Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Flynn appears in: He’s no Kissinger, but neither is he a worn-out Capitol Hill hack

The rap on him in the intelligence world is that he is great tactically but clueless strategically.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn speaks during the inaugural Intelligence Community Summit organized by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) on September 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn speaks during the inaugural Intelligence Community Summit organized by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) on September 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn speaks during the inaugural Intelligence Community Summit organized by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) on September 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

As national security advisor.

The rap on him in the intelligence world is that he is great tactically but clueless strategically. As Max Boot tweeted this morning, “Mike Flynn is a JSOC targeteer. Very good at finding targets. But can he adopt larger perspective as national security adviser? Big Q.”

Not what you want in this slot. But I have to say, still far more qualified than many people who have held the post.

As national security advisor.

The rap on him in the intelligence world is that he is great tactically but clueless strategically. As Max Boot tweeted this morning, “Mike Flynn is a JSOC targeteer. Very good at finding targets. But can he adopt larger perspective as national security adviser? Big Q.”

Not what you want in this slot. But I have to say, still far more qualified than many people who have held the post.

It is striking to me how often presidential picks for national security advisor flame out quickly. One reason is that the job doesn’t require confirmation, so it is easier to move one person out and another in.

My fear is that Trump, eventually realizing Flynn is not the guy for this job, repeats one of Kennedy’s biggest mistakes and, as JFK did with Maxwell Taylor, returns Flynn to active duty as chairman of the JCS. That was a disaster that helped plunge this country deeply into the Vietnam War.

Meantime, I see that Trump is apparently considering two retired generals — James Mattis and Jack Keane — for defense secretary. Both are smart, thoughtful, strategic thinkers, real standouts over the last 10 years, and both would know how to tamp down Flynn. I just find myself wondering what happens the first time Secretary Mattis quotes Marcus Aurelius and Trump replies, “That Puerto Rican singer?” (Fwiw, NBC says Mattis is no longer under consideration.)

Mattis would be in an especially interesting position, because he is quite conscious that the American experiment is a fragile one that could go wrong. This is something he has mentioned often in speeches to Marines and other younger people.

I also see that Rep. Mike Pompeo supposedly will get CIA. True confession: I have never heard of the guy until today. He’s a graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School, apparently backed by the Koch brothers.

As for Jeff Sessions, who apparently will be nominated to be attorney general, I remember covering him in hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee. My conclusion was that he was the member of Congress most likely to secretly be a space alien.

This is shaping up as the most reactionary administration in American history. I have a feeling that it will crack up by 2019. I don’t know how. After that, President Pence as traumatized caretaker until the election?

Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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