You may end up having things unravel

Politico had an interesting conversation with Joe Biden.

Regarding Trump’s campaign against the intelligence community, Biden said, “it’s very damaging to our standing in the world for a president to take one of the crown jewels of our national defense and denigrate it,” Biden said, describing disconcerted leaders telling him, “basically, ‘Say it ain’t so, Joe.’”

Trump’s reaction to the intelligence reports, Biden argued, is perhaps understandable from someone who has never been in government and never been exposed to the kind of work produced. Reaching into his briefcase, he held up an iPad with the seal of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on its black case, explaining that the code word-protected device gives him a full daily read-out of intelligence from throughout the world, with a feature that allows him to ask questions that are answered within hours.

“I have been impressed with the quality of the intelligence we have gotten. Disappointed a couple times when—and it’s totally understandable—it would have been nice if the intelligence community could have seen around the corner and thought how quick ISIL had metastasized and been able to move on Mosul,” Biden said, adding, “He may point to things where the intelligence community didn’t get it right. Most of the time, it’s that they didn’t get it in advance, as opposed to getting it wrong.”

Biden said he’s been pleased that Pence has been “very receptive” to hearing his advice, though he said that as the head of the transition team, the vice president-elect appears to have been overtaken with those responsibilities in a way that has limited their conversations. The lack of senior staff appointments in the vice president’s office has been an impediment as well, he argued, noting that there hasn’t been a national security adviser for the new vice president’s office for his own national security adviser to brief.

But Biden said he’s personally written a collection of memos for Pence, detailing what to say and what not to say in hotspots like Ukraine and Iraq, who to trust and not to trust, and “my perspective on the things that could explode most easily.”

The sensitivity to even what may seem like small issues and knowing when to intervene just to quash misunderstandings is part of what the world needs from America, Biden said, and depends on a functional relationship between the president and his intelligence agencies.

“If you don’t end up on the phone and say, ‘Whoa guys, let me tell you what’s going on,’ then you may have a shooting war. You may end up having things unravel,” Biden said.

Ok, now…how is that going to work? How is it going to work having Trump on the phone to some heads of state to say ‘Whoa guys, let me tell you what’s going on’ in order to head off a shooting war?

It’s impossible to imagine such a scenario with Trump in the lead role.

In this, Biden said that he hopes Trump’s experienced advisers speak up, and have the access to shape the new president’s thinking, citing Defense Secretary-nominee James Mattis (whom he approves of) and incoming national security adviser Mike Flynn (whom he disagrees with but respects) as examples.

“It really matters that you have really smart people around you who understand context—context is all important—and can translate, particularly to a president who has no exposure whatsoever. That’s not a criticism. It’s reality,” he said. “Instincts are great—they’re even better if you have information.”

Biden, remember, is the guy who told Bush Junior that his instincts were not good enough.

Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. “I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,” he began, “and I was telling the president of my many concerns” — concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. “‘Mr. President,’ I finally said, ‘How can you be so sure when you know you don’t know the facts?”‘

Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator’s shoulder. “My instincts,” he said. “My instincts.”

Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. “I said, ‘Mr. President, your instincts aren’t good enough!”‘

That was Bush. Trump is orders of magnitude worse.

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