Home/Daniel Larison/What Appointing Fleitz as DNI Would Mean

What Appointing Fleitz as DNI Would Mean

National Security Advisor John Bolton attends meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Oct. 23, 2018. (Office of the Russian President/public domain)

Curt Mills comments on the recent reports that John Bolton’s former chief of staff and fellow hard-liner Fred Fleitz is being seriously considered by the president to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence (DNI):

I see I may have been wrong, as today the two eminent journalists of my generation, Axios’s Jonathan Swan and Politico‘s Natasha Bertrand, report that President Trump may sack his current director of national intelligence, the somnolent Dan Coats, and replace him with the pugnacious Fleitz, now president of the Center for Security Policy.

Reappointing Fleitz would suggest that the president is doubling down on Iran hawks and Islamophobic cranks, even though he’s not one himself. It would be a boon to those who complain the president is truly enraptured by television and personality. It would indicate that Trump has adopted the siege mentality of his radical national security adviser, Ambassador Bolton, who had thought to be on the outs.

If he were confirmed, appointing Fleitz would install a Bolton ally in a critical post. Fleitz has repeatedly said that Coats has erred by offering assessments that contradict the president’s false and self-serving claims, so that strongly suggests that he would manipulate intelligence to match up with what the president wanted to hear. Putting Fleitz in such a position would be a huge victory for Bolton, and it would mean that the National Security Advisor’s influence in the administration continues to grow. That has the potential to make an already bad situation with Iran much worse. Like Bolton, Fleitz has been promoting the lie that Iran has been seeking nuclear weapons long after it was confirmed that they had abandoned that pursuit, and as DNI he would be in a position to distort and manipulate intelligence to do the same thing. The fear among Fleitz’s critics, including me, is that this would be a prelude to concocting a bogus case for war with Iran:

It is possible that Fleitz wouldn’t make it through the confirmation process, and I certainly hope he can’t, but the fact that Trump is even considering someone so unfit for this job is horrifying enough.

Incidentally, I don’t know what it means to say that Trump isn’t an Iran hawk or an “Islamophobic crank” since he has proven on numerous occasions that he shares their intensely anti-Iranian and anti-Muslim worldview. He appointed Michael Flynn as his first National Security Advisor, and Flynn was nothing if not an Iran hawk and a conspiracy theorist. He surrounds himself with them, he appoints them to important positions in government, and if the Fleitz report is true he wants to put one in a very powerful position overseeing U.S. intelligence gathering. At some point, the president is an Iran hawk because he does virtually all the things that the Iran hawks want him to do. Mills continues:

It remains curious why Trump keeps drawing from a murky well, when he could hire true Middle East realists, such as the restrainers at the conservative Defense Priorities or the new Quincy Institute.

I submit that this is curious only for those that try to understand Trump according to his supposed “instincts” rather than looking at what he has done. He draws from the “murky well” of conspiracy theorists and fanatics because they are the ones that are willing to flatter him and defend him no matter what, and he does it because they are some of the only people that will work for him, but I assume he also does it because he doesn’t see anything wrong with how they view the world. He could “hire true Middle East realists,” but that would require him to want to hire qualified experts rather than yes-men, and it would mean admitting that his personnel choices for the last two and a half years of his presidency were terrible. Bringing on realists and non-interventionists would be wise, but if they were being honest with him they would constantly tell him things he doesn’t want to hear. Hard-liners like Fleitz are more than happy to indulge the president’s fantasies as long as they can get him to endorse their agenda.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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