Worrying About Trump’s Reactionaries

The mixed signals from Donald Trump’s transition are creating diverse interpretations of where his foreign policy is headed, with ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman seeing reasons to worry about more neocon warmongering.

By Melvin A. Goodman

My favorite philosopher, Garrison Keillor, stated in a different era that “it will get worse before it gets worse.” Well, once again, here we are. President-elect Donald Trump’s naming of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser; Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, R-Alabama, as attorney general; and Rep. Michael Pompeo, R-Kansas, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency suggests that the dangerous positions taken by Trump during the presidential campaign will be supported by his national security team.

Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn speaks at the Defense Intelligence Agency change of directorship at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, July 24, 2012. Army Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess Jr. turned over directorship of DIA to LtGen Flynn after serving in the position since 2009. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn speaks at the Defense Intelligence Agency on July 24, 2012. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

All three of these men have pandered to the Trump agenda and have taken particularly hardline views on matters dealing with immigration, the Muslim community, and the use of force. If Donald Trump actually decides to name a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of email at the Department of State, then he will have the support of these three men.

Lt. Gen. Flynn is in a position to do the most damage to the national security interests of the United States. He was forced into retirement from the military in 2014 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff needed to stop his politicization of intelligence as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and his brutal management style resembling that of Captain Queeq on the USS Caine.

Flynn reorganized the DIA in order to combine the roles of the intelligence analysts and the operatives, which created a smoother path for politicizing intelligence. This is the same reform that CIA director John Brennan has introduced into the CIA, which has had its own problems with politicized intelligence over the past several decades.

At DIA, Flynn was known for endorsing specious intelligence reports and circulating his support for these reports in what was known facetiously as “Flynn facts.” Currently there is an investigation of DIA for the tailoring of intelligence on the success of the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although the general has been praised for his work in the operational and tactical fields, there are no examples of the kind of strategic thinking or experience to believe that Flynn would be useful in coordinating the policy views of the entire national security bureaucracy or in providing objective and balanced intelligence to the President.

Flynn has already changed his views to accommodate the interests of Trump. Once an opponent of torture and abuse, Flynn over the past year has become a supporter. His consulting company has lobbied on behalf of the authoritarian interests of Turkish President Erdogan, and Flynn himself has been a regular commentator on RT, Moscow’s English language propaganda voice.

At the Republican National Convention last summer, Flynn referred to Hillary Clinton as a member of the “enemy camp” and led the chants of “lock her up.”

Pompeo’s Hard Line

Rep. Pompeo was an initial supporter of the Tea Party and predictably took positions against abortion (even in cases of rape and incest); against the Affordable Care Act; and against any effort on the part of the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate greenhouse gases. He favors a return to unrestricted massive surveillance by the National Security Agency; a death sentence for Edward Snowden; and more vigorous use of enhanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. When his committee was confronted with pictures of hunger strikers at Guantanamo, Pompeo facetiously remarked that it “looked like that they had put on weight.”

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas.

Pompeo, like other members of the presidential transition staff, is a conspiracy thinker. He and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who has been rumored as a possible choice as Secretary of Defense, were strong opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement and believe that there are secret side agreements that favor the interests of Tehran. Pompeo has charged that any Muslim citizen who doesn’t vigorously denounce acts of terror is actually complicit with the attacks.

Pompeo was a strong opponent of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s devastating report on CIA torture and abuse, and conducted a vigorous attack on Secretary of State Clinton’s role in the Benghazi tragedy. When his colleague, former Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, issued a report exonerating Clinton, Pompeo attached a polemical rebuttal.

Sen. Sessions has been rewarded with the Department of Justice for being the first elected official to come out in support of Donald Trump. He is strongly opposed to any immigration reform, and has received a grade of “F” from various civil rights groups and the NAACP for his opposition to civil rights.

In the 1980s, there was a successful bipartisan effort in the Senate to keep him from becoming a federal judge, with the decisive swing vote coming from Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Alabama.  Sessions once referred to the American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American and communist” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.”

The appointment of a neoconservative national security team points the Trump administration in an extreme hardline direction. It is possible that the Director of National Intelligence will be weakened or even eliminated, and that the CIA will become even more involved in covert action, including regime change. The sudden resignation of James Clapper as director of national intelligence certainly points in this direction.

President Barack Obama’s failure to limit the CIA’s paramilitary role and to seek accountability for the conduct of torture and abuse will allow President-elect Trump to get the CIA more heavily involved in paramilitary activities, which have damaged the reputation of the United States and the CIA in the past.

The Iran-Contra scandal tarnished the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. CIA support for the mujahedeen in the 1980s led to the emergence of Al Qaeda and other fundamentalist terror organizations in the 1990s that we are still confronting.

