State “very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States” and noted that the militant group “is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.”

Coats and Haspel also presented a different outlook on Iran, saying Tuesday that Tehran isn’t “currently” taking steps to develop nuclear weapons and that “technically” they remain in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. However, Coats also noted that Iran has “publicly threatened to push the boundaries” of the deal if there were no calculable benefits from it.

On North Korea, Trump also tried to rebut his intel chiefs, saying on Wednesday that the historically isolated country’s relationship with the U.S. is the “best it has ever been.”

Though he has previously declared that he would push the volatile regime of Kim Jong Un to totally wind down its nuclear weapons programs, on Wednesday Trump said there was a “decent chance” of that.


While Coats on Tuesday told lawmakers that Kim’s regime has “halted some provocative behavior” related to its nuclear program and that Kim “continues to demonstrate openness” to denuclearizing the peninsula, the director of national intelligence also noted assessments show that some of North Korea’s activity is “inconsistent with full denuclearization.”

“Time will tell what will happen with North Korea, but at the end of the previous administration, relationship was horrendous and very bad things were about to happen. Now a whole different story,” Trump said Wednesday.

“I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly,” he added, referring to his second summit with Kim at the end of next month. “Progress being made-big difference!”

The president also said that peace negotiations with the Taliban “are proceeding well in Afghanistan after 18 years of fighting,” adding “fighting continues but the people of Afghanistan want peace in this never ending war. We will soon see if talks will be successful?”

While the U.S. peace envoy to Afghanistan said over the weekend that negotiators had “made significant progress on vital issues,” one former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan on Wednesday slammed the administration’s agreement to exclude the Afghan government from peace talks with the Taliban, calling the emergence of such a framework for peace equivalent to surrender.

Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Afghanistan during the Obama administration, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post that negotiating with the Taliban while agreeing to their demands to leave the Afghan government out of negotiation will enable the terrorist group to flourish again once U.S. forces are withdrawn.

“The Taliban will offer any number of commitments, knowing that when we are gone and the Taliban is back, we will have no means of enforcing any of them,” he wrote.

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