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Flynn’s Warped Worldview and Iran

A new article [1] 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:

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.

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15 Comments To "Flynn’s Warped Worldview and Iran"

#1 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On December 3, 2016 @ 5:33 pm

Can’t be repeated too often. The new administration has a high potential to initiate a worldwide catastrophe, and mere Iraq 2002-level disaster should be looked on as a brilliant outcome. Has there ever been a more grotesque, incompetent and corrupted administration in waiting in the history of modern democracies?

White America has, and will continue to have, a lot to answer for. They are burning down the extraordinarily successful world order in order to stick to that black guy in the White House, and all of those uppity women and gays – what a disaster. I cannot think of a single upside that is likely to come out of this team of buffoons.

A tragedy for today, for our citizens, for the environment, for the world……. a tragedy for which no amount of tax cuts or make America great rallies can ever compensate

#2 Comment By a spencer On December 3, 2016 @ 6:41 pm

Traditional US allies, particularly in Europe – even if they elect right wing governments – don’t seem likely to allow their domestic multi-national (heh) corporations to pull up stakes and sign onto a new war in Iran. Assume China (oil and now other considerations) and Russia (sold Iran an air defense system) will not be on board, not even with sanctions at this point.

Judging from the reported roster of Trump’s congratulatory phone calls, are we to assume Taiwan and the Philippines will pick up the slack?

#3 Comment By Chris Chuba On December 3, 2016 @ 9:05 pm

If Donald Trump doesn’t change the trajectory of our foreign policy. I am becoming convinced that we will eventually suffer an experience as traumatic as the Soviets experienced in the 90’s. Things that should be wakeup calls are being dismissed by the foreign policy establishment.

#4 Comment By KevinS On December 3, 2016 @ 9:32 pm

How any conservative voted for this buffoon is beyond me.

#5 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On December 3, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

@chris Chuba – the FP establishment seems to be appalled at the willful ignorance of this buffoon. Soviet experience in the 90s could be a best outcome, given so many many worse possibilities from this naive fool and his corrupt and manipulative team….

#6 Comment By Iranian Expat On December 4, 2016 @ 2:23 am

As an Iranian Expat I can accurately portray the view of most Iranians, and others, that the sad fact is not the election of this egoistic, incompetent moron Trump. But that he was the most qualified Republican candidate.

Years of sucking up to Israel, at Americans’ expense, has turned the Republican party into an extremist Israel-first bunch of buffoons.

Furthermore, Trump did not win the election, Democrats lost it by putting forward the most corrupt and incompetent candidate they could muster, a prune-faced old hag.

We Iranians preferred Trump to Clinton, hoping he was not serious about the nonsense he kept spewing during the campaign. But so far all the signs are that not only he is dumber than Obama, but also he is too stupid to get it.

Who knows, maybe this mop-head pushes someone’s buttons too far and we end up with president Pence.

#7 Comment By Stephen R Gould On December 4, 2016 @ 11:22 am

@Victory over Eurasia: They are burning down the extraordinarily successful world order in order to stick to that black guy in the White House, and all of those uppity women and gays


#8 Comment By Hooverite On December 4, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

“His partnership with Ledeen seems to have been one born of genuine agreement:”

I’m still banking on that proving false. But the fact that he agreed to work with Ledeen in the first place is a huge red flag. Ledeen is heavily implicated in the worst foreign policy pathologies of the Bush II administration, up to and including the Doug Feith DoD cabal and the “Nigerian yellowcake” lies used to drag us into Iraq – the single worst foreign policy decision of our lifetimes, if not our entire history.

Given that we have plenty of intelligent, competent national security people who DON’T have such an obviously disqualifying association, it’s difficult to understand why Trump (or Trump’s people) seems to be going with Flynn. How can Trump on the one hand vow to “drain the swamp” and on the other propose to hire someone with such poor judgment as to selected a co-author who FILLED that swamp with some of its most fetid material during the Bush II administration.

#9 Comment By rayray On December 4, 2016 @ 8:54 pm

@Iranian Expat
“…a prune-faced old hag.”

