A new article on Michael Flynn’s tenure as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency contains some worrisome details. This may be the most disturbing:
During a tense gathering of senior officials at an off-site retreat, he gave the assembled group a taste of his leadership philosophy, according to one person who attended the meeting and insisted on anonymity to discuss classified matters. Mr. Flynn said that the first thing everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His staff would know they were right, he said, when their views melded to his [bold mine-DL]. The room fell silent, as employees processed the lecture from their new boss.
Micah Zenko commented on this excerpt:
— Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko) December 3, 2016
This would be a bad trait for anyone in a leadership position, since it implies both supreme arrogance and an unwillingness to admit error, but in someone tasked with running an intelligence agency it is even worse. If Flynn assumes he is always right and expects everyone else to conform to his views, he isn’t going to have much success managing the National Security Council or handling disagreements among its members. More important, it seems likely that his analysis of threats will be driven by his ideological assumptions that will cause him to dismiss contrary evidence. Consider the anecdote about his reaction to the 2012 Benghazi attack:
Mr. Flynn saw the Benghazi attack in September 2012 as just one skirmish in this global war. But it was his initial reaction to the event, immediately seeking evidence of an Iranian role, that many saw as emblematic of a conspiratorial bent. Iran, a Shiite nation, has generally eschewed any alliance with Sunni militants like the ones who attacked the American diplomatic compound.
For weeks, he pushed analysts for evidence that the attack might have had a state sponsor — sometimes shouting at them when they didn’t come to the conclusions he wanted. The attack, he told his analysts, was a “black swan” event that required more creative intelligence analysis to decipher.
“To ask employees to look for the .0001 percent chance of something when you have an actual emergency and dead Americans is beyond the pale,” said Joshua Manning, an agency analyst from 2009 to 2013.
This shows how much of a distorting effect Flynn’s preoccupation with Iran has had on his thinking and his ability to analyze threats. As we have seen in the book he co-wrote with Ledeen, that preoccupation is as strong as ever. Flynn’s apparent certainty that he is always right is married to the warped worldview that I have described several times before. His partnership with Ledeen seems to have been one born of genuine agreement:
The two men connected immediately, sharing a similar worldview and a belief that America was in a world war against Islamist militants allied with Russia, Cuba and North Korea. That worldview is what Mr. Flynn came to be best known for during the presidential campaign, when he argued that the United States faced a singular, overarching threat, and that there was just one accurate way to describe it: “radical Islamic terrorism.”
All of this suggests that Flynn will give Trump very bad advice informed by a warped view of foreign threats, and he probably won’t want to entertain contrary views and evidence. That seems to promise a dysfunctional policy process distorted by ideological obsessions. That is going to deliver bad and misleading information to the president, who will more than likely defer to what his top adviser recommends.