Key score: The good, the bad, and the ugly
If you can look past Flynn, there’s some hope here.
It’s been a busy couple of days, with lines of familiar faces scurrying in and out of Trump Tower in the hopes of making a positive impression on the president-elect as he chooses his prospective cabinet.
Today he announced that he’s made decisions on three of his open slots — Senator Jeff Sessions takes Attorney General, General Michael T. Flynn scores a job as National Security Advisor, and Mike Pompeo heads up the CIA. So what do Republicans make of these three choices?
Let’s break these up for organization’s sake:
Mike Pompeo (R-KS) for CIA Director (THE GOOD)
Let’s get this one out of the way. A Harvard Law School graduate and former Army officer, Pompeo is hawkish on defense and a strong critic of the Iran deal. Serving on the House Select Committee investigating the Benghazi attacks of 2012, he harshly criticized Hillary Clinton — excoriating her for appearing to be more concerned about her political legacy than protecting American officers. He also accused the Obama administration of manipulating information given to the public about the attack in order to preserve the president’s reputation for the 2012 election. Pompeo is also critical of President Obama’s attempts to close Guantanamo Bay and his 2009 reversal of George W. Bush’s policy on interrogation.
Pompeo’s soon-to-be predecessor, John Brennan, served in both the Obama and Bush administrations. Despite his past support of enhanced interrogation, Brennan has criticized Trump’s position on waterboarding, and even promised to resign if given the order to carry it out. Like President Obama, Brennan refuses to use terminology such as “Islamic terrorism” and “jihadists,” claiming that these terms grant “religious legitimacy” to terror groups such as ISIS. Pompeo could provide a much needed push in the right direction.
Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t mess with? That could be him.
Pompeo is a strong pick, though his position on enhanced interrogation is not yet entirely clear. His no-nonsense approach to Islamist terrorism is likely to contribute greatly to keeping Americans safe.
General Michael T. Flynn for National Security Advisor (THE BAD)
A highly decorated retired general, Flynn supported Trump in the primaries and has reportedly been working closely with the president-elect to craft a new vision around national security. Deeply critical of the Obama administration’s response to the constantly evolving terrorist threat, Flynn believes that US foreign policy unnecessarily alienates our allies. While his determination to strengthen the country’s response to terrorism is refreshing, his judgement on the threat posed by Russia is questionable at best. Appearing on RT, an American arm of the Russian state-sponsored propaganda outlet, Flynn suggested that the US should work more closely with Russia to find “other solutions” in response to the crisis in Syria. Flynn also attended RT’s anniversary party in Moscow along with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Flynn replaces incumbent National Security Advisor Susan Rice, best known for her 2012 statements on Benghazi which caused consternation on both sides of the aisle. Then UN Ambassador, Rice parroted the White House talking point that the attacks occurred due to a YouTube video; she denied any terrorist connection, directly contradicting Libyan officials.
Flynn’s view of Islam is much harsher than his predecessor. Diametrically opposed to President Obama’s outlook, Flynn has described the religion as a “malignant cancer” that is likely to destroy Western civilization if America does not begin to show sufficient urgency in combating it. While Flynn does on occasion take care to differentiate between Islam and radical Islamism, much of the time he does not draw this distinction.
Another cause for anxiety about Flynn is posed by his affinity for holding contradictory — or even downright false — opinions. As director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, those under his command were reportedly so accustomed to hearing his baseless claims that they coined the term “Flynn facts” in reference to his propensity for misinformation. A former colleague of Flynn’s has also expressed concern over his ability to perform as National Security Advisor given his lack of organization and his contrary positions.
Flynn is an encouraging pick for a stronger response to terrorism, but his Russian connections, his outright scorn for Islam, and his propensity to believe conjecture are all dangerous traits in a national security advisor.
Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for Attorney General (THE UGLY)
One of the earliest Trump supporters, Sessions is hard-nosed on immigration and a strong advocate of law and order. While his views on issues such as trade have largely bent to Trump’s will, he is nonetheless a solid pick for Attorney General where his tough-on-crime stance could see a much-needed increase in policing introduced to American cities. Sessions is likely to reduce the burden of federal oversight on states seeking to enforce both their own and federal laws, and will ensure that his department works with local law enforcement rather than against it.
Sessions will have some work to do to roll back the legacy of his predecessor, Loretta Lynch. Replacing the equally repulsive Eric Holder, Lynch has stoked racial tensions, demonized police departments and threatened journalists with prosecution for speech subjectively judged to be “anti-Muslim.” Add to this the controversy over FBI investigations into the Clinton Foundation — reportedly stonewalled by Lynch’s Department of Justice — and it’s clear that this is one transition that can’t come soon enough.
Sessions is not entirely without baggage, having been rejected for a position as a federal judge in 1986 over comments made about the NAACP and ACLU. This, along with his strong stance on immigration, will act as an electromagnet for Democratic criticism. However, Sessions did desegregate schools in Alabama and got the death penalty for a KKK murderer (things the left doesn’t want to talk about). So maybe he’s not all bad.
Propping up Trump’s mainstreaming of white nationalist rhetoric on the campaign trail and Trump’s hiring of alt-right mascot Steve Bannon is not a good look. But if he can avoid taking extreme positions, Sessions has the potential to do some good things.
The “Trumped Test” Results:
A lot of people in the media are freaking out that Sessions and Flynn complete the racist triumvirate with Steve Bannon. We don’t entirely disagree: for Flynn, that is absolutely spot-on. However, despite Sessions’s early loyalty to Trump, he is nonetheless a strong advocate for the rule of law and, if Republicans can look past his ardent Trumpism, there may be some good to be done in his office. And Pompeo is hands down a solid choice.
For these reasons and the above, we embrace this first wave of appointments with a “well, this could have been a lot worse.” Republicans should be fearful of Flynn being in Trump’s ear on national security advice, but ultimately the other two picks hold more power. Flynn bumps up the Trumped Scale and the other two show some potential.