Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Flynn

Is There Something Worse Than Hamas?

Critics of the Pentagon, and indeed of all defense establishments, have often quipped that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As a general rule, that sort of comment is as inaccurate as it is unfair. But Lt. General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bolstered this assumption by declaring that the destruction of the Hamas terrorist government of Gaza would lead to something worse.

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Critics of the Pentagon, and indeed of all defense establishments, have often quipped that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As a general rule, that sort of comment is as inaccurate as it is unfair. But Lt. General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bolstered this assumption by declaring that the destruction of the Hamas terrorist government of Gaza would lead to something worse.

General Flynn warned that if Israel is seeking to either decapitate Hamas, remove it from power, or to eliminate it altogether, that might not be a smart move. He asserted that Hamas would be replaced by something far more radical and, by definition, more dangerous to both Israel and the rest of the world.

As Reuters reports:

“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. The region would end up with something much worse,” Flynn said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“A worse threat that would come into the sort of ecosystem there … something like ISIS,” he added, referring to the Islamic State, which last month declared an “Islamic caliphate” in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Is he right?

It is a reliable rule of existence on this planet than whenever you think things can’t get worse, they often do become even more unbearable. But that piece of general life wisdom aside, the argument that behind Hamas lurks more dangerous groups is not only unsubstantiated; to believe it you have to ignore everything we already know about Hamas.

As far as the possibility of more radical Islamists replacing Hamas, there is no question that the prospect of al-Qaeda-related groups becoming the address for Palestinian “resistance” to Israel’s existence would be scary for the West. Perhaps this fear is based on an assumption that they would not be content with slaughtering Jews as Hamas and Islamic Jihad attempt to do but would instead concentrate on killing Americans. But does anyone in the U.S.—even the spooks in the Pentagon—really believe that al-Qaeda types in the Middle East are not already doing their best to attack America right now?

Any group that replaced Hamas as the Islamist rival to the more secular Fatah would be competing in the same Palestinian political universe that grants credibility to groups that attack Israel, not Western targets. Whatever followed Hamas would not be a freelance Islamist terror group such as those in the Arabian Peninsula or North Africa but a Palestinian entity that would seek to escalate the fight against the Jewish presence in the country, not a scattered campaign against the West elsewhere.

But leaving that issue aside, the problem with Flynn’s thinking is that the more one looks at Hamas’s behavior, the harder it is to argue that there could be something that would be qualitatively worse in terms of conflict escalation or human rights.

For example, it was reported today that Hamas executed 20 Palestinians who had the temerity to launch an anti-war protest in Gaza. The protesters were branded as traitors. Would a successor group seek to repress dissent or govern Gaza with more brutality than Hamas?

Hamas has funneled much of the humanitarian aid sent to Gaza into its “military” infrastructure, constructing an underground city of shelters and tunnels for its armaments and fighters and to facilitate terror attacks on Israelis. As Tablet magazine reported, 160 Palestinian children employed as laborers were killed during the course of the building of these tunnels. Would an ISIS-clone do anything worse than that?

Hamas’s purpose, as detailed in their charter and regularly reaffirmed by both their military and political leaders, is to destroy Israel and to ethnically cleanse it of its Jewish population. Would ISIS or al-Qaeda favor a more gentle form of genocide?

To study Hamas’s actual behavior and its beliefs undermines any notion that its elimination would result in the radicalization of Palestinians and their supporters. Hamas is already so radical in terms of its intransigence against peace and Israel’s existence that any more extreme shift under a successor would be purely cosmetic and result in no tangible increase in the threat level to the region.

More to the point, anyone who truly desires a two-state solution to the conflict must understand that the only hope for that outcome—and, admittedly, it is a slim hope—is for Hamas to be eliminated, giving a chance for the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza and to make peace with Israel.

Given the difficulty and the cost of a campaign that would completely eliminate Hamas or to replace it as the government of Gaza it may well be that Flynn’s nightmare will never be realized. Hamas thinks it is in no danger and statements such as that of the general and the willingness of the U.S. to embrace cease-fire proposals that would grant it an undeserved victory only strengthen their conviction that they can continue to fight with impunity. But using this argument to bolster Hamas’s hold on power is a terrible error. The only way to end the conflict is to demilitarize Gaza. The only way to do that is to eliminate Hamas.

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Michael Flynn’s Revelatory Report

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

Read Less




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