Mehdi Hasan (VO): In the days and weeks after 9/11, the US decided to fight a war in the shadows. George W Bush: Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV and covert operations, secret even in success. Fourteen years later, there's no end in sight.
Barack Obama (archive): We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
Mehdi Hasan (VO): So what does the US do now, and will this conflict ever end?
To find answers, this week I’ve left the Oxford Union for the US capital. I'm here in Washington DC to interview a man who, until very recently, was America's top military spy chief: the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, the DIA, and before that, a commander with JSOC, the elite military unit which helps run President Obama's shadow war.
He's been called "The father of the modern-day JSOC" whose kill-or-capture campaign stretches from Iraq and Afghanistan to Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. But has the so-called war on terror now become a crusade?
Michael Flynn (archive): I've been at war with Islam, or a, or a component of Islam, for the last decade.
Mehdi Hasan (VO): And bonded by a common enemy, can the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran finally work out their differences?
Michael Flynn (archive): I could go on and on all day about Iran and their behaviour, you know, and their lies, flat out lies, and then their spewing of constant hatred, no matter whenever they talk.
Mehdi Hasan (VO): I'm Mehdi Hasan, and in this special edition of the programme, I'm going head-to-head with one of America's leading generals. I'll challenge Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, on the rise of ISIL, on torture, and on why he’s opposed to a deal with Iran. There's no panel, no audience, just me and him.
Mehdi Hasan: General Flynn, your former boss, President Obama, has said that this aim is to, quote, "Degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL." A year into the US-led bombing campaign of ISIL, how close is he to achieving those goals, in your view? Is he destroying? Is he degrading ISIL, even?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I think that he’s degrading them. I don’t think that we’ll ever destroy this, this organisation. I mean, we may cause it to change its name but we are never gonna destroy this organisation. Destroy means completely eliminate. In military parlance, that would be to annihilate -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Should he have used those words?
Michael Flynn: He should not have used those words. Those were incorrect words to use and he should have been more precise, and he should have actually stated what I believe would be attainable goals, which would be to change the behaviour.
Mehdi Hasan: But it's not realistic, as you said?
Michael Flynn: It's not realistic. It's totally unrealistic.
Mehdi Hasan: You served under President Obama as his head of his Defence Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon for two years. You're now out of government. You've been critical of some of the things he’s done since. What would you be doing differently to him, in Iraq, against ISIL?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I think that what we have to do is we have to read better what the Arab nations are in the Middle East, what they're saying. And I think that there's a real pull right now by many of the leaders in the Arab world - they definitely need US support but they know that they have to do this together. I would rather see the US step up in a much bigger leadership role to be able to help them help themselves. And right now, we're not really doing that. I think we’ve wasted so much time. We've wasted so many years of just basically being inefficient at what is very doable to defeat this enemy, this threat.
Mehdi Hasan: And you mention those Arab leaders. A lot of those Arab leaders have gone out of their way to say: "Let's fight ISIL. Let's defeat ISIL. Let's get rid of them. Let's ostracise them." But they've also made it very clear, "Don't blame the Arab world or the Muslim world for it. Don't blame Islam for it. These people are not representative of Islam. They're against Muslims more than anyone else." And yet you said on Fox News not so long ago, quote: "I have been at war with Islam or a component of Islam for the last decade." Isn't that the kind of inflammatory clash of civilisations, Holy War rhetoric…
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, well let's not kid ourselves -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] …that ISIL engages in?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, sure.
Mehdi Hasan: Aren't you engaging in the kind of stuff that ISIL says? Isn’t that what they wanna hear?
Michael Flynn: Let's not kid ourselves about what it is that we are facing and we are facing and the Islamic world is facing an element within the religion of Islam that is going to change it one way or the other, in my belief, change it for the bad, for the negative, if something is not done. But they have grabbed hold of this religion and they are using it in a very, very dangerous way and if the, if the religious component, the somewhat pro-moderate component of Islam actually stands up to it, I believe that it can be defeated.
