Donald Trump’s wild, swinging attacks against the intelligence community have been so far off the charts of traditional behavior for a president-elect that it is hard to wrap one’s mind around—and impossible not to wonder what lies behind it. That Trump is trying to throw everyone off the track of his ties to Russia and whatever compromising information it has, as CNN is reporting, seems increasingly plausible.
Whatever the case, Trump’s assaults on a core element of the government he is soon to lead have most observers focusing on the damage he is doing to the 17 institutions that house our spies and analysts. In his campaign to smother the notion that Russia hacked the U.S. election, he has thus far smeared the CIA and its sister agencies with accusations of politicizing intelligence, gross incompetence and even fabrication—to the horror of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the foreign policy establishment and of course the intelligence community itself.
Less remarked upon, but perhaps more consequential, is the eye-opening job Trump is doing at sabotaging his own presidency before it even starts. I say that mindful that the president-elect prevailed in the election even as everyone thought he was digging himself into a hopeless position. In the end, there is simply no evading the scorecard that governing creates. No American president can succeed in foreign policy—and by extension his term as commander-in-chief—without a good relationship with the intelligence community. Indeed, historically speaking, the CIA is usually one of the very first agencies to establish a relationship with new chief executives, because of the briefings it delivers before elections have even occurred and the beguiling prospect it offers of handling missions quietly and efficiently.
Perhaps Trump thinks that he, CIA director designate Michael Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence designate Dan Coats can charm the intel community back into line. Given Trump’s adoration for Putin, strained relationship with facts and disinclination to hear bad news, I’m guessing this won’t happen. Instead, his pre-inauguration tantrums will haunt him. Here’s five reasons why.