Graham Wants DNI Chief to Resign Over Objectively True Statement

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 10 2011 2:45 PM

Graham Wants DNI Chief to Resign Over Objectively True Statement

This doesn't seem like a great reason for Sen. Lindsey Graham to demand that James Clapper find another job. It is, at least, a deceptively simple reason. Clapper, asked which countries represented the greatest "mortal threat" to the United States, suggested Russia and China.

Clapper, who just last month startled lawmakers when he claimed during a hearing that the Muslim Brotherhood is "secular," made the comments about Russia and China during an exchange with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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He was in the midst of testifying about global security threats when Manchin asked which country represents the biggest "mortal threat" to the United States. Russia and China, Clapper answered.

At that point, Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., broke in to say he was "really kind of taken aback" by the answer. Levin said North Korea and Iran are the first nations that come to his mind, not Russia and China.

Here's the video as edited by Fox, which leaves out the start of the exchange, but leaves in the key bit -- Clapper treating this as an intellectual exercise, and discussing which nations literally have the power to destroy the United States.

I’m more of a mind to consider their capabilities. Both Russia and China potentially represent a mortal threat to the United States. I don’t think either country today has the intent to attack us.

Clapper's right. We estimate that China has around 240 warheads, and Russia has around 12,600. We estimate that North Korea has less than 10 nuclear weapons, and Iran has none. So it's literally true -- only China and Russia can obliterate us.

However! This is a tone-deaf thing for a DNI to say, knowing that he's 1) in Congress, 2) being filmed, 3) the combination of those first two things means his comments will be heard in Russia and China and Iran and North Korea. How much does that matter? I have no idea. How much better off would he have been if he'd given a simple answer to an easy question? Much better.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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