Mehdi Hasan: Just on the phraseology, when you say you’ve been at war with Islam -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Right.
Mehdi Hasan: That's not helpful language, is it? That gives ISIL -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Oh, no, no, no. I have. I've had arguments, I've sat in -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Islam is a religion of one billion plus people
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I've sat with individuals just like you -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] – and you're saying you're at war with every – doesn’t that give ISIL what they want?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Not with – not with a billion plus. Not with a billion plus.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] ISIL say they - ISIL will be saying: "Look at that US General on Al Jazeera. He's saying he’s at war with Islam. Come join us. Defend Islam."
Michael Flynn: Yeah.
Mehdi Hasan: You're gonna send recruits their way with language like that.
Michael Flynn: We are at war with a radical component of Islam and the way I believe it is that Islam is a, is a political ideology based on a religion.
Mehdi Hasan: Islam is?
Michael Flynn: That's what I believe and that's how I like to -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Sorry, do you mean Islamism? Or Islam? Sorry, I'm confused here.
Michael Flynn: Islamism. Islamism, probably better -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] OK, you're not saying the religion of Islam is a political ideology?
Michael Flynn: A political ideology based on a religion. So my, when I say I've been at war with Islam, I mean
I've sat down with members of al-Qaeda, members of the Taliban that are, that are my age. I mean, very well-educated guys, and asked them why? What is it that we're, that's going wrong somewhere that we're fighting each other? What is it that you – what is your excuse? And if the excuse is, "Well, the West is bad," you know, "The Jews of Israel are bad," that’s not a good excuse.
Mehdi Hasan: A lot of terrorism experts who have sat down with these guys -
Michael Flynn: Right.
Mehdi Hasan: They say: "Actually these guys are political. These guys are," as you say yourselves, "They're a political group using religion as cover."
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I don't agree. I don' agree. The guys that are the serious, the serious leaders of these groups absolutely believe that their version of Islam is the right version, is the correct version.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You say they're serious leaders. We're now seeing reports that ISIL, the top ranks of ISIL are filled with ex-Baathist army officers from the Saddam regime. They'e not all religious fanatics, as you seem to imply. I mean, MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, did a study of several hundred terrorists a few years ago and found, I quote: "Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practice their faith regularly, and could actually be regarded as religious novices."
Michael Flynn: I - I don't disagree with that, but I will tell you that there is a sufficient number of leaders in, still in al-Qaeda and definitely in this group we call ISIL, their religious beliefs are very strong.
Mehdi Hasan: And therefore it' a religious war, in your view?
Michael Flynn: I think that it's a political war. I think it is a political war but I think that they use the excuses that they have applied to be able to fight us.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Completely agree with you but my worry is that you are indulging those excuses. You'e allowing them to get away with making those excuses -
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Well, what I'm trying to do is help people define -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] You're giving them legitimacy.
Michael Flynn: I don't think so. I see how – what they have done is this is a political ideology based on a religion and to me, we have to come to grips with that.
Mehdi Hasan: And yet you, rather than go after the political ideology, you’re going after the religion?
Michael Flynn: Not necessarily. I think it’s the political ideology we have to face.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] When you say you're at war with Islam, you're going after the religion, General.
Michael Flynn: If it’s – if I believe it's a political ideology, that’s true.
Mehdi Hasan: OK, well, here in the West, especially here in the US, you hear a lot of this rhetoric -
Michael Flynn: Right.
Mehdi Hasan: - about religion, Islam, ISIS being the responsibility of…
Michael Flynn: Right.
