Donald Trump has nominated retired Marine Corps general James Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense. Genral Mattis has not been out of the service the required seven years and hence cannot legally serve in that post, but I think the Congress should and will grant him a waiver, because by most accounts he’s a good choice — intelligent, competent, decent, and courageous.
Another reason to like Mattis: Trump had been an open advocate of illegal torture until, according to Trump’s own account, Mattis explained to him that waterboarding really isn’t a productive approach to interrogation. It can make people talk, but it can’t make them tell the truth. (Wouldn’t you make stuff up to stop being tortured?) Years ago I read an article by a military officer describing SERE training (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) in which he mentioned that those taking the course were pretty good at keeping secrets while subjected to waterboarding but often gave them up accidentally during questioning by a skilled and seemingly friendly interrogator. According to Trump, Mattis told him essentially the same thing.
Unfortunately Mattis is the exception. Too many other Trump appointments range from the merely unqualified (Nikki Haley as ambassador to the UN) to the spectacularly and admittedly unqualified (Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) to however you might classify chief strategist Steve Bannon (openly proud of having transformed Breitbart News from rightwing to “alt-right,” the current term for the extreme nationalist, racist far right).
Then there’s another retired general, Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor. A former Army lieutenant general, Flynn had a quite respectable military career and was noted for encouraging his junior officers to speak up and challenge his views. In 2012 was appointed by President Obama to head the defense intelligence agency. Unfortunately, according to various sources, his superiors and subordinates became concerned with his erratic management style and his tendency to believe a lot of nonsense, which his staff took to calling “Flynn facts” as distinct from regular facts. Apparently his receptiveness to wild rumors and conspiracy theories was nothing new, but previously it had been moderated by a willingness to listen to debunkings from subordinates. He was retired from the post in 2014, pushed out of the job after less than two years, and since then his public comments have reinforced the notion that he believes a lot of questionable things.
Flynn’s closest advisor is his son and business partner, Michael G. Flynn, who has a reputation for promoting conspiracy theories on social media and expressing confidence in such questionable sources as Paul Watson, who runs the InfoWars conspiracy site. The younger Flynn is fond of calling people and groups he disapproves of (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, CNN, Saturday Night Live, et al) “communists” and “commies,” like a Bircher from the fifties. On the other hand, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are merely “socialists.” Conservatives not sufficiently pro-Trump are “cucks,” a term of art on the loony right for those deemed inadequately loony.
Kevin Drum, who had previously expressed concern about General Flynn in his blog on November 24, this morning points out more recent reasons for concern and urges more rational Republicans to do what they can to convince Trump to choose somebody else as his National Security Advisor. (The post doesn’t require Senate approval, so the Senate can’t just refuse to confirm the nomination.)
Also today, conservative commentator and Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough complained that Flynn “has left a trail of crap behind him with retweets, retweeting something about Jews, retweeting something about Muslims, retweeting fake news,” adding, “He needs to apologize to Americans.” Panelist Mark Halperin agreed that Flynn should apologize and “not in a perfunctory way. It shouldn’t just be, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I was careless.’ He needs to explain all of this in a way that’s detailed, because again, he’s not subject to Senate confirmation. He’s about to have a very big job. He’s not responsible for his son, but he’s responsible for himself.”