The role of National Security Advisor is a funny one, insofar as it has no constitutionally-defined duties so it can be, more or less, whatever a particular president wants it to be. Sometimes the National Security Advisor can be more bureaucratic, helping a president centralize national security policy with the National Security Committee in the White House rather than delegating it out to cabinet agencies–it’s pretty well-established that the Bush administration cut Colin Powell out of the loop in favor of Condoleezza Rice in his first term, and a long succession of frustrated former Defense Secretaries testifies to the degree to which Barack Obama has cut the Pentagon out in favor of relying on the NSC. The National Security Advisor can also be the number one influence on a president’s foreign and military policy, simply by virtue of the fact that the National Security Advisor is there in the White House, with the president, every day, while cabinet secretaries, top military brass, etc. are all, to some extent, coming and going. Henry Kissinger is the archetype here, but McGeorge Bundy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others have served prominent roles in their administrations.
In the case of a president who, by all outward signs, exhibits no knowledge of, nor curiosity about, foreign policy and national security issues, the National Security Advisor can play a massive, formative role in setting policy. And so we come to President-elect Donald Trump, who just named retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his National Security Advisor. On the plus side, um, Flynn’s personal hygiene seems to be above reproach. On the minus side, he’s a war-mongering, Islam-hating lunatic whose appointment all but confirms your worst fears about how Donald Trump’s administration is going to handle threats.
Here, for example, is Michael Flynn calling Islam–not “radical Islam,” you’ll note–“a malignant cancer” while denying that it’s a religion:
Here’s Michael Flynn tweeting (his Twitter account is a real knee-slapper, by the way) that “fear of Muslims”–just “Muslims,” mind you–is “rational”:
Michael Flynn and “rational” decided on a trial separation a long time ago and neither one has ever looked back.
Michael Flynn co-wrote a book that was published in July, The Field of Fight, with Michael Ledeen. Ledeen is best known for inventing the “Ledeen Doctrine,” which goes like this: “every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” So co-writing a book with him is in itself disturbing. But in their book, Flynn and Ledeen postulate that America is confronting “a working coalition that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.” They also argue that this coalition is “formidable,” despite the fact that it includes, uh, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Yeah, those superpowers. There is, needless to say, no evidence of such a thing outside of the imaginations of the book’s authors. But this kind of conspiracy theory is what Flynn will be whispering in Trump’s ear–though maybe minus the bit about Russia. What could possibly go wrong if the leader of the country with the world’s most powerful military begins to operate as though he is beset on all sides by a supremely powerful global coalition dedicated to his total destruction?
One country Flynn really seems to despise is Iran, as Jim Lobe catalogues here. Needless to say he’s a big proponent of regime change and not too keen on the nuclear deal. That’s not unusual in the world of Trump advisers, but the overall effect of all these stridently anti-Iran voices in Trump’s ear could be stark. People have been assuming that Trump would worsen U.S.-Iranian relations, but only over time. Instead, if you go by the people he’s surrounding himself with, we may be looking at a confrontation in the near future.
There’s also Flynn’s lobbying ties to Turkey to consider, his role in creating the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld post-9/11 black ops empire, and the fact that his son/chief of staff is an alt-right goon, but frankly those are just cherries on top of the shit sundae. This is a scary guy inhabiting a scary role in an increasingly scary administration.