A former U.S. military general and one of Trump’s top vice presidential picks lambasted the way the U.S. military deploys troops to war, saying that troops should not be allowed to come home until they’ve won.
It was the latest pointed comment from retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014 and is now seen as Trump’s top adviser on national security and foreign policy issues. The former general’s comments offer insight into the type of vice presidential candidates—and their policy positions—that Trump is currently vetting ahead of the Republican convention in Cleveland, which Flynn plans to attend.
At an event at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday afternoon promoting his newly released book about the War on Terror, The Field of Fight, Flynn lamented that America has lost its ability “to truly crush our enemies and win.”
When the moderator asked Flynn if America suffers from a critical weakness against its military rivals, the former general responded that troops are not given clear orders to win decisively—and instead are distracted by fast-food restaurants on military bases.
“I think that our weakness is understanding that when we go to war, we go to war to win,” Flynn said. “We don’t go to war to protect Pizza Hut or Burger King or some other things, some of the nonsense I’ve seen on our battlefields.
“When my father served in World War II, he wasn’t told ‘Go to Europe for four months, for six months and then you can come back and there’ll be plenty of big bases there for you to serve on and don’t worry about it.’”
Flynn’s criticism of how the U.S. military deploys troops—one year deployment for every 1.6 years spent at home—offers a window into the retired general’s strategic mindset after serving in Army intelligence positions for 33 years.
But Flynn did not explain how to win today’s wars which, unlike World War II, are fought with an all-volunteer force. That volunteer force is now expected to deploy multiple times to fight terror groups, not other nations’ militaries.
The United States kept troops in Iraq for eight years, from 2003 to 2011, and in 2014 the Obama administration began sending troops into the country once again. There are roughly 6,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today. In Afghanistan, U.S. troops have been in the country since 2001. That’s far longer than the time U.S. troops spent fighting in Europe—where Flynn said his father served—during World War II, which was just under two years.
“We’ve told this to our leadership: ‘Look if you told us to go fight these guys and we’re not coming home until we’ve won, we would have fought a totally different strategy,” Flynn said about the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Because believe me, nobody wants to stay in those godforsaken places.”
Last weekend, Flynn’s vice presidential chances seemed in jeopardy after the former general flip-flopped on abortion and said he did not think same-sex marriage was a big issue. The general has still become one of Trump’s closest advisers. Flynn, who was forced out of the Obama administration after a contentious tenure as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has briefed the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in person and written memos for him, according to Politico.
“As I have gone back and looked over the last year, how important this election is, this is not one that the American voter can sit out,” Flynn said at the book event, although he did not mention Trump by name.
So Flynn’s comments offered a window into the Trump campaign’s foreign policy, including Trump’s tendency to praise dictators.
At the book event on Wednesday, Flynn praised Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi, a general who took power in a military coup two years ago. Yesterday, the Egyptian government announced that it would censor Muslim clerics, forcing them to give identical pre-approved sermons, as part of the government’s program to combat extremism, according to Voice of America.
Egypt is in a “human rights crisis” under el-Sisi’s leadership, according to Human Rights Watch.
“It’s like President El-Sisi says. I’m a fan of what he did, which was to take on his religion,” Flynn said. “He calls for a revolution or a reformation. And I think that that was so intellectually courageous.”
Trump’s military proposals have long been controversial, most notably his suggestions to renew the military’s use of torture and kill the families of terrorists.
On Wednesday, Flynn denied that Trump had suggested those proposals—despite recorded evidence of Trump doing so on television news shows and during the Republican presidential debate last December.
When The Daily Beast asked his opinion on Trump’s proposals, which liberal and conservative experts have condemned as war crimes, Flynn responded that “You’ve got to ask him.
“But that’s not what I see and not what I’ve heard. And what I tell people is: be very precise when asking me a question about, about the language that he has used.”
Flynn’s press contact did not respond to an email citing multiple instances of Trump proposing to expand the use of torture and targeting the families of terrorists.
So Flynn may not be comfortable with everything Trump says. If he agrees to be Trump’s running mate, however, the former general will be placing his name alongside a candidate who shares his focus on winning—but shows little regard for the norms and ethics of the military to which Flynn has dedicated over three decades of his life.