Director of National Intelligence James Clapper this afternoon was asked for his best assessment of the military situation on the ground in Libya.
“This is kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail,” Clapper said.
Clapper predicting that Gadhafi will prevail – despite the opposition of the international community, including the U.S. – surprised even Obama administration officials.
Clapper was also asked which nation poses the greatest threat to the US – whether militarily or economic.
“Certainly the Russians…still have a very formidable nuclear arsenal,” Clapper said, “which does pose, you know, potentially a mortal threat to us. I don't think they have the intent to do that. Certainly China is growing in its military capabilities.”
That answer as well raised Democratic eyebrows, given the Obama administration’s great efforts to forge alliances with China and Russia.
On a conference call this afternoon, the White House national security adviser Tom Donilon said President Obama has confidence in Clapper but called his analyses "static and uni-dimensional" — not taking enough other factors into account.
“I don’t think that’s the most informative analysis, frankly,” Donilon said. “I think the analysis needs to be dynamic and it needs to be multidimensional.”
The potential problem for Clapper is the Director of National Intelligence is supposed to be the big-picture thinker who takes everything into account in a dynamic, multidimensional world.
During the hearing, the Democratic Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan, said he was “frankly kind of surprised” by Clapper’s answer. For one, Levin said, Clapper didn’t mention Iran or North Korea.
“As I interpreted the question, it is, you know, which country or countries would represent a mortal threat to the United States,” Clapper said. “The two that come to mind are — because of their capabilities — are Russia and China.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, who asked the original question about which nation poses the biggest threat, attempted to clarify. “Which country represents to you that has the intent to be our greatest adversary?”
“Probably China,” Clapper said.
“I'm just as surprised by that answer as I was by your first answer,” Levin said. “You're saying that China now has the intent to be a mortal adversary of the United States?”
Clapper said the question is, “from among the nation-states, who would pose potentially the greatest — if I have to pick one country, which I'm loath to do because I'm more of a mind to consider their capabilities — and both Russia and China potentially represent a mortal threat to the United States.”
Clapper again underlined he didn’t think either country has the intent to threaten the US, he was speaking strictly in terms of capabilities.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, called for Clapper to step down, saying he thinks Clapper’s words about Gadhafi “will make the situation more difficult for those opposing Gaddafi.”
Graham said on Fox News Channel, “I don't have confidence that this gentleman understands what his job is all about and how his words affect the world as it is."
The director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jamie Smith, said that “In response to a specific question about the current military situation in Libya, Director Clapper provided a snapshot of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the regime and the opposition. As he stated in his testimony, the situation in Libya is very fluid.”
Smith also said “Many factors will come into play over time including the pressure being brought to bear by the international community as well as the Libyan people’s clear desire for change. As this dynamic situation evolves, the Intelligence Community will continue to provide its best assessment of the current situation as well as identify opportunities that project into the future.”
Donilon was asked if President Obama is happy with a Director of National Intelligence who offers static and one dimensional analyses.
“The president is very happy with the performance of General Clapper and we work together every single day,” Donilon said. “I was asked a question about the statement, right? And I think my judgment of the statement is, is a static analysis and he needs to take into account the dynamic, dynamics.”
Donilon said “if you did a static and one dimensional assessment of just looking at order of battle and mercenaries you can come to various conclusions about the various advantages that the Gadahfi regime has…My view is as the person who looks at this quite closely every day and advises the president, is that thing in the Middle East right now things in Libya are in particular, right now need to be looked out not through static but a dynamic and not through a uni-dimensional but a multidimensional lens.”
Calling what Clapper said “a narrow view” of “numbers of weapons and things like that,” Donilon said “you get a very different picture” if you take other factors into account. “The loss of legitimacy matters. The isolation of the regime matters. Denying the regime resources matters and this can affect the sustainability of their efforts over time. Motivation matters. And incentives matter. The people in Libya are determined to affect their future.”
‘Change is the order of the day in the Middle East right now,” said Donilon. “You have to look at things fresh and you have to take into account what I said — the dynamic, right, as well as the multidimensional nature of it.”
Of Clapper’s analysis that China and Russia posed the greatest threats to the U.S., Donilon said, “if you do a static arithmetic analysis that could take you to that conclusion but…it really doesn’t inform a threat analysis. And we have from the beginning as you know worked very hard on the great power relationships.”
Graham said this was Clapper's "third strike,” a reference to his previous misstatement that the Muslim Brotherhood is secular, which it is not, and the moment from a December interview with ABC News World News anchor Diane Sawyer when he couldn’t answer a question about the arrests of 12 suspected terrorists in London hours before. The White House later acknowledged Clapper had not been briefed about the arrests at the time of the interview.