President-elect Donald Trump began building out his national security team Thursday, offering retired Lt.-Gen. Michael Flynn the job of national security adviser. The move came as Trump made his most direct foray into foreign policy since the election, meeting with Japan’s prime minister.
Flynn, who served as the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, has advised Trump on national security issues for months. As national security adviser, he would work in the White House and have frequent access to the president.
A Trump official said Flynn had been offered the job but wouldn’t say whether he had accepted it. The official was not authorized to discuss the offer publicly and insisted on anonymity.
Who is Michael Flynn?
Flynn, who turns 58 in December, is a native of Middletown, R.I. He held various positions in military intelligence throughout his career, including director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and intelligence chief for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
In recent public comments, including his fiery address at the Republican National Convention, Flynn has emphasized his view that the threat posed by ISIS requires a more aggressive U.S. military, as well as his belief that Washington should work more closely with Moscow.
Flynn is a champion of other foreign policy themes Trump pushed during the campaign, including renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal.
This alignment of views, coupled with his outspokenness, could make Flynn a particularly useful ally to Trump and counterweight to those senior military officers who have been leery of deeper U.S. involvement in the Middle East as well as those convinced that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine demands a harsher U.S. response.
Flynn’s military experience might have made him seem like a natural choice to lead the Pentagon. But without a waiver from Congress, he is not eligible to be secretary of defence because federal law says “a person may not be appointed as secretary of defence within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer.”
Flynn retired from the army after two turbulent years as director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s top spy agency.
As Trump’s national security adviser he would not require Senate confirmation.
Although he has more experience battling the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant groups than anyone else in Trump’s inner circle, Flynn’s critics in the intelligence community and the military question whether his ouster from the DIA has changed him.
“The whole experience seems to have made him bitter,” said another former U.S. official who worked with Flynn and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Reaching out to Romney
Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, questioned Flynn’s temperament, saying Trump needs someone more steady and “thorough in their analysis” to temper him. “I’m not sure that’s what you get with General Flynn. And I would be worried about an impulsive president with an impulsive security adviser,” Schiff told CNN.
Former colleagues are alarmed by his adoption of Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric – including leading chants of “Lock Her Up!” aimed at Hillary Clinton during the Republican National Convention and saying on Twitter “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”
In a separate gesture of reconciliation with establishment Republicans, Trump planned to meet with 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who lambasted Trump as a “con man” and a “fraud” in a stinging speech last March. Trump responded by repeatedly referring to Romney as a “loser.”
The two began mending fences after Trump’s victory when Romney called with congratulations. They are to meet this weekend, a transition official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss Trump’s schedule publicly. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said they were still “working on” the meeting.
Trump’s actions Thursday aimed to show leaders both in the U.S. and overseas that he could soften his rhetoric, offer pragmatism in the White House and reaffirm long-standing American alliances.
Meetings with world leaders
Trump held his first face-to-face meeting with a world leader since winning the presidential election, huddling privately with Japan’s Shinzo Abe. While Trump made no comments following the private meeting, Abe said the president-elect was “a leader in whom I can have great confidence.”
Since his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton last week, Trump has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and nearly three dozen other world leaders by telephone.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, also visited the president-elect and called Trump “a true friend of Israel.” He specifically cited as another “friend” Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, whose selection as a top White House adviser has created a backlash among Democrats. Bannon’s news website has peddled conspiracy theories, white nationalism and anti-Semitism.
“We look forward to working with the Trump administration, with all the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, in making the U.S.-Israel alliance stronger than ever,” Dermer said.