President-Elect Donald Trump’s choice for National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was a strong one. Though the General might rub some in the intelligence community the wrong way, Flynn has a Reaganesque approach to international security policies, and he is driven by the same inspiration that shaped Ronald Reagan’s worldview: the desire to promote world peace and prosperity. As is well documented, General Flynn publicly disagreed with the Obama White House, urging a comprehensive rethink of our military strategy. That was rejected, and he was fired by Obama. But this lifelong Democrat soon found a like mind in candidate Trump. Thus came the ideological bonding of the most anti-establishment intelligence leader in history with the most anti-establishment presidential candidate in history. The bold national security policy that the Trump/Flynn vision and values delineate is exactly what Americans want and need, and it is exactly what the US requires now to succeed on the world stage. Like Trump, Flynn rejects political correctness; he does not minimize the threats confronting us all at this crucial moment in history in the name of politeness. His truths might sound brash; but they are nevertheless bold and true.
Through his public statements, media interviews, and published ideas, including those presented in his recent book, Field of Fight, one can grasp a coherent understanding of that for which General Flynn stands. Above all, his ethos is new; indeed, it is a breath of fresh air in the highly-politicized environment that shapes current defense discourse and that has unfortunately diminished our national security apparatus.
As he did while serving as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn calls it like it is. Acknowledging the obvious – that we are fighting radical Islamic terrorists – Flynn eschews deploying bland phrases like “global terrorism” to describe imminently lethal threats. Flynn recognizes that words matter in the counterterrorism fight. Success will not come overnight. But the Trump/Flynn ethos will help us grasp exactly the scope of threats we face and thus it will enable us to identify properly the military, diplomatic, and economic, resources needed to defeat radical Islamists.
For years, Flynn has called for a better understanding the social and cultural dimensions that shape the ideologies of al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, Abu Sayyaf and other jihadist groups. The failure to fully grasp these groups’ ideologies threatens American citizens, American interests, and American allies. This is not a reflexive “blame Islam for everything” mindset, as his critics allege, but it confirms that there are malignantly cancerous strains within Islam that promote and effect global instability. Flynn knows that unless we win the fight against these malignancies, a continuous parade of new jihadist leaders and radicalized foot soldiers will rise up and eventually attack us on our shores.
General Flynn remains committed to what the Obama administration never seemed to fully embrace – that America, by its nature, is exceptional, something from which we need not hide nor for which we should offer apology. Indeed, in his full-throated embrace of American values, namely, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and capitalism, Flynn ruffles feathers with some establishment Democrats and Republicans. From calling out the Saudis for turning a blind eye to rampant Wahhabism to criticizing our own military budgets, which are full of waste, Flynn is not afraid to hold our own government accountable for the values that drive our fight.
This does not mean democracy will win the day overnight – indeed, stability is the first crucial stage in the short-to-medium term, particularly in the Middle East. But it does mean recognizing good and evil for what they are, accepting that the US is essential to upholding enduring rights and values, and fighting those who seek to impose totalitarianism. The values Flynn espouses will stop Tehran’s terroristic expansion, they will destroy ISIS, they will change our fight in the Middle East, and they will lead to peace and prosperity.
Finally, and perhaps most important, Flynn lives the core lesson of George Washington, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. He knows, like they knew, that a strong defense is the essential element to effective deterrence and national security. As the commander of a military intelligence battalion in Afghanistan and later as the director of intelligence for the US Central Command, Flynn’s use of cutting-edge intelligence techniques coupled with high technology solutions like Predator drones led to what is widely acknowledged as some of the greatest counter-terrorism gains of our generation. Flynn has been at the forefront of adapting intelligence to 21st century realities. By bringing together hard and soft power, and approaching diplomatic engagements from a position of strength, Flynn knows what it takes to reverse our decaying battlefield advantage, a trend sadly accelerated by the Obama administration.
General Flynn blends strong values, knowledge, commitment, and experience to shape his approach to international security problems. He understands that “set-in-stone” doctrines might need to be broken. We can, in fact, call our enemies what they are; we can convince the American people that the war against our enemies will take many years to win; and we can defeat our enemies through new operational tactics and ideological strategies. This is why Flynn, as brash as he might seem to some, actually has the right mix of boldness, honesty, and values we need to keep America secure and strong for years to come.
Yassin K. Fawaz is chief executive of the Raddington Group, a DC-based risk management firm. He is experienced in international security, and frequently has provided strategic advice on high-level political and security issues in Asia, Latin America, and across the Middle East and Africa.