Director of US Intel: China is the Greatest “Mortal Threat”
In what was either a brutally honest security analysis or a public relations nightmare (or both), US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated Thursday that China posed a “mortal threat” to the United States.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clapper was asked by Senator Joe Manchin to name the greatest threat to the United States. After answering that Russia and China posed the strongest dangers because of their strategic nuclear capabilities, Senator Carl Levin, surprised that Clapper didn’t mention Iran or North Korea, asked Clapper to clarify his remarks — perhaps offering him a chance to avoid a political firestorm. In response, Clapper either courageously stuck to his guns or clearly didn’t get the hint, producing a fascinating (and awkward) exchange. Watch this three-minute back and forth as reported by FOX News:
Sen. Manchin tried to “clarify” Clapper’s comments one more time:
Manchin: Maybe I can clarify. Which country represents – to you – that has the intent to be our greatest adversary? That could do – you know – has the capabilities – but who has the intent –
Clapper: Probably China.
Levin: China? So Donald Trump’s right?
Clapper: If the question is pick one nation-state -
Manchin: - that has the intent
Clapper: No, I said, oh, if we didn’t…we have a New START treaty with the Russians, so I guess I would rank them a little lower because of that. We don’t have such a treaty with the Chinese.
Levin: I was just surprised by that answer as I was by your first answer.
It is clear that Clapper measures national security threats in terms of material capabilities, while Levin and Manchin seem to evaluate them based on intention — and despite the Senators’ attempts to pry out a less surprising answer, Clapper sticks with his original one.
Clapper’s frankness, coupled with his prediction that Gadhafi will likely defeat anti-government rebels in Libya, has ruffled feathers in the U.S. Senate and prompted some, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, to demand his resignation.
Not that this is new territory for the Director. Despite a 47-year career in military and public service, Clapper has found himself in political hot water several times over the last few months, including an assertion that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was a largely secular organization.
Nevertheless, the White House rushed to Clapper’s defense while simultaneously trying to mitigate any possible political damage. No word yet on whether Beijing will respond, or whether or not the Obama administration has reached out with an awkward “Sorry, it’s just politics.”
Discuss: Does China pose a “mortal threat” to the United States, if at all? And is it more accurate to measure national security threats in terms of capabilities, or in terms of intent?
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TAGS: Carl Levin • China politics • James Clapper • James Clapper China Russia • Joe Manchin • Lindsey Graham • U.S.-China relations
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