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Michael Flynn

Former General Michael Flynn speaks during a protest of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election outside the Supreme Court on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

It’s Time to Talk About Michael Flynn and His Cronies

At this point, he should clearly be disciplined, and severely—so why isn't he?

Lawrence Wilkerson

It’s time to talk about Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.
The modern phenomenon he represents, though it had its precursor standouts like Generals George McClellan and Douglas MacArthur, was initiated when Admiral William J. Crowe—a recently retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—publicly endorsed Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election. As payback, Crowe got the ambassadorship to the Court of St. James's. Since that time, flag officers have been increasingly more willing to violate over a century of practice and protocol by speaking out publicly on political matters.  
Still, Flynn and his counterpart, Lieutenant General William Boykin, break the mold, since—unlike McClellan, MacArthur and Crowe—both men lack intellectual stature. Boykin, after all, previously proclaimed—in uniform—that his (Christian) God was better than the Islamic God because his was real and the other an idol. This from the man then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.  If this were not so deadly serious, it’d be fit for a clown show.
Both Flynn and Boykin hail from the US Army's Special Operations contingent, hardly known as a bastion of intellectual distinction. In fact, in the 1980s, when Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) agitated fiercely for a stand-alone command for such forces, many of us in the military warned of bad things to come once the special operators were removed from adult leadership, i.e., the conventional forces to which previously they had had to report. "Be careful what you wish for, Senator..." was an oft-quoted aphorism by conventional military officers. Today, US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) not only controls these forces, but provides them with their own separate budget: dollars fueling what often equates to policy lunacy.

Flynn's latest egregious comments, suggesting the need for an American coup d'etat not unlike that which recently occurred in Myanmar, set a new low.

All that said, when Flynn took the stage at the Republican Convention in 2016 and chanted "Lock her up!"—referring to Hillary Clinton—the military leadership should have intervened. Doubly so, when Flynn only added fuel to his personal political fire—including, of course, twice pleading guilty for lying to the FBI, and his relief as Trump’s first national security advisor.
But Flynn's latest egregious comments, suggesting the need for an American coup d'etat not unlike that which recently occurred in Myanmar, set a new low. At this point, he should clearly be disciplined, and severely—so why isn't he?
It's really quite simple. The military, particularly the Army’s leadership, is worried about two things: (1) a third or more of the rank and file, and perhaps a quarter of the officer corps, agree with Flynn politically; and (2) the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) is spending huge amounts of money and time recruiting—still often falling short—and one of its most reliable recruitment pools has long comprised young men and women who also tend to share Flynn's worldview. The AVF cannot afford to alienate these people. 
Yes, the uniformed leadership, plus its political and press supporters, instead describe the ostensible difficulty of prosecuting retired officers, but that's a legal smokescreen for a lack of moral and political courage related to the other political and recruiting factors.
In 1930s Germany, the same reluctance prevailed, in a general sense, with regard to the rise of Hitler. The German army—the Wehrmacht—was dominated by its Prussian flag officer corps. They thought, largely to a man, that they could handle Hitler, that he would be a short-lived political phenomenon. Some even sympathized with his stated desire to "clean up" Germany; others were sympathetic to his then-latent but widely-realized anti-Semitism.  
Other political parties—the Communists, the Social Democrats, the Catholic Center Party—though together they outnumbered the Nazis, thought similarly—that the Nazis were a flash-in-the-pan, would soon wear out their welcome and disappear. We all know how that worked out. A riveting rendering of this period is provided in a modern work of fiction, Babylon Berlin (and subsequent books), by Volker Kutscher—later adapted as a Netflix series.   

With Flynn and his cronies left largely unchecked, Congressional Republicans having blocked an investigation of the January 6th events at the Capitol, Trump still lingering powerfully in the wings, Christian nationalism rampant in what constitutes a veritable Third Great Awakening, Republicans—my own political party—looking crazier by the day, the Biden Administration mired in the political disaster Republicans have been organizing and funding ever since Lewis Powell gave them the road map and Charles and David Koch the money to implement it—the coming catastrophe could be unparalleled. 
If we could find some courage amongst the Army's leaders, an initial antidote would be throwing the book at Michael Flynn. 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson is distinguished adjunct professor of government and public policy at the College of William and Mary. Previously, during a 31-year career in the US army, served as chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powel

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