The old saying ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer’ currently does not apply to Donald Trump’s presidency. Following the revelations from former British ambassador Sir Kim Darroch to a 19-year-old ‘freelance journalist’ and Brexit Party employee, he descried the President as ‘inept and insecure’ as part of secret diplomatic cables from himself to the British Government, dating from 2017 to 2019. He also made many unflattering remarks about the way the Republican manages the White House in general. If these comments are to be believed, they present an image of a man who is presiding over chaos.
However, people forget that Trump is a businessman by background. Hiring and firing staff is key to maintaining a good business, and right now the Oval Office needs someone who knows how to run one. The Daily Telegraph reported that since the President took office on 20th January 2017, 24 staff have either resigned or been sacked by the Republican. But it is crucial that he surrounds himself with people he can trust or depend on.
This is why the President has done the right thing in appointing Representative John Ratcliffe as the director of national intelligence following a fragile relationship with Dan Coats, who resigned from this post effective from 15th August. Coats possessed considerable credibility. Obama’s former intelligence director James R. Clapper Junior said this is a ‘big loss for the intelligence community.’ He was vocal in defending intelligence agencies which investigated alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. The former intelligence chief was defended by Vice President Mike Pence, who warned the President against firing him.
But in an administration that has been dogged by resignations, sackings, policy setbacks like repealing Obamacare and Mueller’s investigation, it is clear keeping his enemies close is not working for the President either. That is not to say Ratcliffe does not come with risks. Former CIA officer Douglas Wise and independent Maine Senator Angus King described his appointment as an ‘existential threat’ to the agencies. Despite this, the advantages he possesses outweigh the cons.
The new intelligence director served on the House Intelligence Committee and numerous counter-terrorism initiatives. Many Republicans who have worked with him consider him to be intelligent, and he has a previous relationship with former FBI director Christopher A. Wray, who served in this post during the Bush administration. The House Representative staunchly defended Trump during the Mueller hearings, linking Russia to the Clinton campaign instead. His performance earned him an invitation to appear on Fox News on Sunday before the President’s announcement of Ratcliffe’s appointment. During his appearance, the new intelligence chief said he struggled to believe the Special Counsel was in charge of the Russia investigation.
If the President is serious about solving the Iranian, Russian and North Korean crises, he needs to be told how to tackle them. These foreign policy tests will be crucial to strengthening both Trump’s and America’s images at home and abroad. In a report and testimony before the Senate, Coats said that North Korea was unlikely to sacrifice its nuclear stockpile, that Iran was not building a nuclear weapon, and that the Islamic State will continue to terrorise Syria. Whilst there may be some truth behind what the former intelligence chief said, the Trump administration needs solutions, not obstacles, to these problems.
Sometimes Coats’ assessments doubted the Republican’s ability to get the job done. That is despite the fact he has succeeded in forging a positive relationship with Pyongyang that is fundamental to curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The President also confronted Putin over his Syrian ambitions last year. Trump does need support over how to tackle Iran what with NATO refusing to support his position. But he does not need people telling him why he cannot solve these problems.
There is an election pending in less than two years, and the Trump administration must present itself as competent to its base. Whilst Coats had a sterling record of serving the intelligence community, his lack of confidence in the President was always an issue when it came to the foreign policy challenges facing the US. With Ratcliffe, he has a staunch ally with moderate experience in intelligence, but at least the Republican will have someone who believes in him.