As political circles buzzed with the news that former Defense Intelligence Agency director and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is likely to be named national security adviser by President-elect Donald Trump, Flynn was regaling a Museum of American Armor dinner Wednesday night in Old Bethpage.
Flynn is a Democrat and an early Trump loyalist who stood at the New York billionaire’s side from the start of his astonishing campaign. NSA chief is a great spot with which to reward Trump’s top military and defense supporter: It does not demand Senate confirmation.
Flynn’s speech was nonconfrontational by his standards, focusing on celebrating the men and women of the military, the Constitution as an oft-misunderstood document dedicated to individual liberty, the necessity of a strong United States leading the world, and the need to embrace the rule of law. It was largely stuff nearly no American would disagree with, though Flynn’s assertion that “we have been the best enemies in the world” because we telegraph our intentions to adversaries might raise some ire in the Obama administration he once served.
Flynn’s prediction was that enemies will test the Trump administration, probing for signs of weakness and a lack of will. He specified Russia, China, North Korea and the Islamic State, which has been the focus of his renown and his proxy work for Trump.
In a 30-minute speech at the Republican National Convention in July, a gathering far more contentious than the one in Old Bethpage, Flynn led chants of “U-S-A!” and “Lock her up!” but focused his policy talk on the necessity of understanding and naming the threat of radical Islamic terrorism in the United States and the world.
Recognizing the threat of ISIS early is Flynn’s great achievement, and understanding it and naming it as he does is the root of his break with Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s Middle East and anti-terrorism policies are among the great uncertainties of his coming administration. Flynn will likely have a huge part in defining them.
Trump has promised Americans exactly what they, very reasonably but probably unrealistically, want: a quick, decisive defeat of ISIS via his “secret” plan, and a continued tamping down of terrorism in the region afterward that does not involve endless occupation, resulting in huge expense and U.S. military casualties.
That’s the conundrum we’ve been caught up in since 2003.
The United States can control the situation in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East in general, keep the peace and stamp out terrorist cells if it is willing to commit people and money. The nation is tired of committing people and money, but cannot tolerate the threats of terrorism that arise when we remove our focus.
Flynn is as knowledgeable as anyone on how to address this, and there’s no reason to believe Trump isn’t serious about fixing it. But the conundrum feels almost impossible to change.
And it wasn’t surprising that Flynn didn’t touch the quandary that has bedeviled leaders of both parties for more than a decade.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.