Michael Flynn, the trump up Trump’s sleeve ?

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

The President-elect of the United States, not yet sworn in, Mr Donald Trump, seems to have decided on General Michael Flynn as his National Security Adviser. [1]. The latter’s personality is arousing curiosity [2], as well as unflattering remarks from the French and American press. A big evening newspaper calls him a « revanchist » [3]. Yet, Michael Flynn is not coming out of nowhere. A former director of military intelligence (the Defence Intelligence Agency) from 2012 to 2014, he is undeniably one of the sharpest, most remarkable minds in the American army. Often presented as tempted by the far-right because of his violent attacks against Hillary Clinton, he is revealing himself to be far more complex, and hard to pin down.

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Michael Flynn belongs to this generation of American militaries whose personal and military experience took place in the context of the war on terror and one largely lead by neoconservative thinking, which has dominated in the US ever since the end of Bill Clinton’s mandate. His own political family is the Democratic Party. This may seem anecdotic, but it must be kept in mind because, in contrast with many senior officers of the American army, he is not coming from a Republican background.

Flynn is hailing from the reserve corps of the American army, the ROTC, which is very often the only way for those of modest origins to study at university. He did part of his career in the special forces, at the Joint Special Operations Command, the JSOC, and he was instrumental in the transformation of this command into one of the most efficient war machines of the United States. He has worked under the orders of General Stanley McChrystal who played a decisive role in making the American Army evolve abreast with the new challenges brought by the dynamics of terrorism. Michael Flynn fought in Afghanistan and in Iraq, in wars which were largely unpopular in the United States. Put at the head of the intelligence division at the JSOC in the early 2000s, he was at the origin of the intelligence breakthroughs which resulted in the death of Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. He also was, and this is not often stressed, entrusted with the task of rewriting the interrogation manual for suspects after the scandal of American practices in the Abu Graib prison. As such, he has been able to measure the deleterious effects of torture, which were commonly practiced in that prison. Michael Flynn also participated in the reshuffling of American intelligence in Afghanistan, under the leadership of Stanley McChrystal.

In his various functions, he acquired the reputation of a particularly intelligent operative, and especially of a person who understood, long before others, that the most important intelligence is not primarily the one designated as « military, » onto which the DIA and the JSOC tended to focus, but intelligence of a much more political nature. We must then remember that American intelligence underwent a deep crisis, which had its origins in the politics of George « W » Bush, who decided to dismantle intelligence so that his own views on the intervention in Iraq should prevail. This had lead to important losses in competence at the CIA as well as at the DIA. These losses are not foreign to the problems encountered by the United States in Iraq in 2004-2005. The nomination of Michael Flynn, and of others, is part of the reconstruction of intelligence to which the United States were then compelled. Colin Powell spoke up against the support which Flynn gave, beginning in 2015, to Donald Trump. But we must point out that Colin Powell bears a heavy responsibility in the policies carried on by George « W » Bush, and in his out-of-bounds politicising of intelligence.

It appears that his superiors made a good choice in Michael Flynn. Admiral Mike Roger, who was in 2014 the director of the NSA, has labelled him the best intelligence officer of the past twenty years. Beyond the hyperbole, there is undeniably some truth in this. As a matter of fact, it is unusual for an officer hailing from ROTC to reach the hierarchical level attained by Michael Flynn. This signals exceptional competence. And one may indeed have of Michael Flynn the image of an exceptionally gifted officer. But when his boss, Stanley McChrystal, was forced to resign for reasons of political incompatibility with Barack Obama, it left a bitter after-taste to Michael Flynn. This was most certainly the beginning of a conflict, which would lead him to oppose not only President Obama, but also to choose to engage himself against Hillary Clinton, in support of Donald Trump. We must emphasize here that he has publicly accused Hillary Clinton not only of irresponsibility in the management of her communications, but also of having, through negligence or on purpose, endangered the life of the American Ambassador in Libya during the tragedy of Benghazi.

Michael Flynn was named at the head of the DIA in 2012, at the beginning of the second mandate of President Obama, when the United States had finally localized and neutralized Ben Laden. Obama was expecting that Flynn would espouse the official discourse of the administration, according to which the most acute phase of danger was past. But this was not the case. From intelligence in his possession, Michael Flynn relentlessly warned the Obama administration against the tendency to minimize terrorist danger. The conflicts which this brought on, and which kept increasing, as well as the « style » of command of Michael Flynn, who was much influenced by his past in the special forces, and the conflicts which this provoked in the fold of the DIA, lead to his departure in 2014. Within an administration which decided to consider – rightly or wrongly – the question of terrorism as having been taken care of, Flynn’s position became untenable. The fact also that Flynn never bothered with the syllogisms of « political correctness, » that he always called a cat a cat, could only deepen the gap between the « politics » of the administration and the operatives. The renewed bitterness which Flynn may have felt following these events, but also the fact that his previous functions had allowed him to measure, as he has stated, the irresponsible conduct of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, explain his shift to the Republicans and his support, as early as the fall of 2015, to Donald Trump.

Flynn entertains a relation with neoconservative ideology that is complex and has certainly evolved during his career. From his political origins, one may discerns some snippets of American exceptionalism in his perceptions. But it is just as clear that he has undergone a conversion to political « realism, » which drives him to want to make an ally of Russia, be it only an ad hoc one, in the fight against terrorism. Flynn also developed some real thinking about the nature of terrorism, which he confronted in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as it seems to be structuring the whole of the terrorist nebula of which he is perceiving an expansion around the world, despite some local defeats. The risk, at this point, is to sink into an eschatology of war. We must hope that the “realistic” dimension of his thinking will prevail. Very clearly, his nomination as the National Security Adviser will be experienced by part of the Army as a way of avenging the affronts which it feels the dismissal of some generals to have been, those of Petraeus and McChrystal in particular. It should also be interpreted as a revenge against the REMF[4] of Washington.

 

The probable nomination of Michael Flynn will make him one of the pivots of the Trump administration, at least in international relations. His “realism,” if it is confirmed, will be a welcome change from the present, very doctrinaire dimension of American foreign policy.

 

Notes

[1] http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2016/11/18/01003-20161118ARTFIG00021-trump-choisi-le-general-flynn-comme-conseiller-a-la-securite-nationale.php

[2] http://www.lecho.be/economie_politique/international_usa/Flynn_Sessions_Pompeo_l_equipe_autour_de_Trump_s_etoffe.9832560-3159.art?ckc=1&ts=1479483230

[3] http://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2016/11/18/michael-flynn-un-revanchard-au-conseil-de-securite-national_5033172_3210.html

[4] « Rear-Echelon Mother-Fucker »

 


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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