Consumed by its own difficulties, the country is in a poor position to respond to provocations by adversaries, advance its foreign policy interests with support from allies, or serve as a credible model of functioning democracy, former senior national security officials said.

“I see weakness and division and above all else distractedness,” said Nick Rasmussen, who served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center in the Obama and Trump administrations. “Any problem anywhere else is just a third- or fourth-order problem right now because we are so self-absorbed, inward looking and consumed with our own toxicity. And when you’re distracted, you make mistakes.”…

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe was excoriated by his predecessors last week for declassifying discredited intelligence reports supposedly implicating Hillary Clinton in an effort to “stir up a scandal” against Trump in 2016 involving Russia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was rebuffed in his effort to secure a meeting with the pope by Vatican officials who reportedly regarded his approach as an election ploy to please Catholics. And Attorney General William P. Barr was accused of being the source of unsubstantiated claims of voting irregularities cited last week by the president.

“In a normal government, you could probably absorb some of this dysfunction,” said John McLaughlin, a former acting director of the CIA who now teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “But this government, on national security policy, has had a very sketchy — to say the least — process for making foreign policy decisions.”