Trump’s Generals See Iran as Dire Dangers


Retired Gens. Michael T. Flynn, James N. Mattis and John F. Kelly
Retired Gens. Michael T. Flynn, James N. Mattis and John F. Kelly
President-elect Donald Trump is assembling a national security team dominated by retired generals who share a deep distrust of Iran and have characterized the threat of Iran in far more dire terms than Obama administration officials and intelligence assessments.

The trio of ex-generals represents an emerging core of the Trump administration that is at odds with President Obama’s efforts to convince the American public that — 15 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — terrorism continues to pose a persistent threat to the nation, but not an existential one.

The generals’ views also cut against the grain of U.S. policies seeking to empower moderates in Iran and of U.S. intelligence assessments that terrorism no longer stands alone atop the rankings of global security threats now crowded by concerns about cyberattacks and renewed aggression by China and Russia.

Their views, though far from uniform, have been heavily influenced over the past 15 years by intensely personal battlefield losses, the country’s waning attention to the wars and an up-close view of a ruthless enemy.

Those experiences could lead retired Gens. Michael T. Flynn, James N. Mattis and John F. Kelly to urge caution in Trump administration debates about the use of force. But former colleagues and experts said the generals are also more likely, by virtue of their training and experience, to see malign intent or view the world as a struggle between good and evil.

“The nature of the job in the military is to be responsible for threats against the nation and to be blamed if the country is not prepared,” said Stephen Biddle, a professor at George Washington University and frequent adviser to the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They tend to be very threat-focused in relation to civilians and tend to see that threat in more apocalyptic terms.”

Statements and online postings by Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, have drawn the most alarm among intelligence analysts and the foreign-policy establishment.

Mattis and Kelly — Trump’s respective nominees for secretary of defense and secretary of homeland security — have been far more measured in their foreign-policy pronouncements and are widely respected within the foreign-policy establishment and among the United States’ Gulf Arab allies. Yet each has expressed hard-line views about Iran and the threat of terrorism.

“Our country today is in a life-and-death struggle against an evil enemy, but America as a whole is certainly not at war,” Kelly said in late 2010, just days after his son, an officer leading Marines in Afghanistan, was killed. “Not as a country. Not as a people.”

Mattis’s persistent warnings about the threat posed by Iran led to tensions with the White House, which urged him when he was in uniform to tone down his rhetoric. He has criticized the Obama administration for taking too passive an approach to Iranian aggression and fostering “the impression in the region that the U.S. was withdrawing.”

In a speech in April, Mattis described the Iran deal as one “drawn up with the expectation that Iran will cheat.” He said that one of its principal advantages would be that “we’ll have better targeting data should it come to a fight at some point in the future.”

“We’re going to have to plan for the worst,” Mattis said.

Obama has mounted an aggressive campaign to kill senior al-Qaeda and ISIS leaders and wrest back territory seized by the extremists in Iraq and Syria. But he has also emphasized that the groups are not “the vanguard of a new world order.”

“These terrorists can never directly destroy our way of life, but we can do it for them if we lose track of who we are and the values that this nation was founded upon,” the president said in a speech earlier this week.

The three generals also share a widely held frustration in the military that they have been fighting for 15 years without the full support of the country or its civilian leaders.

“All of us who served and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, month after month, year after year, have been too close to the human costs — our buddies killed in action and our Iraqi and Afghan partners assassinated,” said J. Kael Weston, a State Department official who advised Marine officers in Iraq and Afghanistan and wrote “The Mirror Test,” a memoir of his service. “But the policymakers in D.C. have been too far removed from the blood-red tally of war.”

When Mattis retired from the Marines in 2013, he spent two weeks zigzagging across the country visiting the parents of Marines killed under his command. Kelly and his two sons have taken part in more than a dozen combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. When his son’s platoon was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, he made weekly and sometimes daily trips to visit his son’s wounded Marines at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Those trips continued after his son was killed in combat.

Flynn, who served in Afghanistan and as the Joint Special Operations Command’s senior intelligence officer, has spent as much time deployed to war zones as almost any other general in the Army over the past 15 years.

The disconnect between the generals and Washington also extended to the battlefield, where military officers often felt compelled to describe the messy wars to their troops as battles between good and evil.

“When you explain to a lance corporal why his best friend got horribly killed and he has to go out there again and again and again, you don’t have time for geo­politics,” said retired Lt. Col. John Nagl, an Iraq veteran and counter­insurgency expert. “You tell him, ‘We have to fight the enemy here so that we don’t have to fight them at home.’ ”

A big question is how the perspectives of senior military officers, serving in Cabinet-level positions, will influence the direction of a Trump administration.

Obama’s deep skepticism of foreign intervention meant that he often served as a brake on discussions about how the United States might respond to hostile developments overseas. Trump has no foreign-policy or military experience to examine for insights into how he might respond, but his campaign posture was animated mainly by the promise of aggression.

“I think it’s likely there will be terrorist attacks in the coming years, and I think Trump will feel tremendous pressure to be seen as acting very decisively,” said Dan Byman, a former Middle East analyst at the CIA and a professor at Georgetown University.

Trump’s advisers may be quicker to see nefarious intent because of their military experience, he said, but be more cautious about U.S. military intervention or retaliation.

Byman cited the example of the Iranian seizure of American sailors shortly before the Iran nuclear deal was signed as an example of an overseas provocation that had the potential to derail broader U.S. policy goals.

