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Flynn, Michael

  • National Security Adviser to Donald Trump
  • Defense Intelligence Agency: Director (2012-2014)
  • Veteran Against the Deal: Advisor

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Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is a controversial right-wing pundit who was selected to be National Security Adviser in the Donald Trump administration shortly after the property mogul’s presidential election victory in November 2016. He served as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 2012 to 2014.[1] Previously, Flynn was a senior intelligence officer for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the Joint Staff, and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).[2]

A vocal supporter of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Flynn will likely champion more aggressive Middle East policies, particularly on Iran, from his perch at the National Security Council. He has been a vociferous opponent of the the historic 2015 Iran nuclear deal, claiming it will lead to war, has pushed for “regime change” in Tehran, and has tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”

Flynn has also called for withdrawing U.S. support for the Israel-Palestinian peace process, ending decades of U.S. efforts to resolve the conflict. At a 2014 event at the  Sheldon Adelson-backed Endowment for Middle East Truth, Flynn said, “I don’t think there’s gonna peace between Israel and Palestine.” He added: “So let’s be honest about this and not have another big name going in there and getting in the middle of the two countries and try to figure this out while people that are coming from one side of that line with daggers are putting knives into women and children in Israel.”

Flynn’s appointment has come under increasing scrutiny because of his penchant for spreading fake news on Twitter and his ties to Russia. A December 2016 report by Politico reported that Flynn used social media to boost at least 16 fake news items during the second half of 2016. “Flynn, who has 106,000 Twitter followers, has used the platform to retweet accusations that Clinton is involved with child sex trafficking and has ‘secretly waged war‘ on the Catholic Church, as well as charges that Obama is a ‘jihadi‘ who ‘laundered’ money for Muslim terrorists.”

Regarding Russia, although Flynn has warned about Moscow’s past behavior, he has stuck closely to Trump’s favorable attitude toward Russia, dismissing concerns over its military attacks on Ukraine, bombing in Syria, and alleged interference in U.S. elections. His positions on Russia came under scrutiny in the wake of January 2017 reports about U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment of Russian hacking, which presented “an especially awkward development for Mr. Flynn by indirectly casting a harsh spotlight on his relationship” with the RT Russian English-language news organization, characterized by intelligence agencies as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

Pushing War

In mid-2016, Flynn co-authored with long-standing neoconservative pundit and fake news writer Michael Ledeen a fear-mongering book about an alleged alliance between Islamic jihadists and former Cold War foes who are “united in their hatred of the democratic West.” The book, called The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War against Radical Islam and Its Allies, argues that the United States must engage in a multi-generational war against this “formidable” alliance, which may require sending in troops to fight battles across the globe and harnessing all available resources “similar to the effort during World War II or the Cold War.”

Flynn and Ledeen write: “If, as PC apologists tell us, there is no objective basis for members of one culture to criticize another, then it is very hard to see … 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. We are under attack, not only from nation-states directly, but also from al Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS, and countless other terrorist groups. Suffice to say, the same sort of cooperation binds together jihadis, Communists, and garden-variety tyrants.”

Reviews of the book were scathing, including by the Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada and Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service. Commented Lobe: “Just as Flynn may have Trump’s ear, Ledeen, a conspiracy-monger of the first order—in 2003, for example, he argued that France and Germany had ‘struck a deal with radical Islam and with radical Arabs‘ in order to defeat U.S. hegemony—may have Flynn’s. This is a truly terrifying thought.”

Even hawkish writers like Eli Lake excoriated the book. In his review, Lake wrote: “But all of this raises questions about the central theme of Field of Fight, that countries like Russia are in an alliance at all with radical Islam. If the Russians have fought ineffectively against jihadis, are we also to believe they are in an alliance with them? When I spoke with Flynn over the weekend, he said why he chose to call it an alliance: ‘It was a simpler way to explain the relationships.'”

Hatred of Islam 

Flynn appears to hold particular animosity for Islam, which he calls a “vicious cancer.” In a video made just before his appearance at the 2016 GOP convention, which was published by an assistant to the discredited conspiracy-mongerer Dinesh D’Souza, Flynn lashed out at the prophet Muhammad, blaming Islam for the Middle East’s failure to “become modern,” reported Lobelog. He then attacked Islam as a “quote-unquote religion,” saying “if they want to have their religion, their quote-unquote religion, and they want to have their security, and they want to pretend like they have women’s rights, and they pretend like everything’s fine … I can tell you, it’s not.” Regarding the Quran, he said “honestly, we’re dealing with a text that is ancient and not helpful and a society that lives on that text and it can’t come to grips with modernity, with becoming modern.”

Love of Russia?

