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Monday, January 2, 2017

Doubting the Donald

As Donald Trump prepares to take the presidential oath on Jan. 20, less than half of Americans are confident in his ability to handle an international crisis (46%), to use military force wisely (47%) or to prevent major scandals in his administration (44%). At least seven in 10 Americans were confident in Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in these areas before they took office.
There are good reasons to doubt Trump's readiness.

Former intelligence analyst and briefer David Priess writes at The Washington Post:
We’ve learned that President-elect Donald Trump has declined many intelligence briefings, delegating the daily task instead to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. “I get it when I need it,” Trump said. “I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t need to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

The PDB contains timely and, hopefully, accurate assessments of national security threats and foreign policy opportunities. Each article, drafted by CIA analysts — and, since post-9/11 reforms kicked in more fully in 2005, by their colleagues across the intelligence community — synthesizes classified and unclassified source material into an assessment that is usually no longer than a single page, focused on what the president needs to know rather than what he wants to hear. But does the PDB really repeat things “every single day” for the busiest man in the world?
A newcomer to analysis could be forgiven for underestimating the value of successive articles about the same country, region or city that share similar probabilistic and estimative language. But the slight distinctions from one report to the next often provide the best decision advantage for the president, whether he’s smart or not. As Obama explained in an interview last January, when he goes through the PDB, “I’m looking at: Are there significant differences?” The PDB’s insights into what other governments, groups and individuals around the globe are doing or considering doing — even if only marginally different than in the days or weeks before — help the commander in chief get ahead of crises before they develop or react to them more confidently if they do erupt. Even when the text seems repetitive, there’s value in such incremental updates. Clinton, for example, told me there were few days when he felt he got nothing out of the PDB.