Trump’s advisers “have a lot of personal experience and might be more inclined to see Iranian hostility as deeply planned,” rather than the act of a rogue faction or a function of chaos, Byman said. “They’re more likely to read things negatively than the Obama administration would have.”

“In significant ways, the chances for limited conflict with Iran go up,” Byman said. “But that doesn’t mean, to me, we bomb them.”

The Washington Post



3 responses to “Trump’s Generals See Iran as Dire Dangers”

  1. 5thDrawer Avatar

    A couple of generations of being given false news reports – or not even getting some of them – has done a fine job with the brainwashing of most of the ‘tops’ … who slide into their personal ‘modes’ of thinking.
    Good or bad, we’ve all been hoodwinked for far too long. And protesting ‘policy’ in even peaceful ways is now reduced to becoming seen as being as bad as with those who bring the weapons to the ‘dialogues’.
    Debate and dialogue are inevitable because humans all have different perspectives. Swaying them to the views of ‘ONE’ takes a lot of work … for the purpose. ‘Flocking’ them together will generally create the destabilization now seen in ‘handling’ a country of confused Americans, as well as it has done in other ‘states’ over their histories, whether democratic or dictatorial. And the already ‘disunited’ states of thinking, within a 50-state country, had better begin to figure out soon why it’s in such a ‘shit-zone’ of supposed ‘Leadership’ – WHILE people are still largely allowed to do ‘dialoging’ in a free manner – and to bring up some ugly ‘truths’.
    And when real truths are still ‘on record’, the reportage of more than one ‘view-of-life’ must be allowed.
    What is named as ‘personal experience’ is not always real experience, or applicable to necessary ‘character’ developed by that – especially if lead over long time-periods in falsehoods.

    1. When the Knights Templar returned back home, they were the wealthiest in Europe (apparently from pilgrims’ donations); and became the bankers of the Europe. A light bulb went off and they thought it would be a good idea to control the entire world – that was until the Church intervened.

      Their spiritual descendants (not rhetorical) today are not any different. They want complete control of the world by eliminating competitors (subjugation or straight RIP). P = pieces.

      If you look back at the modern history of Iran, Mosaddegh was good “friend” of the Anglo-Saxon until he thought it would be a good idea to go solo. He was dethroned by an orchestrated coup to bring in another good “friend” of the Anglo-Saxon, the Shah (who was Jewish for the record). The faith of the Shah was not any different. He was dethroned by another orchestrated coup when he became disobedient to bring in the Ayatollah Khomeini (who had Kashmiri mother and a father with a dubious past linked to British intelligence).

      Which begs the question: who really runs Iran today? Were secular, progressive leaders removed for Islamic ones (like they were in Iraq, Libya, etc not too long ago) in order to make of Iran a (made up) enemy to strengthen Israel and justify the USA’s invasive foreign policy around the world – especially the Middle East?

      1. 5thDrawer Avatar

        Consider ‘the church’ OF that time purporting it’s religiosity, went with Jesus on the concept that doing haggling business in the synagog wasn’t supposed to be any part of the worship of a god. The ‘rest day’ was to contemplate the glory of getting a rest after 6 days of hard work, and to say ‘thanks’ for my own being. And of course, as today, some didn’t agree. So they got rid of him.
        All history has ‘givers and takers’. And it more often depends on how they feel about a fellow human, how much ill they are willing to do to him in any given century of thought on the matter.
        Some are natural socialists, amazingly, and will help others ‘rise up’ in a society. THAT has been the premise of all the ‘good thoughts’ … and the theories behind some of ‘the words’.
        That they ‘grow’ to have a ‘preference’ for one ‘type’ of society (and even the colour of it’s various skins), placing it over another, was not supposed to be related to ‘we human under God’s hands’ thoughts, in being committed to trying to live together.
        Mohammed may also have become tired of just fighting all the time, saw a ‘light’ and made a ‘connecting’ set of rules which he thought could possibly force people to be ‘nice’ every day – without some of the daily ‘bad habits’ of even using a stinky hand to eat with or pass food his mouth. Then he stuck in a ‘line’ that recognized the ‘future’ is never the same as dreamed; and wrote ‘whatever is written later pre-ceeds what came before’, to perhaps justify his new ‘Sect’ – and that immediately became a reason to alter a pile of his words after he died naturally – words hopefully properly recorded by his #1 wife. Everything since then became a cock-up of the ‘revisions’ done by the original folks telling the fairy tales. Humans ARE that simple.
        And no-one should be relating ‘today ventures’ to what ‘Protectors’ called Knights did back then.
        Although seeing some real history on occasion could be good for them, in contemplation – perhaps on the ‘rest-day’.
        Democracy is the ‘New Kid’ on the block. For some it becomes the chopping-block. For others it actually gave ‘hope’ of being heard – and gaining some support – maybe for an extra rest-day.
        That was ‘advancement’ of general thought, which was good for ‘human’.
        SOME still don’t like to give anything … in ANY of the ‘societies’ … even back to ‘their own’.
        And words are still being ‘revised’ for the purposes of the hagglers.
        And yes, follow the money-trails to find the paths – which are not very ‘godly’, even when that part is played to the hilt by those who would dictate all the falsehoods. The ‘premise’ of the democracy dies now by being used to stifle what the average ‘humans’ really wish out of a life, and is in the propaganda, and/or in the lack of simply telling the truth.
        No wonder ‘thinkers’ become less ‘belief-stricken’. They have also seen ‘the light’.

Leave a Reply