Best example ever of why I have nothing but contempt for the corrupt, sexist, partisan opposition to Hillary Clinton. And why we are now stuck with this buffoon.

#10 Comment By sps On December 5, 2016 @ 9:45 am

Sadly what we have here is some of the same group of people from the Bush II Administration who, while not neocons, basically the U.S. can do whatever it wants to in world affairs and others will just simply have to react. Fine then, that’s exactly what they’ll do. The Iraqi insurgents wrecked the former Administration’s grandiose plans and I’m sure some group or nation will do the same to Trump’s.

Austin Bramwell’s “Nuke ‘Em” faction is basically in control.

#11 Comment By KXB On December 5, 2016 @ 11:08 am

Flynn’s obsession with Iran is probably due to Tehran’s successful project of using the US invasion of Iraq to further their own influence in that nation. During the worst period of the war, Iran successfully trained groups to disable US APC – using IED’s that not only were strong enough to flip over the vehicles, but shredded the armor, burning US troops inside. The Bush administration had no means, diplomatic or military, to make Iran stop, and Iran successfully bled US forces.

The US military has a hard time dealing with defeats – Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan. Senior leadership has trouble believing that with all the money and technology at their disposal, that they are beaten by groups they believe themselves are superior to.

#12 Comment By The Creepers On December 5, 2016 @ 12:53 pm

Keeping people like Ledeen from creeping back into our government ought to be a top priority for Trump. They wrecked the G. W. Bush administration – some would say they wrecked the country – and they’ll wreck Trump’s administration too.

#13 Comment By RFMIII On December 5, 2016 @ 4:08 pm

If Mattis is confirmed as SECDEF, trust me, he will calmly mow down Flynn like grass. Flynn was a good 1-2 Star, without strategic vision (or sensible cohesion in his worldview), and yeah–that line in the NYT article just took the cake. Ideally you would have a Mattis-Petraeus tagteam on the NSC that would just clothesline Flynn every time he gets conspiratorial…

KXB: the military was not defeated in Iraq or Afghanistan–not even close. I was there, you weren’t; so think it’s fair to say you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. If you want to say that America was forced, strategically, into protracting both conflicts at great costs that weren’t worth those investments, then you might have a point. But defeated militarily? You have no idea what you’re talking about. Zero.

#14 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 5, 2016 @ 6:21 pm


” . . . the military was not defeated in Iraq or Afghanistan–not even close. I was there, you weren’t; so think it’s fair to say you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about . . .”

That depends on the objectives. You might be able to dance around the matter as to Afghanistan because operations are ongoing. But Iraq — a failure. Democracy is allusive goal. A primary state with there are serious contentious issues have been operating in the country undermining the goals we have set. The country fell into chaos in varying degrees under our occupation. We have no real control over a state we desire to steer democratic change in.

I am supportive of the military. But that classifies as a failure. Militarily, unless you have a handle on military operations in particular of your opponents – failure.

I understand we are attempting to stitch together some form of success, but until that happens — failure.

Victory requires more than beating up on the military or disparate groups in opposition. Until they are quelled — failure. This is a very tough mission, best to have been avoided. My position as radical as it was — court Pres. Hussein in the mission against terrorists.

#15 Comment By KXB On December 6, 2016 @ 1:44 pm


I respect your service to our country, but am reminded of the US-Vietnam talks at the Paris Peace Accords. A US military officer approached his Vietnamese counterpart during a break in negotiations and said, to the effect, that VC forces never defeated US forces on the battlefield. The Vietnamese gentleman calmly said, “That didn’t matter.”

Can the US say that it;s military performed capably in Iraq and Afghanistan? Yes, but the US failed to achieve its goals because the military was a poor tool with which to pursue those goals.

The US continues to believe that using the military will promote stability in the Middle East. It is the opposite, our military presence is a cause (not the only one) of instability.

Once we abandoned combat in SE Asia, stability returned, and the region sorted itself out. We should do the same in the Middle East.