President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has been much more outspoken about Islamic militants than he has about China and North Korea, the two main strategic concerns of the U.S. in Asia.
That has left scholars and analysts looking for clues about his views on Asia. A book published in July for which he was a co-author, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies,” offers some tea leaves. The half-dozen mentions of China and North Korea are couched in generalities, but there are glimpses into what the general thinks of the two nations.
Flynn wrote that the U.S. needed to confront a global “alliance” between “radical Islamists” and the governments of China and North Korea, as well as Russia.
China and North Korea are officially secular communist states, and China has blamed religious extremists for violence in Muslim areas of its Xinjiang region. In the book, Flynn acknowledges that people may find the idea of an alliance between the communist nations and jihadis to be strange, but asserts that it exists. He does not go into details on the alliance.
In like Flynn, literally
Flynn is about to take on one of the most important foreign policy jobs in the U.S. government. He will be expected to coordinate policymaking agencies, manage competing voices and act as Trump’s main adviser, and perhaps arbiter, on foreign policy.
By appointing Flynn, a former Army intelligence officer, Trump has signaled that he intends to prioritize policy on the Middle East and jihadi groups, though the Obama administration seems to have stressed to Trump the urgency of dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program.
Flynn is an outspoken critic of political Islam and has advocated a global campaign led by the U.S. against “radical Islam.” He once wrote in a Twitter post that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”
Based on his book, that campaign is the framework through which Flynn sees China and North Korea. In the introduction, he wrote that radical Islamists “are not alone, and are allied with countries and groups who, though not religious fanatics, share their hatred of the West, particularly the United States and Israel.”
The introduction continued, “Those allies include North Korea, Russia, China, Cuba and Venezuela.”
The general expanded on his definition of the anti-Western alliance: “The war is on. We face a working coalition that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. We are under attack, not only from nation-states directly, but also from al-Qaida, Hezbollah, ISIS and countless other terrorist groups.”
“Suffice to say, the same sort of cooperation binds together jihadis, communists and garden-variety tyrants,” he added.
Flynn mentioned reports that North Korea had cooperated with Syria and Iran on nuclear programs and trade. Iran is the “linchpin” of the global anti-Western network, he wrote.
Flynn points to a common ideology
The general also wrote that there was a common ideology that bound the nations and militant Islamists together.
“There are many similarities between these dangerous and vicious radicals and the totalitarian movements of the last century,” he wrote. “No surprise that we are facing an alliance between radical Islamists and regimes in Havana, Pyongyang, Moscow and Beijing. Both believe that history, and/or Allah, blesses their efforts, and so both want to ensure that this glorious story is carefully told."
Early in his career, Flynn served with the 25th Infantry Division in the Asia-Pacific region. He wrote: “This opened up my eyes to the type of enemies we saw across a wide swath of the Asia-Pacific rim. There were many, and still are.”
Flynn did not reply to a request made via Twitter on Wednesday for an interview.
John Delury, a scholar of Chinese history and the Koreas at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, said in an interview that after reading Flynn’s book, he was struck by the contrast between the general’s focus on Islam and the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia from the Middle East.
“Flynn’s obsession with eliminating radical Islam is likely to color his view of everything else — including key strategic questions facing East Asia, like the rise of China, resurgence of Japan and nuclear breakout of North Korea,” he said. “Running the National Security Council is all about juggling priorities, keeping your eye on the ball while maintaining strategic balance. Flynn doesn’t come across as much of a juggler. For him, there is only one ball out there. If Flynn is able to press his global war on radical Islam, America’s rivals in Asia will seize the opportunity to further their interests.”