Mehdi Hasan: … certain Islamic scholars or Islamic groups. You hear lots of people say it's the responsibility of the Shia-led government in Baghdad, the mistakes that they've made in the recent years. You hear people say it's the fault of Assad and obviously the repression in Syria. You hear people blame the Gulf countries for allegedly funding some of these groups. Very conveniently, I often find, we hear very little about America's own responsibility in this conflict, in this problem. Isn't it the case, General, that there would be no ISIL today in Iraq if the US hadn't invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I think that, looking back, there were a number of strategic errors that were made. You have to look back over, you know, 50, 60, 70 years and you could even look back longer, but we definitely put fuel on a fire that was, that had some…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] By…by invading and the behaviour that you had there.
Michael Flynn: …embers. Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's no doubt, there's no doubt. I mean, when we, you know, history will not be kind to the decisions that were made, certainly in 2003.
Mehdi Hasan: And here's the thing I don't – really don't -
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Going into Iraq, definitely not.
Mehdi Hasan: And not just with Iraq, obviously there's Syria. You’re on record as saying that the handling of Syria by this administration has been a mistake. Many people would argue that the US actually saw the rise of ISIL coming and turned a blind eye, or even encouraged it as a counterpoint to Assad. And a secret analysis by the agency you ran, the Defence Intelligence Agency, in August 2012 said, and I quote, "There is the possibility of establishing -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Not so secret.
Mehdi Hasan: - "declared or undeclared Salafist" – it's not secret any more, it was released under FOI. The quote is: "There is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want in order to isolate the Syrian regime." The US saw the ISIL caliphate coming and did nothing.
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I think that what we – where we missed the point. I mean, where we totally blew it, I think, was in the very beginning. I mean, we're talking four years now into this effort in Syria. Most people won’t even remember, it's only been a couple of years: The Free Syrian Army, that movement. I mean, where are they today? Al-Nusra. Where are they today, and what have … how much have they changed? When you don’t get in and help somebody, they’re gonna find other means to achieve their goals. And I think right now, what we have allowed is we've got -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But hold on, you were helping them in 2012. While these groups are -
Michael Flynn: Yeah, we've allowed this, we've allowed this extremist, you know, these extremist militants to come in and -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But why did you allow them to do that, General? You were in post. You were the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Well, those are – those are – yeah, right, right. Well those are – those are policy – those are policy issues, yeah.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] I took the liberty – I took the liberty of printing out that document. This is the memo I quoted from. Did you see this document in 2012? Would this come across your table, one of your analysts wrote -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Oh yeah, yeah, I paid very close attention to all those, sure.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] OK, So when you saw this, did you not pick up a phone and say, "What on earth are we doing supporting these Syrian rebels who are -"?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Sure. That, that kind of information is presented and those become -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And what did you do about it?
Michael Flynn: Those become – those become – I argued about it.
Mehdi Hasan: Did you say, "We shouldn't be supporting these groups"?
Michael Flynn: I did. I mean, we argued about these, the different groups that were there and we said, you know, "Who is that is involved here?" and I will tell you that I, I do believe that the, the intelligence was very clear, and now it's a matter of whether or not policy is going to be as clear and as defining and as precise as it needs to be, and I don’t believe it was.
Mehdi Hasan: Just on what you're saying, just to clarify here, you're saying today – today my understanding is you’re saying we should have backed the rebels. You’re saying in government, you agreed with this analysis …
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] We should have done more earlier on in this effort, you know, than we did. We really – we sort of kicked that can -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But in 2012, but in 2012 which was -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] – we kicked that can, Mehdi.
Mehdi Hasan: But three – we're not – but three years ago, let's just be clear for the sake of our viewers. In 2012, your agency was saying, quote: "The Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq are the major forces driving the insurgence in Syria." In 2012, the US was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups. Why did you not stop that, if you're worried about the rise of quote, unquote, "Islamic extremism"?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, I, I mean, I hate to say it's not my job but that – my job was to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be, and I will tell you, it goes before 2012. I mean, when we were, when we were in Iraq and we still had decisions to be made before there was a decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011. I mean, it was very clear what we were, what we were going to face.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, I admire your frankness on this subject.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Very clear what we were gonna face.
