Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was once a highly respected U.S. intelligence chief. Now he’s warning about the Islamic State imposing sharia in the United States and urging cooperation with Russia.
- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London., Dan De LuceDan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent. He joined FP in June 2015 after working as Pentagon correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Prior to that, Dan reported for the Guardian from Iran until he was expelled by the regime in 2004. After the end of communist rule in Eastern Europe, Dan worked as a freelance journalist in Prague. He later covered the war in former Yugoslavia for Reuters from 1993 to 1995 before serving as Sarajevo bureau chief after the conflict. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dan lives in Washington with his wife, journalist and author Caitriona Palmer, and his four children.
One of the top contenders to serve as vice president in a potential Donald Trump White House believes that radical Islamists are capable of conquering the continental United States. And he knows what that America will look like.
“I’m totally convinced that, without a proper sense of urgency, we will be eventually defeated, dominated, and very likely destroyed” by Islamic militants, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn writes in his new book, The Field of Fight, which was released Tuesday.
“[T]here’s no doubt,” he adds, “that they are dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.”
Flynn, along with co-author Michael Ledeen, a staunch neoconservative who advocated taking on Iran along with a host of other Middle East regimes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, says “radical Islamists” currently in the United States are taking steps “toward creating an Islamic state right here at home,” by laying the legal and cultural groundwork that will give rise to sharia. That echoes a commonly used — and thoroughly debunked — conservative talking point.
“[W]e’d live the way the unfortunate residents of the ‘caliphate’ or the oppressed citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran live today, in a totalitarian state under the dictates of the most rigid version of Sharia,” he writes.
It’s hard to believe these melodramatic assessments come from the keyboard of a recently retired three-star general who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency until late 2014 and, before that, the secretive Joint Special Operations Command’s intelligence shops in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they do.
Flynn’s heated rhetoric and plunge into politics have come as a jolt to those who worked with him in the military and at the Defense Department, where he was known as a sharp innovator who was not afraid to deliver bad news about the state of the war effort — or the quality of the intelligence being collected.
He stunned his superiors at the Pentagon in early 2010 by publishing a paper with the Center for a New American Security, a left-leaning national security think tank, criticizing how the U.S. military used intelligence in Afghanistan. At the time, he was serving as the top military intelligence official in Kabul under then-commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal but said he wanted his criticisms and proposed fixes to be seen by those outside the normal chain of command.
Flynn’s sterling military record makes him an unlikely figure to join forces with Trump, who has praised Saddam Hussein, disparaged veterans who served in Iraq, and even belittled America’s most famous prisoner of war, Sen. John McCain. While Flynn could be forgiving in his zeal to cut through the red tape as an officer, he was not given to hyperbole when describing intelligence threats. Or for giving Russia the benefit of the doubt in his analyses.
But Flynn’s career has taken an unexpected turn since being fired by the Obama administration in 2014 after waging — and losing — a bureaucratic turf war. He signed up as a talking head on RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a Kremlin-funded, English-language news organization that pushes pro-Moscow and pro-Vladimir Putin viewpoints presented as objective news.
Flynn even traveled to Moscow in December to attend a gala celebrating the 10th anniversary of the organization, where he sat at the head table just two seats away from the Russian president, a stunning turn of events for a man who just a year earlier was one of America’s top intelligence officials.
While Flynn has appeared on Moscow’s English-language television mouthpiece, his former colleagues in the military and the intelligence community — including the U.S. military’s top-ranking officer, Gen. Joseph Dunford — have described Russia as America’s biggest threat.
Flynn offered no public criticism of Russia’s role in Syria when interviewed last year by RT, despite Moscow’s backing of the Damascus regime and its bombing of some U.S.-backed rebels. “We’ve got to look at both sides here,” Flynn said in one interview, saying Moscow and Washington should look for ways to cooperate in Syria.
“I really believe that the best way forward is to mutually agree that we have common interests and we’ve got to figure out how to work together to achieve those common interests,” he added in the interview.
Flynn also appeared in a long interview with one of RT’s anchors, Sophie Shevardnadze, the granddaughter of former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, and reiterated his call for finding common ground with Putin in Syria.
The retired general’s embrace of RT fits in well with Trump and his campaign. The real estate mogul — who has pursued business prospects in Russia over the years — has praised Putin as a strong leader who he believes he could work with if he became commander in chief. And one of Trump’s foreign-policy aides, Carter Page, a former advisor to Russian state energy giant Gazprom, recently said in a speech in Moscow that Western countries needed to stop antagonizing Russia.
But in their book, Flynn and Ledeen take a dimmer view of the Russian intervention in Syria, criticizing Moscow for working with Iran and not focusing enough on defeating the Islamic State.
In fact, the book argues that Iran is the ringleader of a massive international alliance stretching from Europe to Asia to South America — and which is intent on destroying the West.
“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,” Flynn writes. While that is a shockingly wide net, the authors say, “Iran is the linchpin of the alliance, its centerpiece.”
Putin is a willing partner in this cabal, as he “fully intends to do the same thing as, and in tandem with, the Iranians: pursue the war against us. The other alliance members do, too.”
Putting Iran at the center jibes with Ledeen’s previous work, which emphasizes Tehran’s funding of terrorism across the globe and accuses President Barack Obama of weakening the West to the benefit of the mullahs in Iran. In a speech last November, Ledeen said of Obama that there is “no question that he loves radical Muslims all over the world” and he is “carrying out Iranian foreign policy” by failing to take on the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
The transition from a straight-forward military career to a partisan politico offering sound bites on live television has not gone so smoothly for the retired general, who has looked uncomfortable fielding queries about highly charged social issues.
Flynn struggled to formulate answers to questions about abortion and same-sex marriage over the weekend. Asked about the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, he replied: “You know what? I’m like — I’m about national security. I’m not going to, you know, I mean.”
He then delivered a rambling performance Tuesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, where he declared the U.S. economy to be “the greatest threat to our country, and frankly to the world, right now.” He advocated making sure the U.S. dollar remains the strongest global currency and that “the English language [remains] the language of choice for global commerce. Those are critical.” When asked, he declined to outline any economic plan.
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