As we observe the 210th anniversary of the birth of America’s greatest president on February 12, we should reflect on Abraham Lincoln’s reputation for truthfulness. After all, we fondly recall him as “Honest Abe.” He first gained that nickname as a young store clerk in New Salem, Illinois, and carried it through his entire life.
Lincoln famously said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” He was absolutely right - the solution of any crisis depends upon knowing the true facts. It is the sacred duty of our leaders to tell us the truth.
This great country has developed a reliable infrastructure for gathering intelligence from around the world in order to advise our leadership of threats to our national security. The U.S. intelligence community is not perfect or foolproof. It has been wrong in the past but I would submit that most of the instances where it appears to have erred were the result of presidential pressure or obfuscation.
When intel reports were privately warning him of trouble ahead in Vietnam, President Johnson ignored the cautionary advice and substantially increased our troop commitment. The public was not provided with the true facts about what was happening in Vietnam and was not able to critically evaluate his policy. President Nixon also had trouble telling us the truth about Vietnam.
President George W. Bush jumped into a disastrous war in Iraq based on cooked up intelligence. The CIA tried on several occasions to convince the administration that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States, but was ignored. After unrelenting pressure brought to bear on the agency by Vice President Cheney, the CIA gave in and said Iraq probably possessed weapons of mass destruction. So, we went to war on faulty intel.
The present obfuscation by President Trump is every bit as troubling and dangerous to America’s national security. The President has rejected the intelligence community’s assessment of the serious threats posed to the U.S. by Russia, North Korea and the Islamic State. Instead, he has ridiculed the Director of National Intelligence and the heads of the CIA and FBI for speaking truthfully to him.
It is no secret that North Korea does not intend to give up its nuclear weapons and the intel chiefs made that clear to Trump. His rejection of their assessment puts Kim Jong-un in the driver’s seat. Knowing he has the President’s trust, Kim can continue to lead Trump down the primrose path to more concessions.
The intel community knows that the Islamic State will be a serious danger to the U.S., even after the terrorists have been dislodged from their remaining enclaves in Syria. The intelligence experts had little success in disavowing Trump of the misconception that ISIS has been defeated. Ignoring the truth in Syria will come back to haunt us.
Of course, the President continues to disregard the intelligence community’s warnings about Russia’s malevolent actions. Rather than treating Russia like the enemy it is, Trump continues to do favors for Vladimir Putin. The U.S. has just disavowed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that was negotiated by President Ronald Reagan—something that has been near the top of Putin’s wish list.
Vladimir must also be tickled pink that Trump blasted the veracity and competence of our intelligence establishment for all of the world to hear. Rather than discrediting our intelligence professionals for speaking the truth, he should be praising them. We have the right to expect our President to follow in the footsteps of Honest Abe and speak the truth to the American people on important national security issues.