Mehdi Hasan: Let me – let me just to, before we move on, just to clarify once more, you are basically saying that even in government at the time, you knew those groups were around. You saw this analysis -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Sure.
Mehdi Hasan: - and you were arguing against it. But who wasn’t listening?
Michael Flynn: I think the administration.
Mehdi Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis -
Michael Flynn: I don’t know if they turned a blind eye. I think it was a decision. I think it was a wilful decision.
Mehdi Hasan: A wilful decision to go – support an insurgency that had Salafist, al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood?
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Well, a wilful decision to do what they're doing, which, which you have to really – you have to really ask the President, what is it that he actually is doing with the, with the policy that is in place, because it is very, very confusing? I’m sitting here today, Mehdi, and I don’t, I can’t tell you exactly what that is, and I've been at this for a long time.
Mehdi Hasan: OK, well let's go back to Iraq. I just wanna ask you one last question about Iraq. Many would argue that the Iraq invasion was a recruiting sergeant for extremists and terrorists. You seem to have conceded partly that, earlier on in this interview. You said that we added fuel to the fire, I think was your phrase.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I think, I think it was a strategic mistake. I think history will not be kind. It was a strategic mistake.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But let me just get very specific on Iraq. US prisons in Iraq are believed to have helped radicalise thousands of young Iraqis who passed through them.
Michael Flynn: Absolutely.
Mehdi Hasan: Not just through torture but through providing a recruiting ground, a meeting place, a training facility for the very same militants that the US is now bombing. I think 17 of the top 25 ISIL commanders -
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, there's no, there's no doubt – there's no doubt that the prison system that was, that was the Iraqi prison system, became, you know, places, training ground, the training ground for what we’re facing today.
Mehdi Hasan: So it wasn't just 2003 that US poured fuel on the fire, it was much later on as well? US and some -
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Well, I, I don’t think it was so much – it's not the US so much. I -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, let me quote you your former colleague, Major General Douglas Stone, who ran the US –
Michael Flynn: [SPEAKING OVER] That's Doug Stone, right.
Mehdi Hasan: - detention system in Iraq. He said, he called the US prison system, "A Jihadi university that was breeding more terrorists".
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I believe that, and he ran 'em. I believe that. I -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So it's not just the Iraqis as you just said, it's the Americans.
Michael Flynn: - I went down there – well, I mean, what we did was we allowed, we allowed things to happen in those prisons and those detention facilities in Camp Cropper and Camp Bucca to where guys like al-Baghdadi spawned, and others as well, and then when we turned those detention facilities over to Iraq, that became far worse because there was no standards in those prisons at all.
Mehdi Hasan: You were -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] At least we had standards.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Well, let's talk about, let's talk about standards. You were a senior official in the Joint Special Operations Command at that time: JSOC, which is the kind of elite, top secret unit, responsible for the killing of Osama Bin Laden, among other things. You’ve been described as the father of the modern JSOC, and you mentioned Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper, and you mentioned standards. You didn't mention Camp Nama in Iraq, which was nicknamed, "Nasty Ass Military Area" and where according to a New York Times investigation, US interrogators, "Beat the prisoners with rifle butts, spat in their faces and used them for target practice in a game of paintball", where the motto was “No blood, no foul” meaning interrogators couldn’t be prosecuted if they "visibly", if a detainee didn't "visibly bleed". Are you telling me a) those are standards you’re proud of, and b) that didn’t help in the rise of ISIL?
Michael Flynn: No. I mean, obviously no. I mean, those are not standards that – they’re not standards that I will ever be proud of, and my role, my personal role, when you say the father of whatever, what I was asked to do, this was post-Abu Ghraib, so I was responsible for training interrogators -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Who then went and abused these Iraqis.
Michael Flynn: - Who then, who then went in. I mean, I – so we, we saw what was happening but that's not the training that we were giving these people. When we saw what was happening inside of – the whole Abu Ghraib scandal, my role, and it was July of 2004, I was asked to come in and basically fix that problem. We shut that place down as fast as I could.
