The White House is scrambling to contain the political damage and Lindsey Graham is already calling for Clapper’s resignation. These are, obviously, highly impolitic answers, and Clapper’s already had not one but two major brain-locks with cameras rolling in his brief stint as DNI. Just one question, though, before we tar and feather him:

Does it matter that both answers are probably correct?

Clapper told the committee that Russia and China posed a mortal threat, citing their nuclear arsenals and military capabilities. But he added that he didn’t think either nation had the intent to strike the United States.

It wasn’t an answer Levin expected.

“You didn’t mention Iran or North Korea, which would have been the first two countries I would have thought of in response to that question,” Levin said. “I was really kind of taken aback almost by your answer.”…

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who asked the question initially, stepped in to to see if he could clarify Clapper’s position by asking which nation has the intent to be the greatest adversary.

Clapper answered, “Probably China,” which once again set Levin off.

Watch Tapper’s video report below; apparently, the White House is making it very clear to reporters, at least on Clapper’s Libya answer, that the president doesn’t agree with his own intel chief. Except that … without western intervention, it’s perfectly logical to believe that Qaddafi will win. Even if we do intervene, there’s no guarantee that a no-fly zone will turn the tide: One of the big knocks on a NFZ in the critiques that I’ve read is that airstrikes aren’t a huge component of Qaddafi’s assault, and some of his aircraft (like helicopter gunships) might not be affected by a NFZ even if one is imposed. It’s the White House, not Clapper, that’s blowing smoke at the public, especially with news breaking tonight that Qaddafi’s not only reconquered Zawiyah but shown the residents how far he’s willing to go to keep power. Quote: “Neely said it’s the worst devastation he’s ever seen. He’s covered plenty of conflicts, but again this is the worst he’s ever seen.”

The Libya answer goes to the heart of Clapper’s real problem, though. Obama has to talk tough and stay optimistic because he’s a politician; Clapper’s a politician too now yet he doesn’t seem to realize it, answering questions publicly as a candid intelligence analyst instead of as a pure propagandist for U.S. interests. Same with his answer on Russia and China. Of course the Chinese are a greater mortal threat to the U.S. than Iran or North Korea is. The latter two countries may eventually develop nuclear ICBM capabilities, but China will vastly outpace them economically and technologically in the coming decades. They have ambitions regionally and beyond, and they can support those ambitions with money and manpower in ways that Iran and North Korea can’t. But they’re our “friends” at the moment (and our creditors forever) and we don’t want to antagonize them if we don’t have to, so while Clapper may be right, he’s practicing horribly poor diplomacy. I don’t know why, if Congress is interested in candor, they don’t simply hold private briefings with him instead of these dog-and-pony shows where he’s expected to give canned answers. But then, I don’t know why he doesn’t understand his new job either.