Although President Obama had some success in bringing sunlight into the darkened corridors of the national security state, President-elect Trump’s appointment of these individuals suggests that the secret state will once again expand. A greater era of secrecy will be harmful to the interests of American citizens and even to our democracy.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism, and the forthcoming Whistleblower at CIA, scheduled for release in February 2017. Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org, where this story first appeared. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/21/trumps-inner-circle-here-come-the-troglodytes/

10 comments for “Worrying About Trump’s Reactionaries

  1. John V. Walsh
    November 24, 2016 at 00:51

    You know when you read the name that Goodman gives to Sessions, “Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions,” the Beauregard being a Southerner=racist smear, that you are reading a hit piece. And so it is.
    By these standards Sen. Robert Byrd, once a KKK member, could have been called a racist decdes later even as he supported rights of Black Americans.
    And Mike T. Flynn has his problems with Muslims and Iran, but he more than any other wants neo-detente with Russia. That neo -detente is job one for the Trump administration in the eyes of those of us who yearn for peace.
    Goodman has positive words for Obama who moved us into Cold War and closer to the brink of nuclear war with Russia. And negative words for Trump/Flynn. Goodman seems to be doing his best to kerp the Cold War rolling with his newly assigned audience.
    Goodman as “national security correspondent” for CounterPunch? The late great Alex Cockburn must be sobbing in his grave.

  2. JayHobeSound
    November 23, 2016 at 07:09

    Wonder if Pompeo has been a long-time operative like Geo. H.W. Bush Sr. was when appointed to run CIA? I doubt the staff would be very receptive to a genuine outsider with no agency/intel experience.

  3. Akech
    November 22, 2016 at 23:31

    Apparently, the clean background qualification for any individual seeking appointment to any key government position may not be an important asset for landing government jobs. Policies not supported by Americans can only be accomplished by appointing people with tons of skeletons in their closets so that they can be blackmailed into implementing those unpopular policies. Repeat, “blackmailing is a powerful tool for implementing unpopular policies” as revealed here!


  4. Gregory Herr
    November 22, 2016 at 21:11

    Obama brought “sunlight into the darkened corridors of the national security state”?
    The NSA has been restricted?
    Clinton doesn’t deserve legal proceedings against her?
    The C.I.A. has stopped “enhanced interrogation”? It’s possible for the CIA to become even more involved in covert action and regime change? Okay, I’ll give you that…I suppose it’s possible.
    Al Quada is something the U.S. confronts? Sorry, I thought they were tools.
    Obama and Clinton want to be Snowden’s pals?

    The National Security Advisor is just that…an advisor. And we’ve had some real beauts. I don’t like Flynn’s position on Iran, but you can’t have everything. Sessions’ comments on civil rights is disturbing, particularly for an Attorney General, but I haven’t been much impressed with the stripping away of fundamental protections with nary a peep from AG’s in recent years, nor with the “rule of law” as practiced of late. Pompeo is in way over his head…without a major overhaul including a new restrictive charter, the CIA is a lost cause anyway. Oh sure, it’ll probably get worse before it gets worse, but do note this direction is not something new.

  5. Brad Benson
    November 22, 2016 at 19:13

    That was a hit job on General Flynn. He was basically fired for issuing a report that said that the US had created ISIS, that the CIA was still funding it and that it was a serious threat. He will also help to defuse the New Cold War with Russia that was ginned up by the NeoCons and Liberal Interventionists.

    Pompeo is a jerk, but Flynn is a good appointment and there is no reason to believe that Sessions won’t be a good Attorney General.

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 23, 2016 at 01:29

      Brad, lately I have been noticing how varied the opinions are of some of us speculators. I’m like you hoping that Flynn’s glass is more than half full, instead of on empty. At this moment I’m struggling trying to remember how Putin changed the Russian mind think of combating Islamic terrorist, but as I try and recall where, and when I read that, I am also curious to if this is the mind set that Flynn is subscribing too…not sure. Interpretation of all of Trump’s so call appointments, and or meetings with people and groups makes me think Trump is taking an inventory of the DC establishment. I also think there is a behind the scenes kind of war going on inside our government, and possibly Trump is surveying the hate amongst this decrepit mob of executives. I think Flynn is different, and feared, but I haven’t made up my mind to what I should really think of him yet…remember candidate Donald said, he had a secret plan, and you don’t let out secrets. Go figure.

  6. evelync
    November 22, 2016 at 14:58

    Thank you, Mel Goodman, for spelling out in detail who these people are and what their values are.
    Certainly several steps further away from democracy and transparency.

    Shame on Donald Trump to surround himself with such losers.

    • Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
      November 22, 2016 at 18:17

      Funny that those “losers” helped him win!!! The real losers are the American People and the poor many around the world who pay the price for the stupid actions of the American Government…….The comfortable Americans do not give a damn…………….

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