Mehdi Hasan: Listen to the verdict of Human Rights Watch in their report on Camp Nama: "Military Intelligence battalions systemised the use of abusive techniques in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and Military Intelligence interrogators, including officers, are implicated in widespread abuses during that time." How can you say you don’t have any responsibility for what those interrogators did?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] No, I do. I feel – I always feel like I have respons – I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I don't have responsibility. We all have responsibility but I didn't -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But you didn't tell them to do what they did?
Michael Flynn: No. They're not trained, they weren't trained to do that. I mean, this is -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So why did they do it?
Michael Flynn: This is just, this is poor leadership at its, at its finest, if that's appropriate to say. And there was no accountability at that time for the -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And what accountability did you bring in, General?
Michael Flynn: Accountability was to shut it down and to standardise it…
Mehdi Hasan: Human Rights Watch says that Red Cross was blocked from Camp Nama.
Michael Flynn: From there, from Camp Nama.
Mehdi Hasan: Why?
Michael Flynn: I – you’ll have to ask the folks that ran Camp Nama.
Mehdi Hasan: You were one of the commanding officers who turned up to clean them up.
Michael Flynn: [SPEAKING OVER] No, I – no, I was the one that shut it down. I was the one that helped shut it down.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Did you call for Red Cross to be allowed in, in internal conversations?
Michael Flynn: We, we did. Eventually we did.
Mehdi Hasan: Human Rights Watch says: "There are few indications the military undertook any systematic efforts -"
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] But not in Camp Nama because it was, it was a -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] – "to investigate and prosecute abuses."
Michael Flynn: Yeah. I'm sorry.
Mehdi Hasan: Human Rights Watch says: "There were few indications the military undertook any systematic efforts to investigate or prosecute abuses."
Michael Flynn: That's not true. There were individuals in Iraq and in Afghanistan that came under investigation and many were found, those investigations were found substantiated and those individuals were punished.
Mehdi Hasan: How many interrogators from Camp Nama were prosecuted in a court of law?
Michael Flynn: I don't know. I don't know.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Any? Because internal punishments don’t really count, though, do they?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I don't know. I, I think that our … I think that our entire system is guilty. I think our entire system at that time was guilty. Was guilty of just totally inappropriate behaviour on the part of what we accept -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Doesn't the law, doesn't US law and international law say that if you commit torture, you should be prosecuted in a court? You don't just get a slap on the wrist.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Absolutely.
Mehdi Hasan: So why haven't more people been prosecuted in court from Camp Nama?
Michael Flynn: I mean, you'd have to – you know, I hope that as more and more information comes out, that people are held accountable.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But General, you have that information in your head, presumably. You went there and shut it down.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yes, some of it. I know, I know the ones that I was aware of which was a few, quite a few.
Mehdi Hasan: Let's talk about what you are aware of. You're on record as saying that you yourself physically interrogated detainees. That you've been quote: "Personally involved in thousands of interrogation operations." Just to clarify, did those interrogations that you were involved in, General, ever involve torture?
Michael Flynn: No.
Mehdi Hasan: And when we say torture, are we both agreeing on the definition of torture?
Michael Flynn: Every single -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Water boarding.
Michael Flynn: Every single one that I was involved in, I have no problems with, no -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] No water boarding?
Michael Flynn: Not – I mean, none of that. No, none of that. That was -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] No beatings, no sleep deprivation?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Nothing. No.
Mehdi Hasan: None of that stuff?
Michael Flynn: No.
Mehdi Hasan: None of the stuff we’ve heard about all those abuses?
Michael Flynn: No. That’s right.
Mehdi Hasan: The reason I ask is that’s what -
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] And if I was asked to do anything, Mehdi, I was asked to take the standards that we were training, and take the new doctrine that came out, and get this thing under control. Again, history is not gonna look kind on the – on those actions that you're describing right now, and we will be held, we should be held accountable for many, many years to come.
