The Cable

Clapper’s comments on China, Russia, Libya put him in hot water … again

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee on Thursday that he believed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi and his regime would prevail in their struggle against opposition forces, that China and Russia pose the greatest threat to the United States, and that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program. "I just think ...

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee on Thursday that he believed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi and his regime would prevail in their struggle against opposition forces, that China and Russia pose the greatest threat to the United States, and that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program.

"I just think from a standpoint of attrition that over time, I mean, this is kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail," Clapper said to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) at Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The comments so surprised Lieberman that he asked Clapper to confirm them. 

"You said you were concerned or thought that in the long run the regime might actually prevail because of its superiority in logistics, weaponry, and the rest. Did I hear you correctly?" Lieberman said.

"Yes, sir," Clapper responded.

Both Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Ronald Burgess said they believed the opposition could not displace Qaddafi.

"He’s in this for the, as he said, long haul," said Burgess. "So right now he seems to have staying power unless some other dynamic changes at this time."

Later in the hearing, when Sen. James Manchin (D-WV) asked Clapper what two countries presented the greatest "mortal threat" to the United States, Clapper said China and Russia.

Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) interrupted to say he was "taken aback," and that he would have picked North Korea and Iran. Clapper said that China and Russia have the greatest capability but he could not judge their intent. "By that measure, the U.S. represents the biggest threat" to China and Russia, Levin shot back.

Clapper also said at the hearing he has high confidence in his assessment that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program and the intelligence community does not know if it ever will.

After the hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called for Clapper to be fired, telling Fox News, "Three strikes and you’re out." Graham was referring to Clapper’s past gaffes, such as when the director of national intelligence appeared to be unaware of a London terror plot in an interview with ABC News and another gaffe when Clapper said the Muslim Brotherhood was "mostly secular."

The White House immediately went into damage control mode, with Jay Carney trying to clarify Clapper’s statements and saying that President Obama has "full faith and confidence," in his ability to continue in his post.

National Security Council Tom Donilon told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon that Clapper was looking at a snapshot of the situation without properly considering everything the international community was doing now to isolate Qaddafi.

"A static, unidimensional analysis does not take into account steps that can be taken in cooperation with the opposition going forward here," Donilon said. "I would just caution that a dynamic in a multidimensional analysis is more appropriate in the circumstance."

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