Two of his most powerful contemporaries had the same description of Gen. Michael Flynn: “the best intelligence officer of his generation.” Author, scholar and award-winning defense correspondent James Kitfield on the path that led Gen. Flynn from re-shaping the theory and practice of special operations warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and running Barack Obama’s Defense Intelligence Agency to top military advisor to Donald Trump.
Over the past 40 years that the United States has plunged ever deeper into a culture of radical inequality, there has been more focus on the unfair distribution of economic benefits in America than on the equally unbalanced assignment of responsibilities of national defense.
The American military which used to represent accurately the make-up of the American people has, since the institution of the All Volunteer Force, become a unique slice of the population. Nowhere is this more visible than on Capitol Hill.
In 1972, 73% of the members of Congress were military veterans. In 2015 that number had dropped to 19%. Among the American public, just 11% have served in the armed forces. It’s as if, said one former general, we’re from 2 different planets.
And there are signs from both sides, the military and the civilian, that this separation is breeding discontent. Epitomizing this is the commander of the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden, Admiral William McRaven. His defense of a fired Rear Adm. Brian Losey, former commander of the Navy’s SEAL Teams, included this pointed remark, Losey, McRaven noted, had “sacrificed more for this country than most members on Capitol Hill.”
And Admiral McRaven added another disparaging and potentially dangerous remark: “we cannot afford to have a military that loses respect for its civilian leaders,”
It is exactly that threat, a military contemptuous of civilian authority, that has made forcibly retired Gen. Michael Flynn such a controversial figure. After denouncing the President who fired him from the leadership of the DIA, (the Defense Intelligence Agency) as “weak and spineless,” Flynn led chants of “Lock her up,” against Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the Republican Party Convention. In the words of Matthew Rosenberg of the NY Times: ““General Flynn these days is as much of an outcast as one can be in the Washington national security establishment.”
How can a man described by the head of the National Security Agency and a famed 4-star general as “the best intelligence officer of his generation,” now be a Washington and Pentagon “outcast?”
James Kitfield is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Previously he was a senior correspondent for National Journal. He is a three-time winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. His new book is Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies, and Special Agents who are Revolutionizing the American Way of War