President-elect Donald Trump has asked retired general and former Defense Intelligence Agency head Michael Flynn to serve as his national security adviser. It is a crucial post which oversees the execution of Trump's foreign and defense policy.
That Trump likes Flynn is no surprise. Trump values loyalty and Flynn has stood by him through thick and thin. But if Trump hopes to defeat the Islamic State, push back other enemies and restore America's position in the world, Flynn is the wrong man. He will undercut Trump's ability to achieve his goals.
Part of the job of the national security adviser is to ensure that the reality of the world is not lost within the bubble of the Oval Office. What is needed is sage counsel, not a yes-man.
How ironic it would be if Trump — who promised to make America great — instead follows some of the worst foreign-policy instincts of Jimmy Carter. When, in 1975, the young, idealistic governor of Georgia announced his long-shot bid for the presidency, few took him seriously. Carter was an able executive, but he had no real experience on the world stage.
What he lacked in foreign policy experience, however, he substituted for with idealism. Carter's first foreign policy speech was a pledge to withdraw all U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula. What Carter saw as a grand gesture at Cold War rapprochement, his advisers knew to be naïve.
When Carter clinched the Democratic nomination and then won the presidency, his ramblings could no longer be ignored. American allies in Seoul, Tokyo and Taipei considered him dangerous. They knew North Korean Leader Kim-Il Sung's mind.
Fortunately, Carter had tapped a strong-willed national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. He and other top appointees were willing to speak truth to power rather than simply affirm the President's beliefs. They convinced Carter that his trust in Pyongyang and Moscow was misplaced.
This is why Flynn's embrace of Russia is so troubling. As DIA head, Flynn should understand Russian President Vladimir Putin's mindset: The KGB shaped Putin. The Russian leader sees diplomacy not as a means to compromise, but rather as a zero-sum game. As he sees it, for Moscow to win, Washington must lose.
During Flynn's tenure at the DIA, Putin undertook a military and nuclear build-up unseen since Cold War days. Russian aircraft harassed American pilots and probed American airspace. Russian submarines approach American waters and shadow its ships.
That against this backdrop, Flynn accepted a paid junket to visit Moscow and celebrate the Kremlin's propaganda was poor judgment. The only difference between Flynn's Moscow trip and Bill Clinton's post-retirement invitation to North Korea was that Clinton's aides had the sense to force him to decline.
But is Flynn right that making nice to Russia and for that matter Syria is a price to pay to defeat the Islamic State? Hardly. Until 2014, the only air force flying over Syria was Syria's. Not a single time did Syrian President Bashar Assad order it to bomb the Islamic State capital at Raqqa; rather, he used it to terrorize civilians.
Assad's goal was to create a binary choice: Me or the caliphate. Too many Syrians chose the latter. Rather than be the great secular hope, Assad became the Islamic State's greatest recruiting tool.
Russia's carpet bombing — often of every group but the Islamic State — only exacerbated the problem.
The biggest reason why Flynn should be disqualified from the White House, though, is his lobbying. Taking money from foreign clients for intelligence advice while receiving top-secret intelligence briefings is the type of thing Trump promised not to tolerate.
That Flynn published the Turkish leader's talking points in an Op-Ed under his own name on Election Day and never bothered to disclose his lobbying activity shows poor judgment and may even contravene the Foreign Agents Registration Act. To shill for Turkey is especially problematic: Turkey has supported and supplied the Islamic State, and punished those who blew the whistle.
Flynn served honorably in Afghanistan, but if Trump wants to make America great and force the bureaucracy to adhere to his policies, Flynn's greed and poor judgment will hamper rather than help.