Nat-sec appointments: Pompeo to CIA, Flynn as top adviser

Donald Trump will signal a tough forward strategy with his first two national-security appointments, expected to be announced today. To no one’s surprise, Trump will tap his top nat-sec campaign adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, to serve as his formal national security adviser, helping set policy on ISIS and other threats. Trump reached into Congress for his CIA Director and will appoint former West Pointer and now-Congressman Mike Pompeo to take over the agency, according to Reuters:

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has tapped three senior leaders of his national security and law enforcement teams, choosing Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA director and General Mike Flynn as national security adviser, a transition official said on Friday.

The transition official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the announcements would be made formally on Friday.

All three men have accepted Trump’s offer, the official said.

Most of the commentary on this story will be about Sessions, and Larry’s already covered the controversies in his post on the topic. The addition of Flynn and Pompeo might be more consequential, however. A good deal of Trump’s support in the primaries and general election came from people frustrated with Barack Obama’s slow response to ISIS, but also to the broadly interventionist policies of the US over the last generation or more.

These appointments suggest a change more in priorities than in broad strategies. The conclusion of Flynn’s book (written with my friend Michael Ledeen) The Field of Fight should be required reading for analysts looking to see how the Trump administration will handle terror-related security issues. “We have to stop half-assed participation,” Flynn argues, and calibrate both our force levels and our rules of engagement for overwhelming victory. Flynn agrees with Trump that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, but not fighting it through to total victory was the bigger mistake — one that Flynn now says has to be reversed. That’s not a non-interventionist position, needless to say.

And when it comes to striking at the head of terror, Flynn minces no words either. “The two most active and powerful members of the enemy alliance are Russia and Iran,” Flynn wrote. In an earlier passage, Flynn alleged that “we are facing an alliance between Radical Islamists and regimes in Havana, Pyongyang, Moscow, and Beijing.” Flynn’s appointment might be an indication that Trump’s approach to Putin might be a lot tougher than his words have indicated — and that the press has assumed.

The New York Times and other outlets have reported that Flynn’s urging Trump to work with Putin to defeat radical Islam, but his book — published this summer — says something much different. “They are certainly not ‘fighting terrorists’ in the Middle East,” Flynn declared about the Russians in The Field of Fight — “theirs is a battle to rescue an embattled ally in Damascus … [T]here is no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us; quite the contrary, in fact.” Flynn notes that Putin is tilting his military efforts against the West, not ISIS and al-Qaeda, and maintains a strategic relationship with Iran for the same purpose.

Pompeo certainly has focused on Iran as well. He and Tom Cotton accused the Obama administration of signing secret side agreements to the Iran deal, allegations which the White House denied but were later shown to be true. Pompeo has served for some time on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and on the subcommittees overseeing both NSA and the CIA, so he’s familiar with its operations and its fit within the overall intelligence community. Pompeo is also a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, so he understands the lessons of the Libya debacle all too well.

At least thus far, this is a nat-sec team built for forward action and full-out fighting, especially against terrorism but also against its state sponsors. It’s certainly not built for accommodation with Iran, and not with Russia either.