Despite his claims about Russia in the book he coauthored with Ledeen, Flynn has appeared to develop close relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, raising concerns among both Democrats and Republicans. In 2015, he gave a paid speech at a Kremlim-controlled RT television network party, after which he sat next to Putin during dinner. When questioned whether the “optics” of the event could be problematic, he said that “he didn’t have any problem” and that he wanted to make sure “they” understand that “we have people in our country who aren’t going to apologize for who they are.” He then added that one of the things “he learned” at the event was that “Putin has no respect for the United States leadership. Not for the United States, but the leadership.”

Becoming “Unhinged” at the 2016 GOP Convention

Flynn made headlines after his speech at the GOP convention, when he called Hillary Clinton “the enemy camp” and said that she was “somebody who will leave Americans behind on the battlefield.” “As chants of ‘Lock her up!’ rose from the crowd, Flynn nodded with enthusiasm and said he was ‘so proud, standing up here, to be an American.’” Wrote Dana Priest and Greg Miler, “The appearance was only the latest eyebrow-raising episode involving Flynn, 56, who was one of the most respected military intelligence officers of his generation but who has spurned the decorum traditionally expected of retired U.S. flag officers and become the only national security figure of his rank and experience to publicly align himself with Trump, the Republican nominee.”

Flynn used the podium to rail against President Obama, saying that United States does “not need a weak, spineless president more worried about issuing apologies than protecting Americans.” He then made quixotic remarks comparing national security to the debate over transgender bathrooms, saying “war isn’t about political correctness” and “war is not about bathrooms.”

Responding to these other provocative actions by Flynn, two retired military officers told a reporter for Vox “in separate interviews that they considered Flynn to be ‘unhinged.’”

Becoming Politicized 

During his time at the DIA, Flynn reportedly “ruffled feathers in the organization by trying to reshape it for the wars of the 21st century, while also incurring the wrath of the Obama administration for making public statements that had not been fully vetted.”[3] He claims that his removal from the post was “political” and related to his efforts to warn about threats from Islam; however, numerous people with knowledge of the case say that various inappropriate actions and statements he made led to his removal. According to one report, “The decision to remove Flynn was ‘about turbulence and a destructive climate,’ said a former senior U.S. intelligence official. ‘I don’t think anybody in the administration was even aware of his views’ on radical Islam.”

After leaving the DIA in August 2014, Flynn became involved in various business enterprises–including a drone business that could benefit from Trump border security plans–and served as a go-to political pundit on conservative media outlets like Fox News, where he was in the “vanguard of those criticizing” the Obama administration for being weak.[4]

Flynn’s foray into politicking spurred criticism, particularly because of his former position as a senior military officer. “[I]n the post-9/11 era, no one else has combined Flynn’s rank and high-profile position at retirement, and the speed—once out of uniform—with which he began lambasting the policies of the administration he had just been serving,” a June 2015 Foreign Policy article stated. “An even bigger concern is that Flynn could come to be seen as politicizing the military’s officer corps and blurring—or erasing—the line separating senior military generals from partisan politics.”[5]

Said one former colleague in the intelligence community of Flynn’s public attacks on the Obama administration: “I’m always a little bit uncomfortable with recently retired general officers being highly critical [of any U.S. administration]. … They’re still considered generals, and all of us in uniform are taught from the beginning that we swear an oath to subordinate ourselves and not to get involved in policy and politics except in discreet settings when the president or whomever asks.”[6]

Flynn’s tenure at the DIA lasted one year less than the customary three years DIA directors serve. “[7] He has stated that he has “not ruled out running for elected office at some point in the future.”[8]

On Iran and the Middle East

Flynn has long sought to push a more aggressive approach on Iran. For instance, according to the New York Times, Flynn sought to use the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi as a ploy against Iran. Soon after the Benghazi incident, he “took to pushing analysts to find Iran’s hidden hand in the disaster, according to current and former officials familiar with the episode. But like many other investigations into Benghazi, theirs found no evidence of any links, and the general’s stubborn insistence reminded some officials at the agency of how the Bush administration had once relentlessly sought to connect Saddam Hussein and Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

Flynn was critical of the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute and denounced the July 2015 nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 world powers. He has stated that the United States gets “nothing but grief” from the deal and has outlandishly proclaimed that it will lead to “the elimination of Israel” and a “large regional war.”[9]

In June 2015, Flynn testified on Iran before the U.S. House of Representatives, where he argued that “regime change” in Iran was the “best way to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”[10]

Flynn further claimed during his testimony: “Iran has every intention to build a nuclear weapon. They have stated it many times.” This is despite the fact that Iranian officials have consistently maintained that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only[11], and that U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007 and 2011 reported there was no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program or that it had even made the decision to pursue a nuclear weapon.[12]

