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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Vicious cancer"

Conservatives in Washington have claimed that "personnel is policy" at least since the Reagan administration. If there is any truth to that maxim, then Americans might want to be worried about the announcement that retired Army three-star Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn will be Donald Trump's National Security Advisor.**

Why should Americans be uneasy about Flynn's advisory role in a Trump administration?

First, Flynn is one of those hawks who believes the US is in the midst of an unending war against radical Islam. In the words of the BBC, "Flynn believes the US is losing a global war against Islamist extremism that may last for generations." As national security journalist Eli Lake noted when reviewing Flynn's book, "the skeptical reader" might see Flynn's war against radical Islam as "a recipe for endless war."

While Donald Trump certainly campaigned as a hawk when discussing ISIS and terrorism, he also tried to signal that the US under his leadership would not make dumb decisions that would commit it to long and unwinnable wars. I believe this explains his criticisms of the Iraq war (including his repeated false claims that he opposed the war before it started -- and his similar false claims that he opposed US intervention into Libya and Syria).

Trump has clearly expressed opposition to nation-building and regime change. Moreover, he often tried to sound less hawkish than most of his political opponents during the election cycle (whether Republican or Democrat). In his foreign policy speech from April 2016, Trump said:
"I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must fight to win. I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary – and will only do so if we have a plan for victory. Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction 
....unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct....The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies."
Despite Trump's efforts to assure the voting public that he was opposed to many of America's recent wars, he has picked a National Security Advisor who seems to think the US is in for a war without end.

Second, Flynn seems to be a bona fide Islamophobe.  Politico recently quoted an unnamed "former senior intelligence official" saying that Flynn's "views on Islam are off the charts." How far off the charts?

The BBC again:
In February 2016, he [Flynn] tweeted "fear of Muslims is RATIONAL", while in July, he told the New York Post "the Islamic world is an epic failure" as he advocated his plan to beat radicalism. 
In August, he spoke at an event in Dallas, Texas, for an anti-Islamist group Act for America, saying that Islam "is a political ideology" and that it "definitely hides behind being a religion".
Perhaps worse, in that Dallas speech (video here), Flynn called Islam a "vicious cancer." Note, he said this about Islam, not radical Islam.

Islam is a religion of about 1.6 billion people on the planet. Wherever you are reading this, there are likely practicing Muslims in your town. Many famous athletes and celebrities are Muslim. There are thousands of Muslims currently serving in the US military. Members of Congress practice Islam.

I would also note that this kind of phrasing is inconsistent with what Trump himself has said about Islam. This is Trump in his ISIS speech in August 2016:
Just as we won the Cold War, in part, by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so too must we take on the ideology of Radical Islam.
While my opponent accepted millions of dollars in Foundation donations from countries where being gay is an offense punishable by prison or death, my Administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith.
Our Administration will be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, and will amplify their voices. of my first acts as President will be to establish a Commission on Radical Islam – which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us. We want to build bridges and erase divisions.
Trump in his "Foreign Policy" speech in April 2016 claimed, "we’re going to be working very closely with our allies in the Muslim world, all of which are at risk from radical Islamic violence. We should work together with any nation in the region that is threatened by the rise of radical Islam."

After an unsteady start, George W. Bush was very careful not to describe the "war on terrorism" as a war on Islam. Famously, North Korea was one state listed in the "axis of evil." By contrast, in recent world history, Flynn's kind of loose talk linking a group of people to a disease or disease carrying insect has proven to be very dangerous. In the US, think of the pernicious red scare that led to blacklists of people labeled as "communists."

Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has openly called for restarting the House Un-American Activities Committee.

That idea seems quite Un-American to me. However, it is the kind of idea fed by Flynn's loose talk about Islam.

**The National Security Advisor is a White House position that does not require Senate confirmation. Some presidents have leaned quite heavily on their National Security Advisor(s), while others have relied more on different personnel for policy advice and viewed this role as more managerial. Flynn campaigned for Trump and is often viewed as a close policy advisor.

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