Over the weekend, Iranian state TV released a video showing a new missile launch in the country. President Trump then fired off an angry tweet, implying that the so-called Iran Deal wasn’t working. The only problem? The US intelligence community now says that there’s no evidence Iran conducted a new missile test. And that video? It’s from January.
“Iran has released footage of the successful test-launch of its new ballistic missile, Khorramshahr, a few hours after it was unveiled during a military parade in the capital city of Tehran,” Iran’s Press TV said over the weekend.
Iran state TV even released the video below. But now the US intelligence community believes it’s a video from a failed Iranian missile test in late January.
“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel,” the President tweeted, seemingly responding to what he’d seen on TV. “They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!”
“As far as we can see, it did not happen,” an unnamed source told CNN about the missile launch. US intelligence radars and sensors are designed to pick up any such test and the source said they “picked up no indication” that a test had been conducted.
But it wasn’t just “fake news” CNN that had sources for this one. Fox News, President Trump’s favorite TV channel, also spoke with US intelligence officials who said that the test never happened. Two unnamed US intel sources told Fox News that the test wasn’t real and that they’re not sure why Iran lied about it.
President Trump gave a speech at the UN where he called the Iran Deal, “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” It was an unprecedented denunciation by a US president about a previous administration, though not out of character for Trump, whose only guiding principle seems to be the destruction of anything President Obama did during his 8 years in office.
“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said in his address last week in front of the United Nations General Assembly. That was the same address where he called Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and threatened to totally destroy North Korea, words that the country took as a declaration of war.
And this all brings us back to one of the most important questions of the Trump era: Does President Trump get full intelligence briefings or does he primarily rely on the things he watches on TV?
It’s actually a vital question for US national security. If the president is simply watching TV and reacting to the information he sees, he’s no better informed than the average Fox News viewer. It’s one thing for an average citizen to take Iran state TV at their word, it’s another thing when the president of the United States is doing it.
The president has the most powerful intelligence gathering apparatus that the world has ever known at his fingertips. And he has that in order to make informed decisions about how to proceed on everything from the North Korean missile crisis to America’s fight against ISIS. One has to wonder if Iran’s declaration of a missile test was itself a test just to see if the President would tweet about it. Former intelligence officials like James Clapper have warned that foreign adversaries can learn quite a lot just from looking over the president’s Twitter.
We’re living through a geopolitical situation where hasty words can lead to disastrous actions. And the president’s tweets aren’t going anywhere, even if he’s constantly in violation of Twitter’s terms of service. So the best we can hope for is that Trump will turn off the TV and start listening to his national security advisors, even if he thinks they’re boring.
“I call the president the two-minute man,” one Trump confidant told the Washington Post back in August about the president’s national security briefings with H.R. McMaster. “The president has patience for a half-page.”
But I’m not holding my breath on that whole turning off the TV thing.