Flynn is an advisor to the anti-Iran deal group Veterans Against the Deal, which partnered with the American Security Initiative (AIC) to run TV ads opposing the deal in the run up to Congress’s September 17, 2015 deadline to vote on the agreement. AIC’s board includes avowedly militarist figures like former Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).[13]

In a March 2015 interview with Fox News Flynn declared that the Obama administration intentionally remains ignorant about issues in the Middle East. He argued that the United States is working with “almost a policy of willful ignorance,” adding that “we are talking to Iran about a nuclear deal with this almost complete order of breakdown in the Middle East.”[14]

He also argued during the interview that “Iran and radical Islamist extremists” are opposed to the United States because they “do not like our way of life … in fact, they have stated that they want to see the destruction of our way of life.”[15]

Flynn has lent credence to claims that the United States recognized in 2012, shortly after the start of the Syrian uprising, that much of the insurgent opposition in Syria was dominated by radical Islamist groups, pointing to a declassified DIA report stating that in August 2012 the U.S.-backed Syrian insurgency was mostly comprised of “the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq.” Flynn said that the Obama administration made a “willful decision” to turn a “blind eye” to this.[16]

Flynn has pushed back against calls for the United States to lower its footprint in the Middle East or to disengage from other parts of the world. “The U.S. must put the Middle East at the forefront of its foreign policy or this will unravel quickly,” he said in a September 2015 interview.[17] In January 2015 he said: “Retreat, retrenchment and disarmament are historically a recipe for disaster.”[18]

Flynn has also stated that U.S. “unwillingness to fight” creates more danger for the United States than the “arrogance of American power.” He told the Daily Beast in January 2015: “The dangers to the U.S. do not arise from the arrogance of American power, but from unpreparedness or an excessive unwillingness to fight when fighting is necessary.”[19]

 

[1] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[2] Jason Criss Howk, “Lieutenant General (Retired) Michael Flynn and the Iranian Nuclear,” Medium, September 8, 2015, https://medium.com/the-bridge/lieutenant-general-retired-michael-flynn-and-the-iranian-nuclear-agreement-f732535095dc.

[3] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[4] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[5] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[6] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[7] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[8] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[9] Jason Criss Howk, “Lieutenant General (Retired) Michael Flynn and the Iranian Nuclear,” Medium, September 8, 2015, https://medium.com/the-bridge/lieutenant-general-retired-michael-flynn-and-the-iranian-nuclear-agreement-f732535095dc.

[10] Michael Flynn Testimony on Iran, Joint Foreign Affairs and

HASC Subcommittees, June 10, 2015, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA13/20150610/103582/HHRG-114-FA13-Wstate-FlynnM-20150610.pdf.

[11] Shahram Chubin, “The Politics of Iran’s Nuclear Program,” The Iran Primer, http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/politics-irans-nuclear-program.

[12] Matt Duss, “DoD Report: ‘Iran’s Ideological Goals Have Taken A Back Seat To Pragmatic Considerations,’” ThinkProgress, April 21, 2010, http://thinkprogress.org/security/2010/04/21/176017/dod-report-iran%E2%80%99s-ideological-goals-have-taken-a-back-seat-to-pragmatic-considerations/.

Seymour Hersh, “Iran And the Bomb,” The New Yorker, June 6, 2011, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/06/06/iran-and-the-bomb-seymour-m-hersh.

[13] Aaron Bandler, “ACU’s Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy Hosts Panel On Iran Nuclear Deal As Their First Event,” Townhall, June 20, 2015, http://townhall.com/tipsheet/aaronbandler/2015/06/20/acus-center-for-statesmanship-and-diplomacy-hosts-panel-on-iran-nuclear-deal-as-their-first-event-n2014809.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Lobbying Fight Over Iran Nuclear Deal Centers on Democrats,” The New York Times, August 17, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/18/world/middleeast/lobbying-fight-over-iran-nuclear-deal-centers-on-democrats.html

[14] Sandy Fitzgerald, “Gen. Flynn: Obama’s Middle East Policy One of ‘Willful Ignorance,’” Newsmax, March 29, 2015, http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/GenMichael-Flynn-Iran-nuclear-deal/2015/03/29/id/635140/.

[15] Sandy Fitzgerald, “Gen. Flynn: Obama’s Middle East Policy One of ‘Willful Ignorance,’” Newsmax, March 29, 2015, http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/GenMichael-Flynn-Iran-nuclear-deal/2015/03/29/id/635140/.

[16] Nafeez Ahmed, “Officials: Islamic State arose from US support for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” Medium, August 13, 2015, https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/officials-islamic-state-arose-from-us-support-for-al-qaeda-in-iraq-a37c9a60be4.

