My father liked to say that a man’s judgment is only as good as his information — and that was decades before the era of “fake news.”
President Trump clearly understands that he needs multiple sources of information on sensitive issues, from the intentions of the Republican caucus on the Hill, to the status of our war on ISIS.
Bad information leads to bad decisions. This is the main reason why the Republican plan to reform ObamaCare failed.
By dispatching his trusted son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to Iraq in the company of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Trump is telling us that he is not entirely happy with the information he has been getting from Special Envoy for ISIS, Brett McGurk, an Obama holdover. Nor does he entirely trust the information he has been getting from the intelligence community, a raging elephant that has shown itself to be totally outside of his control.
The problem is the politicization of intelligence, a phenomenon that has afflicted Republican presidents more than Democrats in recent years.
LTG Mike Flynn understood this problem well. As director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he felt it was his duty to give unvarnished advice to the president and the Congress, instead of dressing up his assessment to meet the wishes and policies of his political bosses.
Flynn’s truth-telling enraged Obama, who fired him in 2014 after he testified to Congress that the war on radical Islamic terrorism wasn’t all peaches and cream, as the White House was telling the American public.
In particular, Flynn warned that the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan would embolden the Taliban, that al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) “remains resolute in targeting the (U.S.) Homeland,” and that al Qaida in Iraq, “also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant … probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014.”
All three of these predictions turned out to be accurate.
Even worse, Flynn had the audacity to tell Congress that Obama’s Iraq pullout at the end of 2011 had emboldened ISIL “to increase its operations and presence.”
During his brief stint as National Security Advisor for President Trump, Flynn was careful to establish his own channels of communications to field intelligence officers, in order get “ground truth” instead of politicized analysis.
His pick as liaison to the intelligence community, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, shared his skepticism of the Washington-based analysts and reportedly angered many of the old guard at the CIA, who tried to get Flynn’s successor, LTG H.R. McMaster, to fire him.
According to Politico, Cohen-Watnick kept his job after he appealed to top White House advisors Steve Bannon and Jared Kusher, who got the president to over-rule McMaster and the Agency mandarins.
Cohen-Watnick also reported to Jared Kushner on his review of requests by the Obama White House to “unmask” top Trump transition officials, arguably the only “crime” committed in the whole Russian-related investigation.
Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported on Monday that former National Security Advisor Susan Rice made “multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities,” and that Cohen-Watnick relayed that information to House intelligence committee chairman, Devin Nunes.
Any wonder now why Kushner has been sent to Iraq? President Trump has good reason to not to trust intelligence bureaucrats who owe their jobs to former CIA director John Brennan, a highly-partisan pol, and wants a second opinion on the information he’s been getting through official channels.
Here are some of the questions that Kushner will likely be asking:
How well are the various elements of the coalition against ISIS actually fighting? Are the Kurdish peshmerga as effective as they claim to be? Are regular Iraqi army forces fighting at all?
What role are Iranian forces playing on the ground? Are they seeking a permanent presence in northern Iraq? How deeply do they influence the Baghdad government?
How effective are the newly-formed Christian militias in the Nineveh Plain?
How close to implosion is Iraq as a unitary state? Can the Kurdish Regional Authority successfully conduct a referendum on independence without exploding Iraq and provoking a Turkish invasion?
How can the U.S. neutralize an increasingly aggressive Turkey, and in particular, keep them from shooting in the backs of our Kurdish allies in northern Syria?
The president will be making life-and-death decisions in the weeks to come that will impact his presidency for years to come. No wonder he wants a trusted advisor on the ground to provide him with an independent assessment.