For Donald Trump, everything is a personal relationship: Compliment his chocolate cake, tell him his hands look big, swear to his intelligence—and he’s convinced that all is well. Trump flattery is a game so easily played that it’s not restricted to Vladimir Putin or a team of Russian researchers. Even the most reclusive leader from most secretive of states can play. So while Trump is utterly convinced that he made a tight bond with the “very worthy, very smart” Kim Jong-un, he doesn’t seem to understand that this instant friendship, if it exists outside his own mind, doesn’t mean that the North Korean dictator is about to give up every inch of nuclear leverage he controls.
As the New York Times reports, a fresh assessment by U.S. intelligence suggests that any surrender of nuclear weapons by North Korea is “unlikely.” Trump is currently slated to meet with Kim again in the next month for another round of direct negotiations. But even though the U.S. already ceased joint military exercises with South Korea, and even though Trump’s recognition of Kim has given North Korea a sizable boost on the world stage, it’s not clear that the United States has gained anything.
Trump likes to point out that since his meeting with Kim there has not been a new nuclear test. But well before that meeting, the primary North Korean test site had been destroyed in an accident that seems to have claimed the lives of an unknown number of workers and scientists. Having nowhere to explode a new weapon—and quite possibly no reason to need further testing—is far more likely to have defined Pyongyang’s schedule than anything done by Trump. In fact, it’s far more likely that the North Korean outreach that led to Kim’s main-stage debut was triggered by that cavern collapse than by any action on the part of the U.S. And any insistence that the interval has been marked by a slowdown in North Korean missile tests is more than a little undermined by continuing discovery of more and more previously undisclosed missile sites.
The new intelligence assessment shows that it’s not just North Korea that Trump got wrong. According to officials, claims that Iran is actively developing nuclear weapons are not true, completely undercutting the excuses Trump made for pulling out of the multinational accord designed to keep Iran off the nuclear path. Also, while Trump may continue to insist that Iran is “a different country” than it was a few months ago, based on his insistence that U.S. actions have crimped the actions of the Iranian leadership, the assessment shows that Iran has not slowed in spreading its influence across the Middle East.
But the biggest news from the intelligence assessment may be what’s not there—any hint of a threat that would be solved by Trump’s wall.
The potential list of threats to the United States is long, but even the one that might seem to be addressed by Trump’s big want, Mexican drug cartels, is relegated to a minor role and dismissed with no mention of how a wall, or a fence, or a barrier, or “steel slats,” or a whole lot of blue tape would help with the issue.
What the report does regard as a pressing issue is a cluster of cybersecurity concerns, including Russia. And China. And also more Russia.
Included in the concerns: Moscow’s ability to conduct “influence campaigns” like the one it operated during the 2016 election. However, the larger concern is that Russia has moved past trying to shift the levers of power in the United States by influencing a few voters in the right spaces, and has gone on to moving the levers of power by … moving those levers. That is, directly making moves that threaten American infrastructure, including the power grid.
“Moscow is now staging cyberattack assets to allow it to disrupt or damage U.S. civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis.”
But if the national security assessment shows that Trump was wrong about foreign threats at every turn, he can at least be happy about one thing—he’s not the first item on the list.