[17] Jason Criss Howk, “Lieutenant General (Retired) Michael Flynn and the Iranian Nuclear,” Medium, September 8, 2015, https://medium.com/the-bridge/lieutenant-general-retired-michael-flynn-and-the-iranian-nuclear-agreement-f732535095dc.

[18] Stephen Hayes, “Former Defense Intel Chief Blasts Obama,” The Weekly Standard, January 27, 2015, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/former-defense-intel-chief-blasts-obama_826593.html?page=1.

[19] Kimberly Dozier, “Spy General Unloads on Obama’s ISIS War Plan,” The Daily Beast, January 27, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/27/ex-pentagon-spy-chief-blasts-white-house-paralyzed-by-radical-islam.html.

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Sources

[1] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[2] Jason Criss Howk, “Lieutenant General (Retired) Michael Flynn and the Iranian Nuclear,” Medium, September 8, 2015, https://medium.com/the-bridge/lieutenant-general-retired-michael-flynn-and-the-iranian-nuclear-agreement-f732535095dc.

[3] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[4] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[5] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[6] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[7] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[8] Sean Naylor, “Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray,” Foreign Policy, June 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/19/out-of-uniform-and-into-the-political-fray/.

[9] Jason Criss Howk, “Lieutenant General (Retired) Michael Flynn and the Iranian Nuclear,” Medium, September 8, 2015, https://medium.com/the-bridge/lieutenant-general-retired-michael-flynn-and-the-iranian-nuclear-agreement-f732535095dc.

[10] Michael Flynn Testimony on Iran, Joint Foreign Affairs and

HASC Subcommittees, June 10, 2015, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA13/20150610/103582/HHRG-114-FA13-Wstate-FlynnM-20150610.pdf.

[11] Shahram Chubin, “The Politics of Iran’s Nuclear Program,” The Iran Primer, http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/politics-irans-nuclear-program.

[12] Matt Duss, “DoD Report: ‘Iran’s Ideological Goals Have Taken A Back Seat To Pragmatic Considerations,’” ThinkProgress, April 21, 2010,http://thinkprogress.org/security/2010/04/21/176017/dod-report-iran%E2%80%99s-ideological-goals-have-taken-a-back-seat-to-pragmatic-considerations/.

Seymour Hersh, “Iran And the Bomb,” The New Yorker, June 6, 2011, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/06/06/iran-and-the-bomb-seymour-m-hersh.

[13] Aaron Bandler, “ACU’s Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy Hosts Panel On Iran Nuclear Deal As Their First Event,” Townhall, June 20, 2015,http://townhall.com/tipsheet/aaronbandler/2015/06/20/acus-center-for-statesmanship-and-diplomacy-hosts-panel-on-iran-nuclear-deal-as-their-first-event-n2014809.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Lobbying Fight Over Iran Nuclear Deal Centers on Democrats,” The New York Times, August 17, 2015,http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/18/world/middleeast/lobbying-fight-over-iran-nuclear-deal-centers-on-democrats.html

[14] Sandy Fitzgerald, “Gen. Flynn: Obama’s Middle East Policy One of ‘Willful Ignorance,’” Newsmax, March 29, 2015,http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/GenMichael-Flynn-Iran-nuclear-deal/2015/03/29/id/635140/.

[15] Sandy Fitzgerald, “Gen. Flynn: Obama’s Middle East Policy One of ‘Willful Ignorance,’” Newsmax, March 29, 2015,http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/GenMichael-Flynn-Iran-nuclear-deal/2015/03/29/id/635140/.

[16] Nafeez Ahmed, “Officials: Islamic State arose from US support for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” Medium, August 13, 2015, https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/officials-islamic-state-arose-from-us-support-for-al-qaeda-in-iraq-a37c9a60be4.

[17] Jason Criss Howk, “Lieutenant General (Retired) Michael Flynn and the Iranian Nuclear,” Medium, September 8, 2015, https://medium.com/the-bridge/lieutenant-general-retired-michael-flynn-and-the-iranian-nuclear-agreement-f732535095dc.

[18] Stephen Hayes, “Former Defense Intel Chief Blasts Obama,” The Weekly Standard, January 27, 2015, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/former-defense-intel-chief-blasts-obama_826593.html?page=1.

[19] Kimberly Dozier, “Spy General Unloads on Obama’s ISIS War Plan,” The Daily Beast, January 27, 2015,http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/27/ex-pentagon-spy-chief-blasts-white-house-paralyzed-by-radical-islam.html.

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Flynn, Michael Résumé

Affiliations

  • Veteran Against the Deal: Advisor

Government

  • Defense Intelligence Agency: Director (2012 – 2014)
  • Senior Intelligence Officer: International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the Joint Staff, and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)

Education

  • University of Rhode Island: BS, Management Science

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