Clapper under Fire

National Intelligence Director James Clapper is under fire for comments he made during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. Clapper said because of their nuclear arsenals and military might, Russia and China potentially pose a “mortal threat” to the United States, while North Korea and Iran don’t “at this point in time.” He also said that the rebels won’t win out in the end in Libya: “Over time I think the [Qaddafi] regime will prevail.” (Overshadowed by the hubbub around Clapper’s Libya and threat comments, the DNI also said that Washington should continue aiding the Lebanese army even if Hezbollah happens to take control of the government there.) 

Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, called Clapper’s analysis of Libya “static and one-dimensional,” though he said he did still have confidence in the director of national intelligence. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham spoke out strongly against Clapper. On Fox News, Graham referred to the remarks as the “final straw,” and called for Clapper's removal from office. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, said Clapper’s comments about Russia and China were “a problem,” adding “On the question on the two nations with the greatest intent to harm ours, I do not believe they're China and Russia.” On the other side, White House press secretary Jay Carney supported Clapper, explaining that his remarks about the Chinese and Russian threat were directly related to military capacity, and Senate John McCain expressed his support for the DNI.

Today at a meeting of NATO defense chiefs, Defense Secretary Robert Gates strongly criticized his European counterparts. He chided the Europeans for focusing too much on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying there has been “Too much discussion of exit and not enough discussion about continuing the fight. Too much concern about when and how many troops might redeploy, and not enough about what needs to be done before they leave.” He said that Washington’s commitment to a pullout was not dependent upon politics but on the security situation on the ground, adding that the Obama administration expected the other nations to do the same.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be on the road again next week. She’ll be in Paris on Monday and Tuesday for the G8 meeting and will then head to Egypt and Tunisia. Meetings with Libya’s opposition leaders are on the schedule, so she can “discuss what more the United States and others can do.” Keeping the tense history of relations with Libya in mind, Clinton said that the administration is carefully vetting opposition members.

Yesterday, Jay Carney kept mum on Representative Peter King’s hearings on the Hill. The press secretary wouldn’t comment directly on the hearings, despite repeated questions, saying broadly that “congressional involvement . . . is welcomed by this administration” and “we don't believe that in America we should practice guilt by association.” King’s hearings are focused on extremism and radicalization among American Muslims, and the representative has come under fire for selectively targeting the group (with some comparisons to the McCarthy-era hunt for Communists). The administration has a whole has withheld direct comment, with Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough also using generalities in a speech on Sunday: “Muslim Americans are not part of the problem, you're part of the solution.”