Trump's Intelligence Gaffe May Have Damaged Foreign Policy Relationships Long-Term
After the most recent of a damaging string of Washington Post stories surfaced last week in which it was revealed that President Trump had accidentally or carelessly shared highly classified intelligence information with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador in a oval office meeting open only to Russian State Media, the following news cycle has focused mainly on the domestic fallout of the error. Cable news pundits and syndicated columnists from Joe Scarborough to David Brooks have aggressively questioned Trump's fitness to lead and protect our national security, while also noting the terrible optics of the visit and gaffe given the current FBI investigation into collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia. What has received some coverage, but nearly enough, is the disastrous effects of the gaffe on US foreign policy and intelligence-sharing relationships.
Soon after the Washington Post story broke on Monday, multiple news outlets confirmed that the intelligence that Trump shared was of an Israeli intelligence operative on the ground within ISIS. While it is possible that Israel is simply claiming to be the source of the intelligence to protect a more covert or unstable intelligence relationship between a foreign entity and the US, reactions to the news by various current and former Israeli officials seem to match with reports of the controversy. Ilhan Goldberg, Director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security, told Politico this week that "There is no doubt in my mind that the Mossad is raging angry right now, and the Israeli defense intelligence agency is questioning how much they should be sharing with the administration. That's a profound national security problem." To add to the tension over intelligence sharing, when arranging a private Trump family visit to Israel, Politico reports that the White House was hesitant to schedule a visit to the Western Wall, citing statements by a US official who told Israeli officials "is not your territory, it’s part of the West Bank." UN envoy Nikki Haley was in damage control on Tuesday, telling The Brody File "I don’t know what the policy of the administration is but I believe the Western Wall is part of Israel," but the continued silence from the Trump administration amid multiple FBI-related scandals leaves room for doubt in Jerusalem. Israel is an incredibly valuable intelligence asset, and an expensive one too. In September of last year, the Obama administration finalized a deal with the Israelis to provide over $38 billion in military aid over the next 10 years. Israeli intelligence is also the backbone of a plurality of American intelligence operations in the Middle East. An icing of relations between the US and Israeli intelligence sources poses a great national security risk and jeopardizes the already difficult relationship between the long-time allies.
Israel is not the only intelligence partner the US stands to lose, though. After news of the leak surfaced on Monday, US and foreign officials were quoted in various news outlets voicing concern over the potential damage to US intelligence relationships around the world. Senator John McCain of Arizona told the Associated Press that Trumps actions, accidental or not, send "a troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future.” One European official told the AP that his country has considered amending its intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States, and a German lawmaker called news of the leak "highly worrying." The Trump administration originally vehemently defended the President, denying that any intelligence sharing took place. Unfortunately, the President took to twitter the next day to undercut his staff, writing "As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do..." The frequent disagreement between the statements of the President and his communications team, often withing mere hours of each other, has created an basic lack of trust between the Trump Administration and the international press, a lack of trust which one can only imaging extends to the intelligence community at large as well.
Overall, the White House's current lack of credibility is perhaps the most damaging development to Trump's hopes as Commander in Chief and his foreign policy. After the election in November, many were willing to give Trump a chance as President after a brutal campaign, hoping that the smooth transition he promised and the prospects of united government would alleviate their politics fatigue. Instead, the Trump White House used up its credibility with the press on small matters like crowd size from literally the first day, and has continued to mislead and lie to the fourth estate. There have been many Trump-related scandals over the past few months, each of which the White House has handled clumsily at best. After scrambling to defend Trump's Obama wiretapping claim, the White House enlisted a Congressman to lie on their behalf; after learning that Michael Flynn was under investigation by the FBI, the administration hired him anyway and lied about their knowledge of his foreign ties upon his resignation, and most recently, it appears that Trump deliberately asked the head of the FBI to end an investigation on his campaign's dealings with Russia, among other troubling accusations. Simply put, the Trump administration has shown a basic inability to conduct itself with integrity or care, suffering only self-inflicted woulds since day one. Our foreign allies' concerns can only be growing, and with every lie, obfuscation, and scandal, their likelihood to circumvent the US to maintain the integrity of their intelligence increases. When the Trump administration missteps at home and lies about it, out allies abroad trust us less and the US intelligence community potentially loses a spot at the table, severely impairing their ability to protect our national security interests. One can only wonder how much damage this administration can do by the end of this term.