In a flurry of intrigue, General Michael Flynn resigned from his post as National Security Advisor Monday night. The resignation comes as controversy has been escalating over General Flynn’s pre-Inauguration Day contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, an act prohibited by federal law.
Whatever the lawyers and historians dig up a few years from now to defend Flynn’s reputation, and whatever the actual legality or illegality of his actions turns out to be, I will sleep a little bit more soundly for the time being. Flynn’s departure removes one of Puppetmaster Steve Bannon’s ideological allies from President Trump’s inner circle, opening up room for saner voices to influence American strategy.
The importance for American security of having Flynn out of government cannot be overstated. In a scathing review of the former general’s wild-eyed manifesto “The Field of Fight,” my former boss Adam Garfinkle notes that Flynn’s “wanting to launch a transformational civilizational struggle against hundreds of millions of Muslims” frightens him “a lot more than the threat of radical Islam.” He also details Flynn’s conspiracy theory about a Russia-China-Venezuela-North Korea-Al-Qaeda-etc. axis of anti-Americanism dedicated to breaking American power and imposing tyranny upon the American people. Really, this man had no place anywhere near Washington, ever.
Ironically, another American general thrown from power by the scandal of a national security breach may well wind up being Trump’s best bet to replace General Flynn. The Washington Post reports that three candidates are being considered for incoming National Security Advisor- General Keith Kellogg, Admiral Robert Harward, and the disgraced General David Petraeus.
I must admit, I’m a Petraean partisan- I endorsed and voted for Petraeus for President of the United States in the 2016 election, and I’ve had the pleasure of asking him questions from the crowd at various public events here at the University of Southern California, where he occasionally lectures. He may remember me as “Dan Schnur’s Least Favorite Student,” as I introduced myself on the last such occasion. The general’s intelligence scandal- his sharing of information with his mistress and biographer while he was serving as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency- was illegal and a major mistake indicative of great character flaws, but then, I’m also a Nixon researcher. Scandals don’t usually bother me the way they disgust the partisan public.
More important to me (and to the country) by far are Petraeus’s strengths. The general is a brilliant intellectual and scholar, the guy with a PhD who literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency. He had a long and decorated career in the United States Army, most recently serving as Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan, as the head of United States Central Command, and as Commander of Multi-National Force Iraq. Aside from prosecuting the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more successfully than most of his colleagues, he also implemented “The Surge” in Iraq, which according to many turned the tide of that war decisively towards an American victory. A competent and brilliant leader capable of getting real things done, he’s exactly the kind of person we need in government today.
Like all generals, Petraeus is a politician, so he never says anything unexpected or interesting at speaking engagements or in his writings. But even given that, he’s saying the right things. He recently published a boring piece at Politico arguing that the United States should renew its commitment to the liberal international order and stand tall among the nations of the earth, rather than retrenching or conceding the Rimland to Eurasian despots. A lot of center-right politicos have been publishing similar op-eds.
But none of those politicos are being considered for a top national security post in an administration that flagrantly opposes everything in the essay Petraeus published in Politico.
Working as National Security Advisor, General Petraeus could do unimaginable amounts of good sobering President Trump to the realities of world politics and warfighting. In these dark Bannonite/Trumpist days of the White House of Horrors, we need as many good, sane, competent, wise people working in government as possible, and in my opinion we have some of them in the “Big Three” Cabinet posts- the boring technocratic Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the equally boring Kissinger-approved Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and the colorful warrior-monk, Defense Secretary General James Mattis.
But they all work outside of the West Wing- across the street at the Treasury Department, in Foggy Bottom, and in the Pentagon, respectively. A National Security Advisor Petraeus would be in the White House briefing President Trump every day, countering Priebus and Bannon as a force for moderation in Trump’s innermost circle. That voice can help our floundering President-Elect weather the storms ahead.
Of course, President Trump doesn’t usually make wise decisions, having passed up Petraeus for Secretary of State already (though Rex Tillerson was a wiser choice than John Bolton or Rudy Giuliani would have been.) We will just have to wait and see.
So here’s my endorsement of General David Petraeus for National Security Advisor.