General Flynn’s Sobering Exit Interview

“[W]ith all these crises we’ve been discussing, the nation is confronting a dangerous era, facing multiple threats and challenges from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Islamic terrorist groups, you name it. If I wasn’t in there shaking things up, I probably wouldn’t have been doing my job.”  — Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn

Lt Gen Michael Flynn

Lt Gen Michael Flynn

After 33 years of service in the U.S. Army, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn is retiring a year earlier than planned as chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. While Flynn downplays the possibility (though neither does he categorically deny it), rumor has it that Flynn was pressured into early retirement by the Obama administration, in particular Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr. Flynn was known for being “disruptive”, as much for his management style as for his refusal to go along with the administration’s official positions regarding, for example, whether or not the U.S. is safer now than before 9/11, or the current state of al Qaeda, or the best way to structure and deploy intelligence assets.

“Flynn had challenged the Obama administration narrative that al-Qaeda’s brand of nihilistic extremism had died with Osama bin Laden in 2011. He had bruised egos at the DIA trying to transform the 17,000-person bureaucracy into a more agile and forward-deployed intel operation, one shaped by the lessons he had learned as intelligence chief for Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq and Afghanistan, working for the ill-fated iconoclast Gen. Stanley McChrystal. As early as 2010, Flynn made waves with a report, Fixing Intel, that said US intelligence could not answer ‘fundamental questions’ in Afghanistan.”

Apparently, his superiors finally decided they had had enough head-butting with their contrarian DIA director and told him it was time to go. [Note: To be clear, I have not read anything implying any unprofessional or insubordinate actions or attitude by Flynn. Quite the contrary.] Whether or not one agrees with Flynn’s vision for improved intelligence-gathering at the DIA or the frankness of his disagreement with the administration, he has a wealth of knowledge, experience, and a great understanding of the Middle East situation that needs to be heard and seriously considered by Congress and others.

The above quote is from the intro to an “exit interview” Flynn did recently with James Kitfield at Breaking Defense. Following (and at the top of this post) are a few quotes from Flynn himself that stood out to me….

“[W]hat I see each day is the most uncertain, chaotic, and confused international environment that I’ve witnessed in my entire career.”

“[W]hen we pull combat troops out of Afghanistan at the end of this year, it’s not going to feel like that war is over. To me, it feels like we’ll be facing a familiar threat and heightened uncertainty for a long time yet.”

“What I see is a strategic landscape and boundaries on the global map changing right before our eyes. That change is being accelerated by the explosion of social media. And we in the intelligence community are trying to understand it all.”

“[A]nother threat I’ve warned about is Islamic terrorists in Syria acquiring chemical or biological weapons. We know they are trying to get their hands on chemical weapons and use what they already have to create a chemical weapons capability.”

“These proliferating Islamic terrorist groups have also for years been developing connective tissue to each other and back to al-Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Some of those connections are pretty strong. We’re not talking bits and pieces or nascent connections….

So when asked if the terrorists were on the run, we couldn’t respond with any answer but ‘no.’ When asked if the terrorists were defeated, we had to say ‘no.’ Anyone who answers ‘yes’ to either of those questions either doesn’t know what they are talking about, they are misinformed, or they are flat out lying.”

Granted, I’m no expert. But, it sounds to me like the general has — and has had — a better handle on what’s going on and what needs to be done intel-wise than his soon-to-be former bosses at the Pentagon and the White House. Contrary to the President’s claim three years ago, the “tide of war” is certainly not “receding”. If al Qaeda is any less of a threat now, it is because of the rise of the even more barbaric “Islamic State”, who in a few short months have effectively taken control of an area roughly the size of Great Britain and who fully intend to aggressively fulfill their “vision of global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate.”

As Newt Gingrich concluded in his own review of Flynn’s interview: “America needs a new strategy for global affairs. But as long as our leaders refuse to understand the emerging world as it is, not as how they want it to be, we will be stuck with a floundering foreign policy of wishful thinking. Congress can help meet this challenge by inviting General Flynn to expand on his candid thoughts in Congressional testimony about the threats we are facing and how we can keep America safe.”

I’m with Newt. I sincerely hope our congressional leaders take Lt. Gen. Flynn’s assessments seriously and act wisely upon them.

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