Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s erratic and temperamental pick for national security adviser, should hope that his boss did not pay close attention to the confirmation hearings of Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) for CIA, Rex W. Tillerson for secretary of state and retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis for defense secretary. Flynn likely would not have wanted Trump to see his potential future colleagues eviscerating many of Flynn’s positions and assertions. Had Trump paid close attention to those hearings, he might realize that much of what Flynn has been telling him is, well, bunk.
Let’s take Flynn’s obsession with the notion that the intelligence community cannot be trusted and is highly politicized. Flynn was fired from his job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency by none other than Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. Since then, Flynn has been openly contemptuous of our intelligence community. As one commentator observed:
There is little doubt, among the nervous at Fort Meade and Langley and the other spy centers, that Trump is taking his cues on the subject from Flynn. Or it could be that both men are egging on each another in their antipathy toward the intelligence community at large. Flynn’s aversion is seen as stemming from his bitterness and desire for revenge. Trump’s is rooted in the community’s unanimous—and much publicized—report that Russia’s “senior-most officials” hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign and then distributed the documents to WikiLeaks for the purpose of undermining the 2016 election and, even more, helping Trump win.
Flynn has publicly said that the CIA has been politicized. That’s not how Pompeo sees it. (“‘I’d never stand here today to tell you that the agency has had perfection throughout history, nor that it will have perfection if I’m confirmed on my watch. But I have great confidence in the men and women that work out there. They are — you know them, right? They are patriots, they’re warriors, they’re real people who have dedicated their life to keeping America safe and I have the utmost confidence that if I’m confirmed, I will get an opportunity to lead a set of great Americans that aren’t politicized.”) That’s not how Mattis sees it either, saying he had a “very, very high level of confidence in our intelligence community.”
Then there is the threat from Russia. Flynn has been a bold and open advocate of closer relations with Moscow and echoed Trump’s questioning of our NATO obligations. Flynn has frequently appeared on RT , claiming that it is not a propaganda outlet. The intelligence community uniformly labeled RT as a Russian propaganda tool. Flynn has bragged that he helped shaped Trump’s views on NATO and argued that NATO doesn’t pay its bills and is outmoded. (“We need to organize ourselves differently, and frankly, if you are part of the club, you’ve got to pay your bill, and for countries that don’t pay their bills, there has got to be some other penalty.”)
Mattis, Tillerson and Pompeo all took a much tougher tone on Russia, making clear that they view Russia as an aggressive adversary. The three showed none of Flynn’s disdain for NATO nor remotely suggested we should curtail our commitments if they do not pay up. “I think right now the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with [in] Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance and that we take the steps — the integrated steps, diplomatic, economic, military and the alliance steps, the working with our allies to defend ourselves where we must,” Mattis said. He dismissed the notion that Russia was being helpful in defeating the Islamic State in Syria. He reiterated, “There’s a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively and an increasing number of areas where we’re going to have to confront Russia.” Both Tillerson and Mattis repeatedly stressed the importance of our alliances in combating threats.
Moving on to Islamist terrorism, Flynn has infamously and repeatedly indicted all Muslims. (“Fear of all Muslims is rational, ” he once tweeted.) This viewpoint was repudiated by Tillerson. (“I’ve gained an appreciation and recognition of this great faith. That’s why I made a distinction that we should support those Muslim voices that reject this same radical Islam that we reject.”)
Flynn’s hyperbolic and unsupported rhetoric, fondness for Internet gossip and seething resentment toward the intelligence community make him an exceptionally poor fit for the national security adviser job. The hearings showed that his views are entirely out of the mainstream and at odds with the most impressive of Trump’s nominees, Pompeo and Mattis. We suspect that Flynn will need to curb his alarmism and pro-Russia sentiments or face constant conflict with more experienced, able and respected colleagues.