February 18, 2017

KNOWING YOUR ALLIES (profanity alert):

MICHAEL FLYNN, GENERAL CHAOS : What the removal of Flynn as the national-security adviser reveals about Donald Trump's White House.  (Nicholas Schmidle, 2/18/17, The New Yorker)

Congress created the National Security Council in 1947, in the hope of establishing a more orderly process for coördinating foreign and defense policy. Six years later, Dwight Eisenhower decided that the council needed a chief and named the first national-security adviser--a former soldier and banker, Robert Cutler. The position evolved into one of enormous importance. McGeorge Bundy, who served under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, regarded himself as a "traffic cop"--controlling access to the President. Under Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger dramatically expanded the role, often meeting directly with the Soviet Ambassador, and bypassing the State Department.

The temptations of power nearly overwhelmed Ronald Reagan's Presidency, in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair, when national-security staffers were discovered to be running covert actions involving Iran and Central America. The scandal prompted some to call for the national-security adviser to become a Senate-confirmed position. Heading off these demands, George H. W. Bush chose a retired general, Brent Scowcroft, who had held the job under Gerald Ford, to return to the role, confident that Scowcroft would respect the lines between intelligence work, military operations, and policymaking. "He will be an honest broker," Bush said.

Since then, according to Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush's second-term national-security adviser, the "honest broker" has become the model for Republican and Democratic Administrations alike. That meant overseeing a process that is "fair and transparent, where each member of the council can get his views to the President," Hadley said. In late November, Hadley met with Flynn, who was seeking advice, at Trump Tower. Hadley left the meeting optimistic that Flynn meant to act as a facilitator in the traditional way.

But Flynn's challenge--and now, potentially, his successor's--was unique, as Bannon had seemingly moved to set up a kind of "parallel, shadow" national-security staff for his own purposes, one council staffer told me. Bannon, who had no direct experience in policymaking, seized a central role on issues dear to Trump. For example, during the campaign Trump had railed against nato members for not paying their full freight, which unnerved diplomats and politicians throughout Europe. On February 5th, according to the staffer, Bannon sent questions to the N.S.C. staff, requesting a breakdown of contributions to nato from individual members since 1949. Many of the rank-and-file staffers were alarmed, not just because the questions seemed designed to impugn nato's legitimacy but because they represented a breach of protocol by tasking N.S.C. staffers with political duties. "Those were Flynn's people, not political operatives," the staffer said.

Flynn came into the White House wanting to streamline the bureaucracy of the N.S.C., which is staffed mostly by career civil servants from the State Department, the Pentagon, and intelligence agencies, believing that it moved too ponderously under Obama. But Flynn, in a contest for power with Bannon, soon seemed to realize that the traditional setup could help him build influence in the White House. "It was dawning on him that the process privileged him," the N.S.C. staffer said. [...]

Back in Washington, Flynn was assigned to the office of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. Flynn's success in Iraq and Afghanistan made him popular in foreign-policy circles. In April, 2011, he attended a luncheon at the Army and Navy Club, a members-only hotel and restaurant two blocks from the White House. About two dozen guests sat in a private room, around a long table. Iran was a major focus of the conversation, according to one of the event's hosts, Mary Beth Long, a former C.I.A. case officer and a senior Pentagon official during the George W. Bush Administration.

The attendees included a neoconservative historian named Michael Ledeen, who was then a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. Ledeen had been obsessed with Iran for decades. In the mid-eighties, as a consultant to Reagan's National Security Council, he played a central role in the Iran-Contra affair--introducing Oliver North, Reagan's counterterrorism adviser, to Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms dealer. Ledeen's hope had been to stir up dissent inside Iran through Ghorbanifar's network of influential contacts, according to the Presidential commission that investigated the affair. (Ledeen disputes this.) Instead, Ghorbanifar wound up as the middleman in the sale of weapons to Iran, in exchange for Tehran's assistance in freeing American hostages held by Iranian-backed Islamists in Lebanon. But Ledeen's zeal for regime change in Iran remained undiminished. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he called for American forces to press on, into Iran. "As Ronald Reagan once said, 'America is too great a country to settle for small dreams,' " he wrote, in 2002. Iraq was a distraction; Iran was "the real war."

Flynn, too, increasingly viewed Iran as a great menace. In Iraq, he had seen scores of young Americans killed by sophisticated armor-piercing explosives, supplied to Shiite militias by the Quds Force, an élite unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Flynn and Ledeen became close friends; in their shared view of the world, Ledeen supplied an intellectual and historical perspective, Flynn a tactical one. "I've spent my professional life studying evil," Ledeen told me. Flynn said, in a recent speech, "I've sat down with really, really evil people"--he cited Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Russians, Chinese generals--"and all I want to do is punch the guy in the nose."

A month after the luncheon, a team of Navy seals raided a compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. Flynn was critical of the limitations placed on intelligence work after the raid. Analysts had spent several weeks going through the hard drives and phones seized in the raid looking for "targeting data"--clues on the whereabouts of other terrorists--and leads on imminent threats. But Flynn and others advocated going deeper, with the hope of learning more about Al Qaeda's finances and backers and organizational structure. A team returned to the materials and uncovered documents that seemed to point to a closer relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran than was previously understood. In one memorandum, a lieutenant asks bin Laden for permission to send an associate planning attacks in Europe into Iran for "around three months" to "train the brothers." Flynn saw such references as evidence of Iran's duplicity, in supporting Shiite and Sunni extremists alike. It seemed validation of Ledeen's views on Iran. (Others in the intelligence community, including Panetta, the C.I.A. director at the time of the raid, were dubious about a close relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran.)

