The president was upset. Watching TV in his White House residence, his usual morning routine, Donald Trump saw his intelligence chiefs kick the legs out from under yet another of his pet campaigns: Iran. Trump and two of his top national security officials had been suggesting for two years that the Islamic republic was still in pursuit of a nuclear weapon and posed a mortal threat to its neighbors and the West.
But now, Dan Coats, his national intelligence director, was in a Capitol Hill hearing room saying that wasn’t true: Iran was living up to the letter of the deal the U.S. under President Barack Obama and five other nations had negotiated with the Middle Eastern country to dismantle its nuclear program, Coats said. Not only that, added CIA Director Gina Haspel, but Iran could well decide to restart the program if the sanctions that Trump had just reimposed—breaking America’s end of the bargain—weren’t lifted.
Trump took to Twitter. Coats and Haspel were “wrong,” he posted on January 30. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” But he wasn’t through with Iran. In extraordinary remarks with CBS and The New York Times over the next few days, Trump called Tehran “the number one terrorist nation in the world.” He blamed the Islamic republic for “every single” problem he had inherited in the Middle East, a remarkable—and wholly unsupportable—assertion. He called his intelligence chiefs “extremely passive and naïve when it comes to the dangers of Iran.”