Mehdi Hasan: The reason I ask about your role is Esquire magazine reported in 2009, they quoted a soldier from Camp Nama, who said that a Colonel named Mike was present in the interrogation when a lot of those abuses were going on. Was that Colonel you, General Flynn?
Michael Flynn: No. No.
Mehdi Hasan: So you were never present when any of those abuses - ?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] No. In 2009, that was already -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] No, that was when it was reported but he's talking about the year 2000-
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, yeah, no. I'll give you my, my time in Camp Nama lasted about three days.
Mehdi Hasan: Whether it's interrogations or drone strikes, or assassinations, or renditions, or night raids, or whatever it is, do you believe that your work in that so-called shadow war resulted in America being more secure today than it was after 9/11 because 14 years after 9/11, all the war on terror seems to have given us is more war and more terror. It doesn't look like a success from where I'm sitting.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah. I think that we have invested in, in more conflict instead of actually investing in solutions. So, and when I say that, what I mean is that we invest in more drones, we invest in more bombs, we invest in more weapons, we invest in more ammunition, we invest in more guys to go out and kill more guys. That's investing in conflict, instead of really taking a serious look and say, "What … what are the big excuses that these guys are using?" And if it's lack of, you know, if it's poor economic conditions, if it's poor social conditions, then let's fix those. But those kinds of things aren't gonna get fixed overnight. And the leaders of the Middle East have to decide that that's what they want to do.
Mehdi Hasan: You sound very reasonable -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] And the expansion of these groups – so if you look at 2004 and you fast forward to 2014, so only, less than a year ago, the, the, the number of terrorists, our state department designated terrorist groups, have doubled. So something is wrong with our policy, and our strategy.
Mehdi Hasan: And here's what I don’t get. When you talk about fixing the underlying problems, when you talk about not investing in conflicts as the number one way of dealing with this, I agree with you, and you do sound very reasonable and persuasive, and yet in February in front of Congress, you said, when you were asked what’s to be done, "The enemy must be opposed, must be killed, must be destroyed."
Michael Flynn: Yeah. There's – and that's because -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] There’s a dove General Flynn and there's a hawk General Flynn.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Well, no, no, I mean there's – there are elements within this organisation that are – that the only way to deal with them is they either have to be captured and put away in some legitimate prison system that will actually hold them for some time …
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Not Camp Nama, we hope.
Michael Flynn: Or, or they will have to be – or they have to be killed. I mean, that's a component of a much, much broader strategy. The military has to be like a lower case "m". I mean, it is so indecisive. It is not the peace that is going to win the day. There has to be other components of a strategy and I don't see 'em. I don't see 'em. I see us – I see us making the military component the principle effort from our perspective, and I just don't see any other real strong informational, diplomatic or primarily economic component to this thing. And frankly, the region needs to come to the table and say "This is how we believe we can end this thing".
Mehdi Hasan: You say, "the region needs to come to the table", and yet you talk about the kind of failures of the military side. I’m asking about the role you played. You were JSOC, which did this quote, unquote, "Shadow war".
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] So you keep saying Camp Nama, but we closed Camp Nama down. That was -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You closed Camp Nama but then – but then you did -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Like I said, I spent three days there.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] But then you did renditions. You did drone strikes. You did night raids.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] That's – that's not my – that was not my responsibility and I hate to say that but -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] JSOC wasn't responsible for drone strikes, really?
Michael Flynn: Well, for drone strikes, yeah.
Mehdi Hasan: Which have been hugely counter-productive on the counter-terrorist front. Many analysts have argued they’ve created a -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, but the rendition thing is a different issue.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] But the drone strikes, many would argue -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] That's another show for you.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, maybe another show, but the drone strikes for example, many have argued, they create more terrorists than they kill. The night raids in Afghanistan, many have argued they create more terrorists than they get.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, I – I don’t disagree, I don't disagree with that. I think that that's – that's conflict. When you invest in conflict – when you drop a bomb -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But with respect, General, that's your failure, then isn't it?
