Gen. Michael Flynn has a noble record of service to the country in Afghanistan and Iraq, but events of the last month have called into question his fitness to serve as President Trump’s national security advisor, a position once held by Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Condoleeza Rice.
First, on election day, Flynn wrote a provocative editorial in The Hill calling for extraditing Fethullah Gülen to face trial in Turkey. Second, we learned that, since September 14, Flynn has been on the payroll of a Turkish businessman with close ties to Turkey’s strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Flynn Is Paid to Flack for Turkey
The Hill op-ed called Turkey our “strongest ally” in the Middle East and criticized U.S. media for its coverage of Erdoğan. In the article, Flynn failed to disclose that on September 14, The Flynn Intel Group signed a contract with Inovo BV to lobby on State and Defense Department appropriations bills. Inovo BV is a front organization for Inovo Turkije, a firm that works to strengthen “the transatlantic relationship and Turkey’s future in that alliance.”
Flynn’s editorial also proposed that the United States extradite Gülen to Turkey to face charges of sedition. Gülen is a reclusive, 75-year-old Muslim cleric who has lived in the Pocono Mountains since 1999. Gülen leads the Gülen Movement, or Hizmet (“service”), which operates 160 charter schools in the United States and 1,000 schools worldwide.
Gülen used to be an ally of Erdoğan’s, but the two had a falling out in 2013 over Erdoǧan’s increasingly authoritarian measures. Erdoğan has since purged the Turkish government of thousands of employees who were associated with Hizmet. He also started blaming Gülen for nearly every crisis his country faces. “If a bird shat,” American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin wrote, “he would blame Fethullah Gülen.” Erdoğan claims that Gülen orchestrated a July 15 failed coup attempt.
Gulen Isn’t Dangerous, But Erdoğan Is
In his editorial, Flynn writes that “the stamp of terror is all over Mullah Gülen” and calls Hizmet “a dangerous sleeper terror network.” These are bogus accusations. Gülen is not a follower of Qutb and al-Banna, as Flynn claims, but a follower of moderate modernist Said Nursǐ. Gülen has been dogged by accusations of opaque financial dealings and has been investigated by the FBI, but there is no evidence that Gülen has ever promoted terror.
Hizmet teaches that Muslims have a duty to promote harmony between different religions and to serve the “common good” of Muslims and non-Muslims. It is built on respect for democracy, pluralism, and science. Gülen has a conciliatory attitude toward Israel that is unusual in the Muslim world. In 2010, Gülen criticised the Turkish-led Gaza flotilla for trying to deliver aid to Palestinians without Israel’s permission. “It was ugly,” Gülen said, “a sign of defying authorities that will not lead to fruitful matters.”
In July 2016, Graham Fuller, author of “The Future of Political Islam,” wrote, “As Islamic movements go, I would rank Hizmet high on the list of rational, moderate, socially constructive and open-minded organizations.”
Erdoğan, on the other hand, has financed Hamas, supported both ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria, and helped Iran evade sanctions. Erdoğan has accused the U.S. government of creating ISIS to foment Islamophobia and has said that the United States was behind the July coup attempt.
Erdoğan’s human rights record is deplorable, and under his leadership Turkey has returned to an era of arbitrary arrests, torture, and censorship. He has jailed hundreds of journalists and judges, who have been convicted in Soviet-style show trials. Turkey now ranks 151 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom index.
Were the United States to extradite Gülen even though the Turkish government has failed to provide us proof of Gülen’s criminal activity, we would subvert our own judicial processes and facilitate Turkey’s descent into radicalism.
Russia Isn’t Our Friend, Gen. Flynn
Flynn’s views on Russia are equally injudicious. Flynn’s desire to reset relationships with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and with Russia has alarmed our European allies. Last December, when our Western allies were boycotting Putin, the Russian government paid Flynn to speak at a series of events in Moscow. At a celebration of a Kremlin-funded TV station, Flynn was photographed sitting next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, an image that blanketed the Russian media for days.
Putin has launched the biggest military buildup since the Cold War, and has annexed Crimea and invaded Georgia and the Ukraine. In 2015, Russia threatened Denmark with a nuclear attack and violated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia is in the process of deploying short-range ballistic missiles and a sophisticated air defense systems along the Polish border.
Flynn’s views of Russia differ starkly from those of the generals that he would oversee as national security advisor. Gen. Paul Selva told Congress that he “would put the threats to this nation in the following order: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and all of the organizations that have grown around ideology that was articulated by al-Qaeda.” Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. said, “Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security” and “could pose an existential threat to the United States.”
Flynn has served our country admirably, and there is certainly a role for him in the Trump administration, but it would be risky to place him in charge of developing and executing the new president’s foreign and defense policies.