Conspiracy Theorists and Putin Apologists: Trump’s National Security Team

The Republican is surrounding himself with people who share his most alarming world views.

General Michael Flynn, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, gives a speech in Washington DC, July 24, 2012
General Michael Flynn, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, gives a speech in Washington DC, July 24, 2012 (DoD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

Donald Trump is filling his national-security team with people who share his most worrying dispositions: an apologetic attitude toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia, an alarmism about Islamic terrorism and a penchant for conspiracy theories.

Perhaps we should never have expected Trump, who lacks any foreign-policy experience yet seems to believe he is always the smartest guy in the room, to surround himself with more level-headed Republicans.

But the people he is choosing are the opposite of level-headed, which does not bode well for the next four years of American foreign policy.

Putin apologist

Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is a Texas oilman with no experience in government but close ties to the Kremlin.

This, more than anything, seems to have informed Trump’s decision to hire him.

Tillerson and Trump weren’t acquainted (as far as we know). It’s unclear what, other than his accord with Putin, made Tillerson stand out.

Far more qualified contenders for the position were reportedly considered, including Richard Armitage, a deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush; Bob Corker, the Tennessee senator who chairs the upper chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee; Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China; Hank Paulson, the former Treasury secretary; and Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee from four years ago.

None of them has excused Russia’s behavior, including its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Corker has announced his committee will hold hearings into Russia’s hacking of the Democratic Party’s emails that the intelligence community believes was meant to sway the election in Trump’s favor — a conclusion Trump (alone) disputes.

Romney infamously called Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe” in the 2012 election — and was mocked by Barack Obama and the Democrats for doing so.

Trump, by contrast, believes it would be “great” if the United States could “get along” with Putin.

He had to go all the way to Irving, Texas to find somebody who agrees with him.

Alarmists

Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has two other disconcerting traits in common with the president-elect: an alarmism about radical Islam and a willingness to believe the worst about his opponents.

A retired Army lieutenant general, Flynn was forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 after insisting — without evidence — than Iran was somehow involved in the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya two years earlier.

He has since claimed — again, with no proof — that Islamists have infiltrated the Mexican border and that fear of Muslims is “rational“.

Together with his son, who is due to serve as Flynn’s chief of staff, the soon-to-be go-between between the president and his spies has also promoted the absurd hoax that Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager ran a child sex-trafficking ring out of a pizzeria.

This is the man Trump takes national security advice from.

Conspiracies

The two women who are due to serve as Flynn’s deputies inspire little more confidence.

The first, Kathleen McFarland, last held (junior) national-security positions in the Reagan Administration. She has since made her living as a commentator, including on the Fox News Channel.

The other, Monica Crowley, is also a Fox News contributor but has no experience in government.

Crowley believes the United States are in a “holy war” with Islam. She has falsely claimed that the Paris terrorists were Syrian refugees and — like Trump — questioned Obama’s loyalty, wondering if perhaps he wanted Iran to gain a nuclear weapon.

Trump himself, who launched his political career by questioning Obama’s citizenship, suggested that the president was in cahoots with terrorists after a shooting in Orlando, Florida this summer.

“He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands,” the then-candidate said, insinuating that the Democrat had for some reason wanted the attack to happen.

Trump said something similar about the man he is due to succeed in January after a radicalized Muslim couple killed fourteen people in San Bernardino, California a year earlier: “There’s something going on with him that we don’t know about.”

Exceptions

The two exceptions to his cabal of Putin admirers and conspiracy theorists are retired Marine Corps generals James Mattis and John F. Kelly, two respected veterans whom Trump has asked to serve as his secretaries of defense and homeland security.

Will they be enough to outweigh the crazy?