August 20, 2019 | 81° F

WYNEN: Potential national security leaders responsible for millions

Opinions Column: Reality Check


I must say that I do not intend to normalize President-elect Trump’s divisive rhetoric by discussing his potential foreign policy team and policy blueprints. This is the reality we will have so it would be foolish to not discuss it. Before I am told to stop normalizing Trump, give Justin Trudeau a ring and tell him to stop normalizing Fidel Castro. I’ll wait. (I won’t, we all know that’ll never happen).

As someone who cannot find a home in either conservatism or progressivism, and who is incredibly cynical about politicians and wielding power over people, I have no expectations for Donald Trump (I had none for Hillary Clinton either). Does he really believe his own divisive rhetoric? I don’t know. What I do know is that he lacks a clear political ideology, which leaves him susceptible to high degrees of influence from his cabinet. This is important for nearly every aspect of life that the federal government has a stake in (which, coincidentally, is nearly every aspect of American life). Critically, America is facing the most dangerous and unclear international economic, security and political landscape it has since the 1980s. Thus, we can expect his diplomatic and military advisers to play a crucial role in how Washington will respond to Russia in Europe, Russia in Syria, Syria itself, the Middle East, China, Latin America, etc.

Who will make up the inner circle of the national security wing of the Trump Administration? The Donald has already selected Lieutenant General (Ret.) Michael T. Flynn to be his National Security Adviser. For the uninitiated or previously uninterested, the National Security Adviser is a cabinet position that does not require Senate confirmation. It is essentially a “broker” position, and the NSA (not the illegal spying agency) takes the multitude of policy recommendations from the different levels of government and breaks them down to the President in ways he (and hopefully soon, a non-Clinton she) can understand. Of course, the level of influence that this position has varies from administration to administration, but I can reasonably argue that General Flynn will wield more than the typical amount of influence. By most accounts, Flynn was pushed into retirement by President Obama for raising concerns about military intervention in Syria as well as not taking the Islamist (there is a difference between Islamism and Islam, but that is a discussion for another time) threat seriously. He has an axe to grind, more recently stating that Islamism (the supremacist, radical offshoot of Islam. Disclaimer: not all Muslims are Islamists, go read a book to find examples of radical “isms” in other religions) is a cancer in the bodies of “1.7 billion people” that “has to be excised”. It appears restraint and measured approaches to combating Islamism are not going to be a hallmark of this administration.

Flynn’s foil comes from an unlikely source, Marine General (Ret.) James “Mad Dog" Mattis who is considered for the defense secretary position. Widely hailed as the finest combat commander of his generation, Mattis is an intellectual, an adept strategic thinker and beloved by those who served under him in Iraq. In the lead up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Mattis put his men and women of the 1st Marine Division under rigorous academic preparation in Arab culture, language, as well as general cultural sensitivity courses. In his retirement debriefing by the Armed Services Committees of Congress, Mattis offered measured and cautious advice on constructing a grand strategy for the remainder of the 21st century:

The international order built on the state system is not self-sustaining. It demands tending by an America that leads wisely, standing unapologetically for the freedoms each of us in this room have enjoyed … While we recognize that we owe future generations the same freedoms we enjoy, the challenge lies in how to carry out our responsibility. We have lived too long now in a strategy-free mode. To do so America needs a refreshed national strategy. The Congress can play a key role in crafting a coherent strategy with bipartisan support. Doing so requires us to look beyond events currently consuming the executive branch. There is an urgent need to stop reacting to each immediate vexing issue in isolation. Such response often creates unanticipated second order effects and more problems for us. I suggest that the best way to cut to the essence of these issues and to help you in crafting America’s response to a rapidly changing security environment is to ask the right questions.”

Mattis is clearly the foil to Flynn’s brashness. Assuming Mattis is selected by President-elect Trump to head the Pentagon, he and Flynn will be responsible for millions of lives, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and providing prescient and balanced advice to a rather ill-tempered President. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see where this clash of titans will take us.

Steven Wynen is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science with a minor in economics. His column, “Reality Check,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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Steven Wynen

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