Tag: national security council

Flynn’s Fast Fall

Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor is good news, mostly because it makes it slightly less likely that the Trump administration will blunder into a foolish war, especially with Iran. It won’t be the end of the scandal though, as it is hard to believe that the President was totally unaware of Flynn’s actions.

Flynn’s fall is surprising only for its speed. Since he gained prominence as a Joint Special Operations Command intelligence officer in Iraq for helping to develop the “find, fix, and finishmethod of seizing or killing suspected insurgents and terrorists, Flynn has, to put it mildly, showed a deficit of the sound judgment needed in a National Security Advisor.

As head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn apparently pushed analysts to hype Iran’s malign influence and to find evidence that it had a hand in the 2011 Benghazi attack, feuded with senior staff, demonstrated hostility to dissent, favored conspiracy theories, and got fired for some combination of those things and generally poor management.

He wrote an overwrought book with Michael Ledeen which includes various dubious and unsubstantiated claims, especially about Iran, including that it is allied against the United States with jihadists, North Korea, China, Russia, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

In his speech at last year’s Republican National Convention, Flynn essentially accused Hillary Clinton of treason for her email server debacle, despite his own dubious record in handling classified information. And, while receiving classified intelligence briefings along with Trump, Flynn was secretly employed as a lobbyist for Turkish interests, a fact that he hid while taking Turkey’s line in an op-ed endorsing the extradition of Fethullah Gulen. Around that time, Trump was attacking lobbyists and subsequently pretended to bar them from his administration.

Where Have All the Foreign Policy Experts Gone?

Why is it that so many people with so little foreign policy experience wind up as top foreign policy advisers to campaigns and presidents?

I touched on this question in a 2011 Politico piece looking at President Obama’s advisers:

Before Obama named [Leon] Panetta as CIA director, the former congressman from California had little experience on national security issues. This was part of a larger trend: many of the president’s important foreign policy aides have scant training in foreign policy.

For example, the president’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, had been a Beltway lawyer, lobbyist and executive at Fannie Mae. The lead author of the president’s National Security Strategy, Ben Rhodes, has a background in fiction and poetry, putting aside work on his first novel (“The Oasis of Love”) to join the administration’s speech-writing team, from which he moved over to the National Security Council.

It’s come up again with the Romney campaign. Josh Rogin points to a memo taking aim at “The Foreign Policy & National Security Failures Of President Obama” that was authored by Romney’s main policy adviser, Lanhee Chen. By all accounts Chen is a brilliant guy, but there’s no evidence that he has any experience in foreign policy. His dissertation at Harvard discussed how judicial elections affect the law, and he did extensive work on domestic policy—health care, in particular—at the Heritage Foundation.

So why does he get tasked with writing the memos on foreign policy? Why, for that matter, did Rhodes get knighted a foreign-policy majordomo in the Obama campaign, and then later in the administration itself? Does this sort of thing happen in other policy areas? Do speechwriters parachute into important legal-related professions when their candidate wins? Do political scientists take major roles at Treasury? If not, why are those social-scientific professions treated differently than political science?

I understand the response that foreign policy is not construction and that security studies is not engineering. I also understand the argument that it’s more important to have someone who gets along with the president than it is to have an actual expert. But does everyone really believe that having actual foreign-policy experts taking foreign policy–related positions in politics would do nothing to improve our foreign policy?

This isn’t an ideological, much less partisan, lament. There’s no shortage of candidates on either side of the aisle. Peter Feaver is a hawkish Romney backer with tenure at Duke, and there are more than a few Dems with foreign policy expertise who could have taken the spots at the NSC. And the Lord knows you could find a wide range of views in the academy, if you wanted them.

So I can’t really figure it out: Why don’t presidents look for foreign policy experts in the academy?