Over the past few decades, the coordination of US foreign policy and military actions have been coordinated by the National Security Council. The guy calling the shots, as are his immediate subordinates, are on the personal staff of the President and are not subject to confirmation by the Senate. Let’s take a quick look at what we know of the line up.
National Security Adviser: Mike Flynn.
I view this as the weak link in Trump’s foreign policy chain. No one gets to be a three-star by being politically naive or stupid. It may happen in books, it doesn’t happen in real life. What does happen, however, is that a not insignificant number of general officers develop the notion that they are always right simply because they have come to mistake deference for agreement. There is a lot in Flynn’s management of the Defense Intelligence Agency that should give us pause:
“He made a lot of changes,” one close observer of Flynn’s time at the D.I.A. told me. “Not in a strategic way—A to Z—but back and forth.”
Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true, like when he asserted that three-quarters of all new cell phones were bought by Africans or, later, that Iran had killed more Americans than Al Qaeda. In private, his staff tried to dissuade him from repeating these lines.
Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues. Soon, according to former associates, a parallel power structure developed within the D.I.A. to fence him in, and to keep the nearly seventeen-thousand-person agency working. “He created massive antibodies in the building,” the former colleague said.
In addition to this, I still find Flynn’s flirtation with RT.com, a Kremlin directed media outlet, to be troubling.
If Trump’s foreign policy stalls, this is where it will happen and then we will see if Trump really has what it takes to fire one of his earliest and most loyal backers.
Deputy National Security Adviser: Clare Lopez.
Lopez is a career CIA agent and has worked in the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. She believes we were had on the Iran nuclear deal. She believes the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated most levels of government. She believes radical islam is actually out to kill us. She has been vice president of Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy. YMMV as to how you interpret that experience. There is no way of judging how well she will do the cat-herding the NSC has to do, but she has a lot of the right positions and instincts.
Deputy Security Adviser: Walid Phares.
Like kryptonite to islamofascists and their apologists. Phares alleged served in a Christian militia during the Lebanese civil war. He’s been a fixture on Capitol Hill and in DC for a long time. To say that he thinks radical islam is a threat is an understatement. There is no way of predicting how effective he will be at coordinating security activities but one can bet CAIR will no longer be setting US anti-terrorism policy.
Deputy Security Adviser: Andy Keiser.
Chief of staff to Kansas Congressman Mike Rogers before becoming president of Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security. Keiser is an odd addition to the NSC. His group could accurately be classified as alumni of the George W. Bush foreign policy team. How well he will fit into an NSC headed by Flynn is anyone’s guess.
What we can be assure of is this. Flynn has more competence in any given appendage of his body that Obama’s entire national security council. (Susan Rice? Seriously? The woman who lied to the entire nation repeatedly over Benghazi?) The Obama NSC is composed of academics and political parasites who couldn’t organize a two car funeral and whose view of grand strategy is “what are we having for lunch today?” There is no rhyme or reason to their actions. I say that in the most generous and charitable way because if you did look for an overarching strategic theme it would be to minimize American influence and encourage the rise to nuclear armed terrorist states.
The fact that the appointees are of a like mind on the threat of radical islam, and Flynn has intimate experience in dealing with that threat, indicates that will be the initial focus of a Trump presidency.
There are a lot of question marks in the appointments, to be sure, but there is room for positive optimism.