Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the President of the United States. Modeled on the President's Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the President almost daily, my Presidential Weekly Briefing focuses on the topics and issues the President needs to know to make informed decisions.
Here's this week's briefing:
European Union: From bad blood to a trade ceasefire
As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prepares for his high stakes visit to Washington on Wednesday, he is probably worried about the bad blood between the United States and the European Union (EU) on a host of trade issues, including stalled negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement, steel and aluminum tariffs and your most recent threat to impose tariffs on autos and auto parts.
He is undoubtedly aware of your statements about the EU being "a foe" because of "what they do to us in trade," and previous public remarks from you, describing the EU as a "piggybank" that was set up to take advantage of the United States. He is probably hopeful that your meeting will focus on areas other than transatlantic trade tensions, so as to reaffirm the bonds between the United States and EU.
But Juncker may also assess that, on a loaded transatlantic trade agenda, he now has added leverage. The EU just signed a landmark trade agreement with Japan -- the biggest ever negotiated by the EU -- which creates an open trade zone covering almost a third of global GDP. He has probably been briefed on Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin's comments this weekend saying that he was "encouraged" by the EU-Japan trade deal and "very hopeful" that the United States and EU can make progress on brokering our own free trade deal.
Juncker may be coming to negotiate a trade war ceasefire -- particularly when it comes to your threat to impose tariffs on imported cars and vehicle parts. He knows there is a domestic backlash against these tariffs and may be willing to offer concessions, such as reducing some existing EU tariffs on automobiles.
While Juncker will likely be looking to change course on EU tariffs and take a more flexible approach on a bilateral trade agreement, he, along with EU leaders, is probably hopeful that the visit will be marked by a clear statement of friendship and cooperation. In fact, he would likely love for you to brand the visit as positive because "what unites us -- in values, interests, trade and security -- is vastly greater than what divides us."
Russia is ready for a party in the USA
Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks that he has multiple reasons to celebrate and to keep the party going. For starters, he likely assesses that his efforts to sow confusion are reaping rewards in real time.
In the absence of a readout from the White House on what was discussed in your meeting with Putin, few know what was actually said or agreed to. This confusion was only exacerbated by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats' statement that he doesn't know what happened behind closed doors.
Because you have not given an account of what did or did not get discussed, the American people are confused. And each time the Russians share information (or disinformation) on offers they made, and then we offer a different account, the confusion only grows.
We also assess that Putin thinks that your behavior after the summit helps his mission of undermining confidence in our institutions and attacking our democracy. Your attack on the media (and detractors) can be considered an attack on the key democratic institution of a free press, and, when added to your (mis)statements undercutting your own government officials -- the US intelligence community on Russian election interference -- and obfuscation on whether you would consider turning over a former US ambassador to Russia, the Putin party narrative is that you aren't siding with your own team.
Not surprisingly, much of the public commentary in the United States has focused on whether you did something illegal or at least questionable with Putin behind closed doors, which again helps Putin's mission of undermining your credibility.
He's also celebrating his control of post-Helsinki messaging. We assess that he enjoys being in control of the public readout of your meeting because he can use the spin to his advantage -- to manipulate perceptions of you and the United States -- and he may even discourage you from providing a more fulsome readout to the press by stoking concerns that the "fake news media" will distort the message.
He's also putting the United States on defense by releasing, piecemeal, information about what you two agreed to. We are perceived as taking our cues from Russia.
But there is yet another reason for Russia to celebrate: Putin may be communicating more with our allies about the meeting than we are, and your silence may make them anxious about why you don't want to tell them what happened. There is no indication that you have debriefed any of our allies on the Helsinki summit, particularly on issues that affect them -- such as election interference, Syria, Ukraine and Russia's alleged chemical weapons use in the UK.
Debriefing allies has historically been standard operating procedure, even as recently as after your meeting with Kim Jong Un, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to some allied capitals to share a readout. Putin may be celebrating this lack of outreach on your part by trying to reach our allies first and giving them his version of the story.
And now, it seems, Putin may be coming to America, following the announcement that you're inviting him this fall. His visit is a cause for Kremlin celebration, not only because he expects to witness celebrations while on the ground (there are even rumors that he will attend a US military parade with you), but because he perceives that he's manipulated you to such a degree that you are inviting him to visit while he is, simultaneously, attacking us and continuing to interfere in our electoral processes.
Iran is never getting back together with us
We assess that the Iranian regime will not come back to the negotiating table with the United States anytime soon -- particularly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out 12 preconditions for negotiations. Furthermore, they are concerned about US efforts to support regime change. There are perceptions that you are now engaging in a direct campaign -- through speeches and other forms of communications -- to foment unrest in Iran by chastising the regime. Your own tweets supporting protests and labeling the government brutal and corrupt are likely perceived by at least some Iranian leaders as a means to directly interfere in their politics.
Your statements and Secretary Pompeo's speech on "Supporting Iranian Voices" are heard in Tehran but also in Moscow. Putin is deeply opposed to what he thinks is a US policy of fomenting unrest and supporting regime change. He accused then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of trying to incite unrest in Russia against the government. He is worried about regime change in places like Syria and North Korea (Kim Jong Un shares this anxiety), particularly after US actions to unseat Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. And he is deeply paranoid about domestic unrest and opposition to him in Russia.
So, we assess that he may interpret your communications campaign against Iran as an attempt to topple the regime -- even though the State Department has said a change in regime behavior, rather than regime change, is the goal.
You should also be aware that Iran probably won't take this lying down. The empire can strike back, and cyberspace is a potential theater to do so. There are reports that Iran is planning cyberattacks against key US infrastructure and health care and technology companies in the United States (it's hit us before), so we should be on high alert.
China can't be tamed
As official public statements about the risks from China hit the media, including FBI Director Christopher Wray's statement that "China, from a counterintelligence perspective, in many ways represents the broadest, most challenging, most significant threat we face as a country," and a CIA official's description of the cold war between the US and China, President Xi Jinping is kicking off an African tour. He arrived in Senegal this weekend and will travel to Rwanda (the first visit by a Chinese President), South Africa (where he will attend a summit of BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), before visiting Mauritius.
Xi arrived in Africa after a three-day state visit in the United Arab Emirates, where he signed 13 agreements and memoranda. The media coverage of his time in the UAE and in Senegal has been positive. And it's clear that Xi is trying to position China as an ardent supporter of African development -- China is Africa's largest trading partner and a great business partner for countries like the UAE. We assess that he views his personal investment in forging relationships with leaders around the world as something that will bring economic and geostrategic returns as both developed and developing countries turn more toward China in the future.
As your own national security strategy outlined, China is a rival power, and, according to the CIA, "China wants every country around the world, when it's deciding its interests on policy issues, to first and foremost side with China and not the United States." So we assess that Xi views bolstering ties with countries around the world as a direct means of getting them closer to Beijing and further from you.