US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats addressed the Senate
Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, addressing a series of “threats”
faced by the United States, and broadly contradicting President Trump on
a number of issues.
Coats’ intelligence assessments singled out almost every major foreign policy issue, playing up the threat posed by ISIS in Syria, dismissing North Korean denuclearization, and touting Russia and China as big threats to the 2020 election.
Mostly Coats was telling Senate hawks what they want to hear. On Iraq, however, he presented the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias as the “primary threat” to the US. These Shi’ite militias are part of the Iraqi government.
The US has struggled with its policy toward the PMF, backing them in Iraq throughout the ISIS war as indispensable allies, but quickly labeling them enemies if they crossed into neighboring Syria to fight against ISIS there. When in Syria, they get labeled ‘Iranian-backed militias,’ because they are Shi’ites.
Singling out Russia and China as vague “threats” to the election doesn’t really counsel any policy changes. That isn’t really the case for playing up the PMF threat, which is likely to further alienate the US from Iraqi political blocs aligned with those militias, at a time when those blocs are already debating asking the US to leave.
Coats’ ISIS assessment in Syria seemed to undermine the pullout by presenting them as an enduring threat. On the other hand, he didn’t address the Afghan peace process, simply predicting a continued stalemate.
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