When I first heard that Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) under President Obama, was rumored to be on Donald Trump’s short list for the GOP vice presidential nomination, my ears pricked up. I wrote about Flynn here, and Antiwar.com has covered the controversy surrounding the 2012 DIA report that warned the Obama administration that its policy of regime change in Syria would lead to the rise of a Sunni Islamic “caliphate” in Syria – a warning that fell on deaf ears.
Flynn was forced out of his job as DIA director because, he says, his views “did not fit the narrative.” But what narrative is he talking about? In order to understand this intramural fight within the highest levels of the intelligence and military communities, we have to go back to the Bush administration, and the Iraq war.
As the US was fighting a losing battle against Iraqi insurgents, Gen. David Petraeus arose to show us the way forward, and the myth of the successful “surge” was born. The Petraeus strategy was to recruit Sunni tribesmen in the Iraqi hinterlands bordering Syria to fight al-Qaeda, to win their “hearts and minds.” In reality, this meant putting them on the American payroll: we’ll never know how many millions of taxpayer dollars went to financing this effort, but no doubt it was a considerable sum.
As the tribes took on al-Qaeda, the “surge” was declared a success – but the blowback wasn’t long in coming. These same tribes soon turned against the central government in Baghdad, and their American protectors, while the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq migrated across the border to Syria, where they became the core of what morphed into ISIS. Those Sunni “hearts and minds” were now pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the “caliph” of the Islamic State.
The Petraeus strategy was the logical extension of the Bush administration’s “Sunni turn,” which Seymour Hersh writes about here:
“To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”
Having finished off Iraq, the neocons in the Bush administration were setting their sights on Iran. In league with Prince Bandar, then head of Saudi intelligence – and a close friend of the Bushes and Vice President Dick Cheney – the US covertly allied with Sunni radicals, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to undermine the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and bolster opposition to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Obama administration inherited this strategy and took it to its logical conclusion: giving its imprimatur to the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, open support for Syrian rebels, and the overthrow of Ghadafi in Libya and the handing over of the country to radical Sunni militias. Hillary Clinton, in spite of her self-proclaimed ties to Hosni Mubarak – whom she described as “a friend of the family” – soon jumped on board the Sunni train and became the principal advocate for taking the administration farther down that road. The end of that road was revealed by Petraeus when he came out for support to al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise in a bid to overthrow Assad.
Which brings us back to the 2012 DIA report and Gen. Flynn’s conflict with the Obama administration’s “narrative.” The report was quite explicit about the responsibility of the US and its regional allies – the Saudis, the Qataris, the Gulf emirates – for aiding and abetting the Syrian “opposition,” which led to the creation of ISIS. In an interview with al-Jazeera, Flynn offered his unblinking assessment:
Al-Jazeera: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?
Flynn: I think the administration.
Al-Jazeera: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?
Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.
Al-Jazeera: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.”
Before serving as head of the DIA, Flynn was the Senior Intelligence officer with JSOC, the elite military command that directs Special Forces operations throughout the world: essentially the spearhead of the fight against terrorism. For him to see Washington pursue a policy of actively aiding our sworn enemies, nurturing the terrorist nests that were springing up in Syria and Libya – all in the name of the “war on terrorism” – was simply too much for him to bear in silence. That DIA report was a direct challenge to the administration’s policy, and it wasn’t long before he was asked to resign, or be fired.
Asked if ISIS wouldn’t be where they are today if the invasion of Iraq had never happened, Flynn replied: “Absolutely. …The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq.” He added:
“First we went to Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda was based. Then we went into Iraq. Instead of asking ourselves why the phenomenon of terror occurred, we were looking for locations. This is a major lesson we must learn in order not to make the same mistakes again.”
As Ron Paul put it, “Flynn is no non-interventionist. But he does make the connection between the US invasion of Iraq and the creation of ISIS and other terrorist organizations, and he at least urges us to consider why they seek to attack us.”
The War Party is already ginning up a campaign against Flynn, smearing him as a “tool” of the Kremlin because he – like Trump – advocates cooperating with Russia, rather than starting World War III. They point to his attendance at a social function where he – gasp! – actually sat next to Vladimir Putin! The same neo-McCarthyites who point to Trump’s business ties to Russia as “evidence” that he’s a Manchurian candidate, are pushing the same party line against Flynn.
What the editors of Politico and the Washington Post don’t understand is that Russophobia is an affliction that almost exclusively infects the political class: ordinary Americans have no interest in starting Cold War II with Russia. Like elite dismay over Brexit, this is a theme that has zero electoral significance outside Washington and New York’s tonier neighborhoods.
Both Flynn and Trump take the “war on terrorism” seriously enough to question our crazy policy of aiding jihadists in Libya and Syria, while the Clinton crowd and their journalistic camarilla know it’s a con game — which, of course, they play to the hilt –Â to bamboozle the public into tolerating perpetual warfare.
Given the alternatives – e.g. Newt Gingrich and Sen. Jeff Sessions – Trump choosing Flynn as his running mate is the least worst outcome. While, as Ron Paul says, he’s no noninterventionist, on the other hand he’s a rebel against Washington’s “regime change” consensus, an advocate of a common sense approach to Russia, and yet more evidence of Trump’s ability to think outside-the-box. An added plus for political wonks: he’s a registered Democrat, which further breaks down the super-partisan red-blue paradigm that’s done so much to distort American political discourse.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN