The staff of The Intercept live-blogged the first presidential debate.
It’s become pretty clear that if Donald Trump manages to win the election, he will outsource—wholesale—major areas of policy so that he can focus on making America great again by repeatedly telling us how great he is making America great. Depending on who he hires to run various parts of the U.S. government, it could end up being more frightening than it would be if he was just randomly deciding who to go to war with and other shit based on something he saw on Twitter last night.
Recently, Trump has been touting the endorsements he has received from a variety of military figures, including one of the most insane lunatics in modern U.S. history, Gen. Jerry Boykin, an open bigot who proudly views himself as a Christian crusader. There has been much written on Boykin’s views on Muslims (hates them, wants all mosques banned and believes Islam should be exempt from First Amendment protections), his belief that Obama is implementing Shariah law with the help of George Soros and the AIG bailout (or something) and how history has misunderstood Hitler. Oh, and Jews should all convert to Christianity and Jesus is a “man’s man” and will return to planet Earth wielding an AR-15. Jesus “was a man’s man, but we feminized him in the church…he was a tough guy and that’s the Jesus that I want to be like,” Boykin said. “I believe now – I’ve checked this out – I believe that sword he’ll be carrying when he comes back is an AR-15.”
Boykin, who has a storied career in the world of Pentagon Black Ops, has become a sort of carnival barker in his retirement, though he does maintain real connections to and respect from some very unsavory quarters of the national security establishment. Secretary of Defense Boykin would look a lot like a weird LSD trip at the Project for a New American Century—with Boykin dressed as a cowboy riding a nuclear missile shaped like a crucifix and launched at teh Muslin. Thankfully, Boykin has enough documented bat shit crazy that anyone putting him through a Senate confirmation proceeding would almost certainly be punking all of us.
What is not so unlikely, however, is that retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn ends up with a top post in a Trump administration—perhaps CIA director or Defense Secretary. Flynn, who served as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has basically become Trump’s private belligerent Wikipedia on defense policy. He has become a permanent member of Trump’s travel squad as the parade of bigotry has circled the country. And he is one of Trump’s honored guests at the debate tonight. Flynn has made his own share of controversial comments, including suggesting he may be OK with killing the families of suspected terrorists and tweeting, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” But, Flynn should not be dismissed as just another wacko like, say, Don King.
Flynn, who traded his life as a hard-partying surfer for a military commission in 1981, rose to become one of the most influential figures in the dramatic post-9/11 expansion of the role of U.S. Special Operations forces globally. Along with Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Adm. William McRaven, Flynn was the embodiment of Donald Rumsfeld’s view that the world is the battlefield. Flynn, who ran the elite Joint Special Operations Command’s intelligence operations, is still revered as a legend within the military intelligence world.
Ironically, it was Flynn whose black ops programs laid the groundwork for President Obama’s “counterterrorism” strategy in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and, increasingly, Syria and, once again, Iraq. Flynn has made clear the disdain he has for Obama, but real recognizes real and Flynn, like Cheney, knows that Obama has used his credibility with liberals to put a stamp of legitimacy on key components of their beloved dark side.
After 9/11, Flynn was on the knife’s edge of the intelligence technology that would be at the center of the mounting, global kill/capture campaign. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Flynn and JSOC waged secret wars within the broader conventional wars and dramatically expanded the pace of night raids. Central to this strategy was taking prisoners and extracting information from them as quickly as possible.
It was this urgent need for human intelligence and the pressure from the White House and Pentagon that would lead to a brutal regime of abuse and torture of detainees held by JSOC. Unsatisfied with the pace of interrogations being conducted by the CIA and other U.S. agencies in the early stages of the Global War on Terror, Rumsfeld and then-undersecretary of defense Steve Cambone developed a parallel rendition and detention program to the CIA black sites. The program was “Rumsfeld’s answer to the CIA death squads envisioned by Cofer Black,” the former CIA official, reported investigative journalist Jane Mayer.
Flynn and JSOC represented the potential to fulfill Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney’s wildest dreams of what a streamlined, well-funded, secret force could do— and accomplish away from the prying eyes of Congress and the media, or even the CIA.
Flynn’s major counterterrorism critique of Obama centers around the decision to officially end extraordinary renditions (though renditions still occur under Obama—we just outsource the torture to foreign partners) and to stop putting prisoners at Guantanamo. Flynn has no problem with assassinating people with drones or SEALs, which Obama has proven quite adept at doing. But Flynn believes that the black sites and Guantanamo are necessary in order to conduct a borderless, global hunt and kill program.
“You cannot conduct counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, or counter-guerrilla operations without having effective interrogation operations,” Flynn told The Intercept in an interview last year. “If the president says, ‘Defeat this enemy,’ but you say you need resources that you never get, you just can’t defeat the enemy. Without the ability to capture or interrogate, your effectiveness when conducting counterterrorism operations can be cut in half, if not even lower than that, and that’s the challenge that we face.”
Flynn’s presence in Trump’s corner means that a very sophisticated, accomplished assassin could end up in a position of tremendous authority. At a minimum, Trump’s childish awe he exhibits around military figures—especially Flynn—will make it very easy for the black ops crowd to ram through their agenda. Combined with the Christian supremacy and bigotry within Camp Trump, the embrace of the JSOC and CIA paramilitary worldview would resurrect some of the most horrendous aspects of the Bush-Cheney program and combine them with the worst of the Obama administration’s policies. Perhaps Trump would call this bipartisanship.