Published March 16, 2011
The crisis in Libya continues this week. As the White House watches events continue to unfold in the Middle East, it may still be smarting from an incident last week. President Obama yet again found himself having to walk the dog back on statements made by his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper. But look past the political spin and you'll see that Clapper's mistake was simply telling an inconvenient truth.
Speaking to members of Congress on the current upheaval in the Middle East, Clapper said that it is likely that Libyan strongman Qaddafi will outgun and outlast the rebellion taking place in Eastern Libya. Noting that there is no current intelligence indicating that Qaddafi will step down, and pointing out his military and resources advantage, Clapper gave the assessment that "... he will likely prevail."
Well, of all the nerve. The comments immediately drew criticism from the likes of Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who were shocked that the DNI would suggest that Qaddafi would win. Graham called for Clapper's resignation and Feinstein expressed dismay in a well-rehearsed show of dismay for the cameras.
Shortly thereafter, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon suggested that Clapper, while doing a "good" job, wasn't really analyzing the situation in Libya properly. According to Donilon, Clapper was somehow not being "dynamic" enough in assessing the Libyan uprising.
If you refer to the Obama White House dictionary, page 214, "dynamic" is a synonym for "political."
According to Donilon, if all you do is take into account things like, I dunno', who has the most and lethal weapons, infrastructure, military training, communications and logistics, then sure, you could argue that Qaddafi could prevail.
However, Donilon noted that Clapper also should take into account the dynamic factors of, uh, international condemnation and diplomatic pressure. Apparently, when you add those considerations, you get a much different picture. A picture that supports what the Obama administration and Congress believes is much more attractive and in tune with their narrative.
Well, setting aside the fact that Qaddafi's forces are pounding the rebels and causing them to withdraw to a defensive position, I'm sure that the rebels are taking real comfort from the knowledge that the international community is outraged. Although, "outraged" may be too strong a term to describe Security Council members such as Russia and China. Those countries are probably best described as "mildy annoyed." Possibly "conflicted", as in, "Russia regrets the use of force by Qaddafi on his own people but finds the rise in oil prices to be most excellent."
Just imagine how much better the rebels feel knowing that diplomatic pressure is being exerted in the form of harshly worded statements and pledges of unity with the anti-Qaddafi forces. That should just about do it. How dynamic. Now I see why Donilon rebuked Clapper's assessment.
The day after Clapper had the audacity to deliver an objective intel assessment to Congress, President Obama entered the White House press room and did his entertaining Clapper two-step. (It's like the "hokey-pokey" but without the fun song.) First, he explains that Clapper is doing a "fine" job, then he tells us what Clapper really meant to say. In this case, the president explained that, while Clapper said Qaddafi is likely to prevail, the administration's policy is that Qaddafi must go now.
Here's the thing... as DNI, Clapper's job is to provide assessments of critical matters based on the best intelligence available. Sometimes that intelligence is solid and sometimes it's scarce. Only in beach books and movies do you get all the intelligence necessary to make fool proof, confident decisions. In the real world you're making decisions and assessments based on imperfect and incomplete information.
His job is to tell Congress and the White House what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. The problem with the Libyan assessment was that it didn't fit the narrative that the administration is promoting. It doesn't make Clapper wrong, it just makes him politically incorrect.
Now, you could argue that Clapper hasn't done himself any favors since taking the DNI job. It seems that the volume of Clapper's "gaffes" and odd statements is exceeded only by Vice President Biden and Charlie Sheen. Frankly, Clapper has been given more than a fair share of blame for issues such as his not knowing about developments earlier in the day in a London terrorist case while giving an interview or his comments regarding the Muslim Brotherhood.
His statement about the secular nature of the Brotherhood was poorly framed, but his implication that the Brotherhood is smart enough to work within the secular system to achieve their long-term goals is accurate. The DNI position is a big picture job, he's not supposed to be in the weeds. You want to be realistic and blame someone for the "gaffes?" Let's get some better support people in there to ensure he's well briefed prior to any hearings, statements or interviews. Theoretically, that's what a staff is supposed to do.
Being the DNI could well be the worst official senior job in Washington. You have little actual control or authority, you're responsible for keeping tabs on everything bad happening around the globe and, to top it off, you get to be the face of any crisis or terror event.
In the meantime, don't be fooled by the White House two-step surrounding Clapper's Libyan statements. Obama says the policy is that Qaddafi must go. Well, huzzah for hope and change. But somewhere between wishing him gone and having him gone lies the messy reality that, at the present time, Qaddafi is beating back the ragtag rebellion. Clapper's objective no-spin assessment is what's needed and exactly what should be expected from the DNI. Regardless of who doesn't want to hear it.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe.
Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently returned to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as president.
He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security.
Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.