The persistence of bad ideas

My last post drew attention to the strange worldview of some of the Western world’s most senior military officers. Further evidence of that strangeness came with the publication yesterday of another book by a retired officer, Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn. Flynn has co-authored The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the War against Radical Islam and its Allies with Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Until his retirement in August 2014, Flynn was Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the largest of the many U.S. intelligence organizations. He is currently considered one of the favourites to be Donald Trump’s Vice Presidential running mate. He is also occasionally described as ‘pro-Russian’ due to the fact that he has appeared on the English-language Russian television channel RT. Sputnik News assesses that, compared to Hillary Clinton,

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn also has a much more optimistic view of Russia’s potential relationship with the United States, much like his counterpart Donald Trump, calling on the two sides to join forces in the Middle East to bring about peace and stability while advocating for the US to take steps to deescalate tensions along Russia’s western border.

The introduction to Flynn’s new book suggests something different, however. Flynn writes that his purpose is:

To show you the war being waged against us. This administration has forbidden us to describe our enemies properly and clearly: they are Radical Islamists. They are not alone, and are allied with countries and groups who, though not religious fanatics, share their hatred of the West, particularly the United States and Israel. Those allies include North Korea, Russia, China, Cuba, and Venezuela.

Later in the book, Flynn states:

When it is said that Russia would make an ideal partner for fighting Radical Islam, it behooves us to remember that the Russians haven’t been very effective at fighting jihadis on their own territory, and are in cahoots with the Iranians. In Syria, the two allies have loudly proclaimed they are waging war against ISIS, but in reality the great bulk of their efforts are aimed at the opponents of the Assad regime.

The terrorists, says Flynn, ‘must be denied safe havens, and countries which shelter them have to be issued a brutal choice: either eliminate the Radical Islamists or you risk direct attack yourselves. … We can’t afford to be gulled by foreign countries that publicly declare their friendship, but then work in cahoots with our enemies.’

‘Most Americans mistakenly believe that peace is the normal condition of mankind, while war is some weird aberration. Actually, it’s the other way around’, Flynn says.  He recommends that the United States wage unrelenting war against its enemies and their allies, and warns that this war may last a very long time. ‘I dare say that most Americans don’t realize that the religious and political transformations of Europe that we call the Reformation entailed hundreds of years of very bloody struggle’, he writes, adding that, ‘The world badly needs an Islamic Reformation, and we should not be surprised if violence is involved.’

If this sounds like a return to some of the crazier policies of the Bush years, that should come as no surprise. Flynn’s co-author Michael Ledeen is a well-known neo-conservative who was an outspoken supporter of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Looking at the chaos that the Americans have created in the Middle East, Russians often charge that this is deliberate policy. I have always maintained that it is more a product of stupidity. But Ledeen is the sort of person who makes me think that the Russians might have a point.  According to Wikipedia:

In 2002 Ledeen criticized the views of former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, writing: ‘He fears that if we attack Iraq “I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a cauldron and destroy the War on Terror.” One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today. … That’s our mission in the war against terror.’

What all this demonstrates is the extraordinary persistence of bad ideas. The United States has been waging war in the Middle East for 15 years, and the results have been overwhelmingly negative. One might imagine that the response would be to reconsider. Instead, Flynn and Ledeen propose that Americans double down on their past failures. One might also imagine that, given their track record of proposing disastrous policies, people like Ledeen would have long ago been cast out of the corridors of power. Instead, we see Ledeen co-authoring a book with a possible future Vice President. It is a remarkable testament to the lack of accountability which has accompanied the War on Terror.

Flynn’s and Ledeen’s opinions may be a little extreme even by Washington standards – but only a little. They are obviously close enough to the mainstream to be considered acceptable, and for Flynn to be a serious contender for the post of Vice President. In these circumstances, one should not expect the election of either Clinton or Trump to produce a serious re-evaluation of the fundamentals of American foreign policy.

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8 thoughts on “The persistence of bad ideas”

  1. “The terrorists, says Flynn, ‘must be denied safe havens, and countries which shelter them have to be issued a brutal choice: either eliminate the Radical Islamists or you risk direct attack yourselves. … We can’t afford to be gulled by foreign countries that publicly declare their friendship, but then work in cahoots with our enemies.’”

    Splendid! There’re currently 2 Ukrainian NatzGuard battalions made up of Chechen terrorirsts:

    (VICE NEWS likes these dudes – there are more on them on their site)

    So, following this logic, the US must attack the Ukraine. Or, at the very least, allow Russia to act like your typical democratic, “Civilized Country” ™ – invade the Ukraine properly, bomb Kiev into a pile of rubble (“burns like a Christmas tree!” (c)), occupy the whole territory and then hang Poroshenko and Turchinov.

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  2. I don’t even like it when they pontificate about “fighting radical Islam” and do mean political Islam, Islamism, but this guy, judging by his quote mentioning Iran and the Syrian (secular) government, seems to be using “radical Islam” as a PC-acceptable term for hate-speech against any official enemy/independent actor…

    Anyway, what about another Trump foreign policy advisor, the guy named Carter Page? He seems to be saying some sensible things and attracting intense hatred from the usual suspects…

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    1. “Anyway, what about another Trump foreign policy advisor, the guy named Carter Page? He seems to be saying some sensible things and attracting intense hatred from the usual suspects…”

      Yeah! How dares he to say that calling Russia a “gas station pretending to be a country” is wrong?!

