Even before his legal ordeal, former national security advisor and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was a man who was controversial.
After the DOJ announced it was dropping the case against him, former President Obama said, “That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk.” What Obama did not say is that he is not exactly an impartial observer. He and Flynn are not exactly best friends.
Flynn was sacked by Obama from his job atop the Defense Intelligence Agency. Administration officials claim it was due to insubordination, Flynn claims Obama was too soft and politically correct about terrorism, specifically it’s relationship with Islam as it pertains to threats to U.S. citizens and interests.
He then rode grudge to a spot on the Trump campaign. It was a perfect political match: the politically incorrect general campaigning for the politically incorrect candidate to drain a politically correct swamp.
At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Flynn told the crowd, “You guys are good. Damn right; exactly right. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“That” would be the chants of “lock her up.”
He continued, “[Trump] recognizes — he recognizes the threats we face and is not afraid to call them what they are. Donald Trump’s leadership, decision-making and problem-solving abilities will restore America’s role as the undeniable and unquestioned world leader.”
Trump was attracted to Flynn because he was a retired general who was echoing what he was saying. If the former head of DIA was saying it, then the criticism against him that he was just a wreckless clown be unfounded.
If you attacked Trump, you were attacking Flynn since he was saying the same thing, and how dare you attack a retired three-star for telling it like it is.
But, politicians and commentators hiding behind the uniform of retired high ranking military officials is not unique to Trump and Trump supporters.
Consider retired Admiral William McRaven, who wrote in the Washington Post, “When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.”
Replace Obama with Trump, Flynn with Joseph Maguire, the DIA with the ONI, and it is pretty much the same idea. A retired officer, in this case a four-star, going after certain politicians and partisans and people using McRaven and his service as a blunt instrument.
If you criticize Trump’s more passionate critics as deranged, you’re attacking McRaven since he’s saying the same thing, and how dare you call a former SEAL and retired admiral deranged for telling it like it is.
William McRaven is to Anti-Trump World what Michael Flynn is to Pro-Trump World. A useful person to shield their more hyper-partisan beliefs. Flynn appeared to MAGA to bring respectability to “lock her up” chants and McRaven appeared to The Resistance to bring respectability to the idea that not only are they right, but others are engaged in or tolerating “evil.”
None of this is to say that retired generals and admirals should not be engaged in politics, either as candidates or advisors, or bring their expertise and thoughts to popular media. Quite the contrary, laypeople, which includes politicians, need to be informed on issues relating to the military and national security in the same way they need to be informed about health care, the economy, or education.
It does not even mean they can not criticize politicians, but they need to do it in a way that is more than red meat for partisans.
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and retired Admiral James Stavridis was briefly mentioned as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton in 2016, which would have instantly turned him into a partisan figure and one should keep that in mind when hearing his thoughts about Trump and the wider world. But what separates the Stavridis from the Flynns and McRavens of the world is that Stavridis comes across as much more of a thinking man, which explains how he can go from the set of MSNBC one day a guest on The Hugh Hewitt Show the next.
The military exists to protect the nation’s by deterring aggression and if deterrence fails, by fighting the nation’s wars. If the civilians are hampering the military’s job to do that, then principled resignations and politicking from retired generals and admirals may very well be necessary. Anything short of that, risks politicizing that which must not be politicized.