Gen. James Clapper's prediction that Qaddafi probably will prevail in Libya got all the headlines. Less noticed in the director of National Intelligence's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday (Thursday) was this weird exchange:
SEN. MANCHIN: [Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia] ...Which country represents to you that has the intent to be our greatest adversary, who could do -- you know, has the capabilities -- I know you weren't going to it, but who has the intent?
GEN. CLAPPER: Probably China.
SEN. MANCHIN: China. So Donald Trump's right?
(Response off mic.)
SEN. MANCHIN (?): (Laughs.) If the question is, pick one nation-state that has the intent.
GEN. CLAPPER: No, I said -- well, I -- if we didn't -- we have a treaty with -- you know, new START treaty with the Russians. So I guess I would rank them a little lower because of that, and we don't have such a treaty with the Chinese.
SEN. LEVIN: [Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan] I'm just as surprised by that answer as I was by your first answer. You're saying that China now has the intent to be a mortal adversary of the United States?
GEN. CLAPPER: Well, the question is who -- from my vantage, you know, who would -- from among the nation-states, who would pose potentially the greatest -- if I have to pick one country, which I'm loath to do because I'm more of a mind to consider their capabilities -- and both Russia and China potentially represent a mortal threat to the United States. I -
SEN. LEVIN: Would you -
GEN. CLAPPER: Now we're getting into gauging intent, which, you know, I really can't do. I don't think either country today has the intent to mortally attack us.
SEN. LEVIN: I just want to be real clear. By that measure, we represent the greatest potential threat to both China and Russia. By that measure.
GEN. CLAPPER: From a capability standpoint.
SEN. LEVIN: Which is the measure you're using.
GEN. CLAPPER: Yes, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: OK. By that measure, we represent the greatest intent -- the greatest threat, by that measure, to both China and Russia.
GEN. CLAPPER: And I don't think our intent is to be -- attack them.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.