In recent editions of the Trump for President Dumpster Fire reality show, we’ve been seeing the name of retired Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who was forced out in 2014 over policy clashes with Obama administration officials and went on to become a top Obama critic since leaving the military. He has reportedly been an informal campaign foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump for some time now. Now he’s rapidly emerged as a leading vice presidential contender. It seems so serious that after yesterday saying that he was pro-choice and creating a instant firestorm on the right, he today ‘clarified’ that he’s actually pro-life.
But enough of all that, stop the presses: I’ve just uncovered information that almost certainly proves that Flynn is completely nuts.
You may have seen mention that Flynn is the author of a book called Field of Fight about ISIS and the war on terror. So far, so good. But wait. Look at the highlighted portion of the cover here!
He cowrote this book with Michael Ledeen!
If you know who Michael Ledeen is, I probably don’t have to say anymore.
If you don’t, Michael Ledeen he is a PhD in history and philosophy who’s been kicking around DC for decades, playing a minor but significant role in the Iran-Contra scandal but generally remaining on the fringes of the neoconservative foreign policy movement because his ideas are too dark, too cynical and too fascistic.
In case you think I’m using the word loosely, not at all. Ledeen is genuinely a man of ideas and letters. It’s just that the ideas tend to be a bit evil or post-moral in a functionally equivalent way. Ledeen’s key intellectual influence was the Italian fascism or neo-fascism he came into contact with during his time in Italy during the 1970s. Without getting too deep into the story, Ledeen was part of a movement to distinguish ‘fascism’ as a set of ideas, an intellectual movement from the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. A bit further afield this was an effort to distinguish between Mussolini’s fascist movement from the national socialist movement of Adolf Hitler to the north – an argument that is not without some true merit.
Ledeen’s mission was to salvage what he took to be the revolutionary and liberationist core of fascism from the historiographical and ideological disgrace to which it has largely been consigned for decades. If you’re interested in more you can look up names like Giovanni Gentile, Gabriele D’Annunzio and a whole list of others, some genuine thinkers, others craven lickspittles. In any case, without putting too fine a point on it or being too arch, much of Ledeen’s life’s work has been dedicated to creating what lefty historians sometimes call a ‘usable past’ for fascism.
Of course, people are interested in a lot of things and there are some interesting poets and philosophers on the fringes of the early fascist movement. Mussolini himself is a fascinating figure – brilliant in many ways though I think fundamentally an opportunist and frequently a charlatan. If these were mere intellectual pursuits it would be one thing. But Ledeen’s signature qualities during almost four decades in Washington have been the profoundest cynicism, arcane conspiracy theory creation and a generalized desire to embroil the US in foreign wars. Through much of the aughts he was most memorably known as the author of a wild conspiracy theory that held that basically all terrorism, across all sectarian, national and ideological divides was run by a series of interconnected ‘terrorism families’ on the model of the 1950s era La Cosa Nostra.
He was, as I mentioned, a key player in the Iraq-Contra scandal, a major advocate of the Iraq War who managed to end up arranging secret meetings in Rome in late 2001 between Iran-Contra figure Manucher Ghorbanifar and Bush administration officials looking for evidence against Saddam Hussein. That whole latter episode is still too little explained or understood.
In a fascinating touch, back in May Ledeen was attacking critics like Robert Kagan who were calling Trump ‘fascist’ but, in a notable and predictable twist, on the theory that Trump wasn’t really good enough for the fascist label. “For Mr. Kagan (surprisingly and disappointingly praised by Bret Stephens),” writes Ledeen, “fascism is little more than any political movement led by a charismatic strong man … Mr. Kagan doesn’t discuss the revolutionary aspect of fascism. Italian fascists claimed to be able to unleash the creative powers of a “new fascist man,” while the Nazis advocated the superiority of the Aryan race. Neither concept is to be found anywhere in Trumpism either in theory or practice.”
Basically, if you see an idea and it looks sensible but find out Ledeen is involved, it’s definitely not sensible and is in fact probably some harebrained plan half crazy, half evil that you want nothing to do with. When Ledeen’s involved, there’s always trouble.
I haven’t read Flynn’s book. But the fact that he co-wrote the book with Ledeen – and since Flynn is a retired general and Ledeen an accomplished writer I figure it’s largely Ledeen’s work – he must either be in the thrall of various wild and dangerous ideas or under the malign influence of someone who is the generator of various wild and dangerous ideas.
Seriously, if Flynn’s in with Ledeen, he’s trouble.