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If Dan Coats Leaves, No Tears Goodbye

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Daniel Coats: No hero.
Daniel Coats: No hero.
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President Donald Trump apparently is weighing the notion of firing Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, with whom he has clashed repeatedly over the past two-and-a-half years. Coats has publicly contradicted Trump on multiple occasions, incurring his wrath, but reportedly kept his job because of support from Vice President Mike Pence, a fellow Indianan. According to some press speculation, that may be coming to an end.

Progressives may come to the easy conclusion that Coats's resignation or firing may be a bad day for the "adults" in the Trump foreign policy room. That's not true. It's not to say that Coats's eventual replacement may not be worse. But Coats is no hero of transparency, human rights, or the rule of law. Don't shed any tears for him.

For a long time, Coats was in the mainstream of the Republican foreign policy establishment. He replaced his former boss and mentor, Richard Lugar, in the House of Representatives in 1980, and he replaced Dan Quayle in the U.S. Senate in 1988 when Quayle became vice president. Coats left the Senate in 1999 and, after a short stint in the private sector, became ambassador to Germany, and then a lobbyist for a Texas conglomerate. He returned to the Senate in 2010.

Notable Hawk

Coats made a name for himself on Capitol Hill as a foreign policy hawk, especially on Russia, Iran, and Iraq. He supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and he opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal, in 2015. He has called Iran "the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism." And in 2015 he opposed aid to the Palestinian Authority and he opposed UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Most importantly, while Coats was a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he opposed Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) investigation of the CIA torture program, he opposed declassification of any portion of the report itself, and he opposed release even of the heavily-redacted executive summary of the final report. Coats has proven time and again that he's no supporter of accountability, at least where torture, secret prisons, and international off-the-books kidnappings are concerned.

The Senate confirmed Coats easily when Trump named him director of national intelligence (DNI). No surprise there. Senators usually cover for one another when one is named to a cabinet-level position. Coats sailed through the process and won the final confirmation vote 83-17.

The Office of the DNI was created in the mid-2000s because former CIA Director George Tenet had done such a God-awful job that Congress demanded another layer of oversight to make sure that the CIA didn't get us into more wars based on faulty intelligence. We see where that's gotten us. Since then, the U.S. has gotten involved in hostilities in Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, and has actively and openly worked to overthrow the governments of Venezuela and Honduras.

Tenet listening to President George W. Bush's address on Sept. 11, 2001, in the President's Emergency Operations Center.
Tenet listening to President George W. Bush's address on Sept. 11, 2001, in the President's Emergency Operations Center.
(Image by (U.S. National Archives via Flickr))
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Bloated Bureaucracy

Meanwhile, ODNI has become a huge bloated bureaucracy with thousands of employees. All it does is slow down the interagency coordination process. Intelligence products can no longer reach the White House in a timely manner now that so many approvals are required. It's exactly what critics had warned of in 2004.

Trump has had problems with Coats virtually since the beginning of his administration. The two have been on opposite sides of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, for example. On ISIS last year, Coats's office released a long report saying the group posed an immediate danger to U.S. interests, only to be contradicted by Trump, who said ISIS had been defeated in Syria and Iraq and was no longer a threat.

On North Korea, Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Pyongyang would never give up its nuclear arsenal "because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival." Coming just two weeks before Trump's second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Coats's comment struck Trump as an attempt to sabotage the meeting.

Besides the contradictions, Coats and Trump have never really liked each other. The DNI's potential firing may come down to that. Trump values loyalty above all else. Coats simply isn't loyal to his patron. Trump likely maintains, if previous personnel actions are any indication, that there are a hundred other loyalists ready and willing to take Coats's job, even if 75 percent of them might be utterly unqualified. It looks like that's the next conversation the pundits will have.

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John Kiriakou spent 14 years at the CIA and two years in a federal prison for blowing the whistle on the agency's use of torture. He served on John Kerry's Senate Foreign Relations Committee for two years as senior investigator into the Middle (more...)

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