Within President Donald Trump’s inner circle, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn may be down, but he is not out. He remains national security advisor, and his thinking clearly stands behind the recent, disturbing marginalization within the National Security Council of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., and of the director designate of national intelligence, former Senator Dan Coats.
In his inflamed book The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, Flynn clearly and loudly calls for the concentration of all power in a single supreme advisor at the top:
One leader must be in charge overall and accountable to the president—if this leader does not meet the test, which is to win, then fire him or her and find another who can. We have to stop participating in this never-ending conflict and win! And we must accept that there is no cheap way to win this fight. The bottom line is that we have to organize ourselves first before we can expect any international coalition to seriously join forces with us to destroy this evil we must clearly define as Radical Islamism. (116)
“Flynn sees 'an international alliance of evil countries and movements' arrayed against the U.S., with Iran as the 'linchpin.'”
Who is it, concretely, whom this “one leader” needs to defeat? Who is the enemy? Flynn sees, to begin with, “an international alliance of evil countries and movements” arrayed against the U.S.:
If as PC [politically correct] apologists tell us, there is no objective basis for members of one culture to criticize another, then it is very hard to see—and forbidden to write about or say—the existence of an international alliance of evil countries and movements that is working to destroy us. Yet, the alliance exists, and we’ve already dithered for many years. The war is on. We face a working coalition that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. (76)
This is an alliance that few, if any, perceive quite as Flynn perceives it. Within this vast alliance, is there one country that stands out, one country that is the key to the entire alliance? The answer is yes: “Iran is the linchpin of the alliance, its centerpiece.” (77)
Should the U.S. then go to war against Iran? Flynn writes, as his second principle after maximum concentration of power at the top, that “we must engage the violent Islamists wherever they are, drive them from their safe havens and kill them or capture them. There can be no quarter and no accommodation.” (117)
“It was a huge strategic mistake for the U.S. to invade Iraq militarily,” he writes later in his book. “Our primary target should have been Tehran, not Baghdad, and the method should have been political—support of the internal Iranian opposition.” (175) But since the Islamic Republic of Iran has put down internal opposition with extreme force, just as Bashar Assad has done in Syria, should American support for the Iranian opposition be armed support?
“Our primary target should have been Tehran, not Baghdad, and the method should have been political—support of the internal Iranian opposition.”
The Obama administration has been unwilling to go to war to support the Syrian opposition. The Trump administration may be willing to go to war to support the Iranian opposition. After all, “the war is on,” and Iran is “the linchpin” of the enemy alliance. Iran has tested several ballistic missiles since the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, and it did so again on Sunday. Flynn responded Wednesday saying, “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.” Another missile test from Iran could be casus belli for the Trump administration.
Can the U.S.―unable to win its war in Iraq and unable so far to defeat the so-called Islamic State―win a war against far larger, far more populous and far more unified Iran? Here is clearly a question that ought to be answered with the counsel of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And what might be the cascade of diplomatic and military consequences of an invasion of Iran? Would North Korea take the occasion to attack South Korea—or Japan? Here, again, is a question that ought to be answered with full input from the director of national intelligence. Frighteningly, both of these key security figures have now been marginalized.
Flynn writes impatiently of objections that get in the way of his vision of centralized, personalized power and maximally forceful action. Above all, he does not want to be drawn into any consideration of the internal complexity of Islam:
I firmly believe that Radical Islam is a tribal cult and must be crushed. Critics get buried in the details of sunna, hadiths, the umma and the musings of countless Muslim clerics and imams. These so-called Islamic scholars keep their message so complicated so as to create chaos, to confuse in order to control. Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin and Mussolini were more transparent. Sharia is a violent law that is buried in barbaric convictions. (110)
“Reading his book, few will doubt that Flynn was tacitly nominating himself to be that 'one leader [who] must be in charge overall.'”
Although Flynn includes Russia in the “working coalition” of enemies listed above, he persists in the view that Russia can nonetheless be made an American ally in a world war to “crush” the “tribal cult.” Of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and occupation of Eastern Ukraine, Flynn declared in an October 2016 interview with The New York Times that it was “besides the point … We can’t do what we want to do unless we work with Russia, period.”
Russia, perhaps reassured by such talk, has just renewed its aggression in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, General Sir Richard Shirreff, formerly No. 2 commander of NATO, has published a roman á clef outlining in fictional but chillingly plausible detail how Russian President Vladimir Putin might seize this moment of American distraction and executive chaos to sweep westward to the Atlantic, transforming the balance of power in Europe.
Reading Flynn’s The Field of Fight, few will doubt that the author was tacitly nominating himself to be that “one leader [who] must be in charge overall.” As the Trump National Security Council has lately been emerging, the “one leader” appears rather to be Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, newly and controversially appointed to the council. But there remains every reason to believe, and to fear, that the operative national security vision remains that of Flynn, a three-star general who may be happy to see Dunford, a four-star general, sidelined. Next to go perhaps: Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis, another four-star general, whose nuanced views may even now be getting in the way.