Retired General Michael Flynn Tapped For Trump’s National Security Adviser
Just over a week after being elected, Donald Trump’s Cabinet is starting to come together. Among the first selections to be named publicly is retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, who will serve as Trump’s National Security Adviser:
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump has offered the post of national security adviser to Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, potentially putting a retired intelligence officer who believes Islamist militancy poses an existential threat in one of the most powerful roles in shaping military and foreign policy, according to a top official on Mr. Trump’s transition team.
General Flynn, 57, a registered Democrat, was Mr. Trump’s main national security adviser during his campaign. If he accepts Mr. Trump’s offer, as expected, he will be a critical gatekeeper for a president with little experience in military or foreign policy issues.
Mr. Trump and General Flynn both see themselves as brash outsiders who hustled their way to the big time. They both post on Twitter often about their own successes, and they have both at times crossed the line into outright Islamophobia.
They also both exhibit a loose relationship with facts: General Flynn, for instance, has said that Shariah, or Islamic law, is spreading in the United States (it is not). His dubious assertions are so common that when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency, subordinates came up with a name for the phenomenon: They called them “Flynn facts.”
As an adviser, General Flynn has already proved to be a powerful influence on Mr. Trump, convincing the president-elect that the United States is in a “world war” with Islamist militants and must work with any willing allies in the fight, including President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
During the transition, General Flynn has been present when Mr. Trump has received his daily intelligence briefing. As national security adviser, he would have the last word on how the president should respond to crises such as a showdown with China over the South China Sea or an international health crisis like the Ebola epidemic.
But, like Mr. Trump, he would enter the White House with significant baggage. The Flynn Intel Group, a consulting firm he founded after he was fired by President Obama as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has hazy business ties to Middle Eastern countries and has appeared to lobby for the Turkish government. General Flynn also took a paid speaking engagement last year with Russia Today, a television network funded by the Kremlin, and attended the network’s lavish anniversary party in Moscow, where he sat at Mr. Putin’s elbow.
Those potential conflicts of interest had led Mr. Trump’s transition team to worry that General Flynn might have difficulty winning confirmation for any post that, unlike the national security adviser role, requires congressional approval, such as director of the C.I.A. But for Mr. Trump, he has one overriding virtue: He was an early and ardent supporter in a campaign during which most of the Washington national security establishment openly called Mr. Trump unfit to lead.
Outside of what he’s said on television and written himself, very little is known about Flynn and his views, but what we do know makes Flynn sound like someone who is largely in line with Trump when it comes to foreign policy issues such as the War On Terror and America’s relationship with Russia:
[I]n numerous speeches and interviews before the election, and in a book published in August, he laid out a view of the world that sees the United States as facing a singular, overarching threat that can be described in only one way: “radical Islamic terrorism.”
All else is secondary for General Flynn, and any other description of the threat is “the worst kind of political correctness,” he said in an interview three weeks before the election.
Islamist militancy poses an existential threat on a global scale, and the Muslim faith itself is the source of the problem, he said, describing it as a political ideology, not a religion. He has even at times gone so far as to call it a cancer.
For General Flynn, the election of Mr. Trump represents an astounding career turnaround. Once counted among the most respected military officers of his generation, General Flynn was fired after serving only two years as chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He then re-emerged as a vociferous critic of a Washington elite that he contended could not even properly identify the real enemy — radical Islam, that is — never mind figure out how to defeat it.
In Mr. Trump, General Flynn found someone who was more than willing to listen. He readily signed on to the campaign, and quickly emerged as the angry voice of the national security establishment, leading chants of “lock her up” against Hillary Clinton at rallies and the Republican convention. And now, after months of the two men talking to each other, it can be hard to tell where Mr. Trump’s views end and General Flynn’s begin.
They both believe that the United States needs to start working with Mr. Putin to defeat Islamist militants and stop worrying about his suppression of critics at home, his attempt to dismember Ukraine or the Russian military’s indiscriminate bombing of Syrian cities. The same goes for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who took power in a coup and who was the first world leader to speak with Mr. Trump after the election.
Mr. Trump “looks at people and leaders of countries and says: ‘Can I work with this guy? Do we have a common threat that we can focus on?'” Mr. Flynn said in the interview before the election. “He knows that when it comes to Russia or any other country, the common enemy that we all have is radical Islam.”
General Flynn and Mr. Trump also agree that the United States needs to sharply curtail immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, and possibly even force American Muslims to register with the government.
The similarities run beyond political views. Like the boy from Queens who made it in Manhattan, General Flynn came into the military without a West Point pedigree — he graduated from the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Program at the University of Rhode Island — and earned a reputation as outspoken and unconventional as he climbed the ranks to the top of military intelligence.
Yet General Flynn still nurses the grudge of an outsider, believing he never quite got the respect he deserves. For example, he has attributed his dismissal from the Defense Intelligence Agency to a pair of consummate insiders: James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, and Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense intelligence.
His response, like that of his new boss, has been to buck the establishment. In his view, both the Republican and the Democratic luminaries who have shaped American defense and foreign policy through two presidencies have “gotten us into mess after mess for the wrong reasons.”
“I would argue with that crowd all day long,” he said before the election.
The fact that Trump would choose someone who largely mirrors what appear to his own views when it comes to foreign policy is, of course, not at all surprising. Where Flynn is controversial, though, comes in his views on issues such as the War On Terror and the relationship between the West and the Muslim world and his apparent view that the U.S. should have a closer working relationship with Russia that would essentially allow Russia to do what it wishes in areas such as eastern Ukraine and Syria. Both of these positions, if actually adopted by the United States, are likely to not sit very well with American allies in Europe and the Middle East and could have profound implications going forward. In Europe, for example, any seeming abandonment of Ukraine could lead Eastern European members of NATO who have reason to fear potential conflicts with Russia, such as a Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to wonder how secure the NATO guarantees they signed on to a decade ago are actually going to matter if Russia pushes any of these states over territorial or ethnic claims. In the Middle East, a change in strategy in Syria that would essentially involve conceding the idea of keeping the Assad regime in power could prove controversial with American allies in the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states who have been backing the Syrian rebels financially and who view the Assad regime as a proxy for their chief regional concern, Iran. Finally, Flynn’s endorsement of what can only be described as a bigoted view of Islam does not bode well for the future of American relations with the Muslim world in general.
Since General Flynn is being selected for National Security Adviser, there will be no need for Senate confirmation, so this is likely to spare the incoming Administration from any controversy that may come from his selection. Given the circumstances of Flynn’s departure from the Defense Intelligence Agency, this was no doubt a consideration by Trump advisers. At the time, there were allegations of mismanagement and disarray at the agency under Flynn’s leadership, and accusations that Flynn found it impossible to work with other members of the intelligence community such as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Director of National Intelligence. If true, that could prove to be problematic given that the National Security Adviser also serves as the head of the National Security Council and a chief liason between the President and members of the defense and intelligence communities. The question, then, is whether Flynn would serve as a good conduit and whether he’d be able to manage a part of the White House staff that increases in importance during times of international crisis. Additionally, the National Security Adviser is often the last person to speak to a President on issues of National Security before a decision is made, and it’s unclear whether Flynn might seek to block dissenting voices from having access to the President. For better or worse, we’ll have to wait for the Trump Administration’s first international crisis to find out.