James Mattis, the Marine general in charge of U.S. Central Command, whose responsibilities included the Middle East and Central Asia, had been pushing for more aggressive action against Iran. In the summer of 2011, Mattis, who is now the Secretary of Defense, wanted to launch a rocket assault on an Iranian power plant in retaliation for the killing of six American soldiers by Iranian rockets in Baghdad. But the Obama Administration was hoping to get out of the Middle East, not risk starting another war there. Flynn felt that the Administration was being naïve, and that no one seemed to care about what he insisted was the collusion between Al Qaeda and Iran. "He was incensed," an analyst who worked with Flynn at the time said. "He saw this as truth suppression."

In April, 2012, Obama nominated Flynn to be the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Within the intelligence community, the agency was considered a backwater. "It's the bastard child," Mary Beth Long, the former C.I.A. officer, said. The agency, whose headquarters are in southwest Washington, produced reports on topics like Middle Eastern weapons deals, changes of command in China, and troop movements on the Korean peninsula--essential work for assessing foreign military capabilities but hardly exciting.

To invigorate the D.I.A., Flynn wanted to break down the barriers between collectors and analysts; enhance the stable of clandestine case officers who operated overseas, like their C.I.A. counterparts; and reorganize the agency on the basis of geography. The goal was to transform the D.I.A. into a more agile organization.

Flynn's ideas were informed by his experience in helping to overhaul jsoc. But it was unclear whether they would work at the D.I.A., with seventeen thousand employees. "jsoc has a small, tight-knit group of folks making real-time tactical decisions that must be executed tonight," a senior military intelligence official told me. "A big organization like the D.I.A. just can't respond that quickly."

Peter Shelby, a retired marine and former D.I.A. official, told me he assumed that Flynn would be methodical in his approach: spend a few months at headquarters; learn how the organization worked; cultivate respected agency veterans; and then introduce changes. Instead, Shelby said, "Flynn came in and threw a bomb to explode the whole place, and then just let the dust settle."

Employees started to complain. Many sought reassignment with other agencies. "Morale was in the toilet," Shelby said. "To higher-level observers, Flynn looked like this bold leader, willing to make changes in the face of opposition. But, the further down you went, the more negative impact there was, because it was complete chaos."

Moreover, Flynn could be sloppy with numbers and details--misstatements that his staffers derided as "Flynn facts." His habit of chasing hunches also exasperated some staff members. In September, 2012, after the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate and annex in Benghazi, Flynn urged an investigation into an Iran connection; his insistence that Iran was involved "stunned" subordinates, according to the Times. (Flynn denies that he asked for a probe.) An intelligence analyst who worked with Flynn during this period told me that his iconoclasm sometimes went too far. "By nature, Flynn takes a contrarian approach to even the most simple analytic issues," the analyst said. "After Benghazi, I remember him using the phrase 'black swan' a lot. What's a 'black swan'? He was looking for the random event that nobody could predict. Look, you certainly have to keep your eye on the ball for that, but there's a reason why it's a black swan. You shouldn't dedicate a ton of time to that." [...]

Flynn began developing a public profile as a decorated former general with experience in fighting Islamic extremism. A month later, he made an appearance on "Charlie Rose." He spoke at length about the threat posed by the Islamic State, which had been executing hostages and rapidly acquiring territory in northern Iraq and Syria. But America faced bigger foes than isis, he said. "Iran has killed more Americans than Al Qaeda has through state sponsors, through its terrorist network, called Hezbollah."

This was a puzzling assertion. "Hezbollah has killed more Americans than Al Qaeda?" Rose asked.

Flynn began a count, starting with Hezbollah's 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed two hundred and eighty-three people. He cited other instances, but his math made little sense, and the numbers fell far short of the nearly three thousand killed by Al Qaeda's attacks on 9/11.

Rose moved on, but a friend who had accompanied Flynn to the studio pulled him aside after the taping and questioned his Iran claim. One of Rose's producers offered to fact-check the segment, but he waved off the suggestion. Another friend who'd come to the taping suggested contacting an expert from the intelligence community. That wouldn't be necessary, Flynn said--he would just call Michael Ledeen. [...]

In April, 2015, Flynn accepted an invitation to spend a week at Dartmouth. Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department counterterrorism chief who now directed the school's international-affairs center, had come to know Flynn in Afghanistan. He considered him friendly and engaging, and thought students and faculty would appreciate his insights and his unconventionality. He set up class visits, dinner discussions, and a talk, which Flynn titled "World Without Order."

Benjamin told me that he quickly realized during the visit that Flynn's "easygoing pragmatism" had given way to some "very hard-edged ideas," particularly on Iran. Flynn voiced contempt toward Iran's leaders ("They are liars") and said that they had "no right" to participate in negotiations with the United States over their nuclear program. (The Iran nuclear deal was signed in July, 2015.)

"I've encountered plenty of military officers who were deeply upset by the role that Iranian-backed militias played in Iraq, but Flynn's animosity was off the charts," Benjamin said. Flynn expressed similarly harsh views of Islam in general, describing the faith as a political ideology, and not a religion. Benjamin, who, in 2002, co-wrote a book, "The Age of Sacred Terror," about the ideological war that America faced against radical Islam, deemed Flynn's comments "pointlessly pejorative" and thought they would serve only to inflame extremists. He began discouraging Dartmouth's administrators and faculty from attending the events.

In effect, he fails to understand the entirety of the War on Terror, which is simply against Salafism/Wahhabism.
Posted by at February 18, 2017 11:27 AM

  

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