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  3. “… propose that Americans double down on their past failures.” By now I think we can safely say the “down” is “triple-“, “quadruple-” … When you (deliberately, or due to stupidity, or otherwise) confine yourself to only one strategy, failure is not an option because it’s the only “option”.

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  4. Paul,

    I think the story of Lieutenant-General Flynn is a complex one – different aspects have been discussed in some detail over the past months on ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis.’

    It is a matter on which Colonel Lang, as a former senior DIA person, is rather well qualified to judge.

    His current view is expressed – pithily – in comments on a recent thread – see

    http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2016/07/httpwwwnytimescom20160710opinionsundaythe-clinton-contaminationhtmlemcedit_th_20160710nltodaysheadlinesnlid40.html .

    There is quite a long ‘back story’ to Flynn’s recent book.

    Part of it relates to the fact that while claims about ‘false flags’ are often false, they are sometimes true. And having looked at the matter in some detail, I have no doubt whatsoever that Seymour Hersh’s claim that the Ghouta sarin attack in August 2013 was a ‘false flag’ is correct.

    It is also clear that there is a fundamental division of opinion which has been developing for some time which has been brought to a head by the war in Syria.

    One school of thought – well represented on SST – has long seen jihadists as a central threat to the West, and concludes that trying to topple the Assad regime is batshit crazy. Obviously, in terms of this analysis there is a clear need for us to cooperate with Russia. Meanwhile, traditional allies – in particular Turkey, the Saudis, and the other ‘Gulfies’ – become problematic.

    A central difficulty, however, is that from the point of view of the current leadership in Israel, and supportive elements in the United States and Europe, the steadily increasing number, range, accuracy and lethality of the missiles available to Hizbullah in Lebanon appears an ‘existential threat’. This is also a key part of the background to the intense fear among these people of Iran.

    And it is a key reason why both Michael Oren, while Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., and Moshe Ya’alon, while Israeli Defence Minister, made it clear that if in Syria there was a choice between jihadists and Assad winning out in Syria, they preferred the jihadists.

    (See http://www.jpost.com/Syria-Crisis/Oren-Jerusalem-has-wanted-Assad-ousted-since-the-outbreak-of-the-Syrian-civil-war-326328 ; http://www.timesofisrael.com/yaalon-i-would-prefer-islamic-state-to-iran-in-syria/ .)

    The general approach in Washington and London, however, has been to duck the hard questions involved by pretending that there exists a ‘third force’ of ‘moderate insurgents’ which provides a credible alternative both to Assad and the jihadists.

    A story of which part has surfaced in recent articles by Hersh is of how the DIA and the CJCS moved towards a total repudiation of the conventional orthodoxy on Syria.

    A key stage in this process – unfortunately much misunderstood – was the paper circulated by the DIA in August 2012, warning of the possibility that Western policy could facilitate the creation of ‘a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria.’

    What has caused confusion is the assumption that this originated with the DIA, rather than being a paper which originating from another intelligence agency, which they circulated. If one fails to grasp this, it is natural to read the paper as endorsing the strategies it describes.

    (For a discussion of Flynn’s crucial August 2015 interview with Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera, which illustrates this misconception, together with links to that interview and the memo, see

    https://levantreport.com/2015/08/06/former-dia-chief-michael-flynn-says-rise-of-islamic-state-was-a-willful-decision-and-defends-accuracy-of-2012-memo/ )

    All this was part of the background to General Dempsey’s successful attempt to prevent Obama responding to Ghouta by unleashing U.S. air power on Assad – and the subsequent covert collaboration between American, German, Israeli and Russian intelligence in support of Assad.

    Anyone interested in all this should read the four articles by Hersh originally published in the ‘London Review of Books’, which were republished together, as a book in April under the title ‘The Killing of Osama bin Laden.’ All are actually freely available on the internet and can be turned up by a quick search – the titles being ‘Whose Sarin?’, ‘The Red Line and the Rat Line’, ‘Military to Military’, and ‘The Killing of Osama bin Laden.’

    Unsurprisingly, pushback resulted. In relation to Lieutenant-General Flynn, this seems to have taken two forms. So he was effectively forced out at the DIA two years ago, but also, it appears ‘nobbled’ by Michael Ledeen, who is among the dangerous of the ‘neocons’. In particular, he is amongst those most fanatically committed to the destruction of Iran.

    But there is here an irony. One accusation against Iran which may well be true is that its intelligence services exploited the gullibility of the ‘neocons’ to sucker the United States, and Britain, into getting rid of their great enemy Saddam Hussein – and in so doing, of course, creating precisely the ‘Shia Crescent’ which those same ‘neocons’ are now desperate to break.

    It was, of course, Ahmed Chalabi who was instrumental not simply in disseminating a lot of the ‘intelligence’ supposed to demonstrate that Saddam had active WMD programmes, but also the fantasy that toppling him would pave the way for a reconstruction of the whole Middle East that would make it Israel- and U.S.- friendly.

    I dealt with some of the relevant evidence in a post on SST back in May 2007, which was entitled ‘Richly and Royally Fooled.’

    (See http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2007/05/richly_and_roya.html .)

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  5. Ledeen has long been known as one of the craziest neocons. He is famous for his “Ledeen Doctrine”: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

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