As controversy swirled around President-elect Donald J. Trump’s battle with the CIA concerning its questionable intelligence product on Russian hacking, a strong defense of the agency and an attack on Trump came from Joshua Rovner of Southern Methodist University (SMU). Professor Rovner declared in a press release, “By ignoring intelligence, Trump risks policy tunnel vision.”
But the idea that the CIA’s “intelligence” was sacrosanct was put in question when it was suggested that Obama’s CIA director John Brennan was orchestrating what Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called a “hit job” on Trump. King said, “We have John Brennan—supposedly John Brennan—leaking to The Washington Post, to a biased newspaper like The New York Times, findings and conclusions that he’s not telling the intelligence committee…There should be an investigation of what the Russians did but also an investigation of John Brennan and the hit job he seems to be orchestrating against the president-elect.”
A press release sent to the media quoted the “expert” Rovner, the John Goodwin Tower Distinguished Chair of International Politics and National Security, as saying that Trump’s pick of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was “especially troubling” because of Flynn’s “extreme hostility towards the CIA—which he has called a political arm of the Obama administration…”
I was struck by the professor’s confidence in the CIA and wanted to question him about it. But he declined. “Dear Cliff,” he responded to my email request. “Unfortunately I’m not available. All the best, JR.” I asked if he would ever be available and that perhaps the particular day I offered for an exchange was not convenient. I never got an answer. No explanation was given for the refusal to be interviewed. But I suspect that he feared he would be questioned in a challenging manner and he realized his blind faith in the CIA would not hold up.
This is, unfortunately, what happens all too often at big universities, where professors are held up as “experts” on various subjects and offered to selected news organizations to back up pre-existing assumptions held by Big Media reporters. This is how professors get face time for the schools that employ them. The interviews are supposed to redound to the benefit of their universities.
Sometimes these appearances can backfire. Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia runs a “Crystal Ball” political prediction service that said Hillary Clinton was going to crush Trump on Election Day. His erroneous prediction was also embarrassing to MSNBC, which had him on just before the election to talk about the drubbing Trump was going to receive. Oh well. Try, try again.
In the case of SMU, the school has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio or online interviews. But Rovner was unavailable to support the view that the CIA was right and Trump was wrong. I can only surmise that he had visited the AIM website and determined we were not going to toss him softballs.
Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have waged war on Trump and Flynn over their lack of confidence in the CIA. Professors like Rovner constitute back-up for the media in this war.
But why would the professor be so critical of Trump and Flynn?
It turns out that Rovner signed an ad in The New York Times in 2015 that argues that the Obama administration’s agreement with Iran on its nuclear program “furthers American interests.” Rovner was one of a group of “national security scholars” from several prestigious universities who endorsed the deal.
Meanwhile, Trump and Flynn opposed the Iran nuclear deal.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) also opposed the deal, saying, “Iran has killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers, tried to conduct a terrorist attack in the United States, and is committed to annihilating Israel. This deal will guarantee Iran the capability to carry out its clear intent.”
The aforementioned attack in the United States is a reference to an attempted assassination of a Saudi official, Adel Al-Jubeir, while dining at Cafe Milano in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. in 2011. The plot was confirmed by officials of the Obama administration and Obama himself.
General James N. Mattis, nominated to be Trump’s Secretary of Defense, commented, “We caught them [Iran] in the act and yet we let them walk free.”
House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-CA), who is Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, opposed the Iran agreement, calling it appeasement and surrender.
The Rovner-signed ad endorsing the Iran deal, published in 2015, said, “We recognize that the regime in Tehran is repressive and pursues dangerous policies, but the nuclear deal does not prevent us from countering them.”
The ad said nothing about the plot to bomb the Georgetown café, which could have killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Americans.
Not surprisingly, CIA Director Brennan has urged Trump not to scrap the Iran agreement. “I think it would be the height of folly if the next administration were to tear up that agreement,” he told the BBC.