Michael Flynn: When you drop a bomb from a drone, you're investing, you are gonna cause more damage than you're gonna cause good. And I think that -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So do you think President Obama should be not ramping up drone strikes as he has done, but actually ramping them down, as his predecessor did?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, I think that there should be a different approach, absolutely. Absolutely.
Mehdi Hasan: OK. Well -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Well, I do think, believe – I do believe though, Mehdi, that there are individuals that they will – they believe in perpetual conflict on the, on these Islamic radical front, so to speak. So they – and they've talked about perpetuating conflict for the rest of time. I mean, they've, some of these guys have written about it. So we have to understand that. There are some that that's OK for, but I think as an overarching strategy, it's a failed strategy.
Mehdi Hasan: On that note, let's leave it there. We're gonna take a break now on Head to Head. Join me in part two where I'll be discussing Iran and its controversial nuclear programme with General Flynn. I'll ask him why he thinks the Iranians can't be trusted and why he believes doing a deal with them is dangerous. That's after the break.
Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera. My special guest tonight is retired General Michael Flynn, who was President Obama’s top military intelligence official, right up until August of 2014, and is a former Special Operations Commander too.
Mehdi Hasan: General, for more than three decades now, the US and Iran have been bitter enemies. Isn't it time now to bury the hatchet; to find some common ground; to end this kind of never-ending cold war between your two countries?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I, and I have, I mean, I will tell you, Mehdi, for many years, in the, in the Commanders that I have worked for, when I have been asked, I’ve been very pro - we have to do something with Iran. We have to talk to Iran in some form or fashion, but we've got to do it in a way that also recognises their … their really bad behaviour over the three-plus decades, three and a half decades, that frankly the Mullahs have been in charge of their country.
Mehdi Hasan: Whenever you speak to American officials or former officials, they talk about Iranian bad behaviour. Undeniable as it is -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, it’s undeniable, that's right.
Mehdi Hasan: But when you talk to Iranians, or Iranian officials, they'll say: "What about American bad behaviour? We never hear about America's support for the Shah, for the toppling of Mohammad Mosaddegh, the Iranian prime minister, for the support of Saddam's invasion of Iran, the shooting down of an Iranian airline." There’s enough bad behaviour to go around on all sides, isn’t there, General?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] But it's not, you know, so I'm not gonna disagree with you on those, on those issues.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, you can't. Those are facts.
Michael Flynn: But, yeah, they're facts but it's, you know, it's so consistent. Their bad behaviour, Iran's bad behaviour is so consistent and it's so often – and it's, and it's just continuous. At some point in time, this is a country, Iran is a country that's got a well-educated society. I mean, there's so many positives that – and so much potential for them to contribute to the greater good of the world, yet they don't. They've decided that they're not gonna do that. They've decided that they're gonna be a pariah state instead of a contributing state.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] They would argue they've been made a pariah state, when they were invaded by Saddam Hussein.
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Then act differently.
Mehdi Hasan: They didn't get the support of the world -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Then act differently.
Mehdi Hasan: Saddam got the support of the world.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Act differently. Then change your behaviour. Change your behaviour. If you become part of the -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, they would argue that these negotiations that have been, that we've been seeing in recent years, between the Obama administration and the Iranian government, is an example of changed behaviour.
Michael Flynn: I don’t see it. I don’t see the changed behaviour. I mean, I think that they violated – they continue to violate the sanctions. They continue to support with weapons and other capabilities, you know, bad behaviour.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You served -
Michael Flynn: I mean, they're doing them – they're doing things, and they're frankly working with … with certain countries that are allowing the sanctions to be busted. So I mean, just, you know, get to a point where you accept your role in the world, and I think for Iran, they need to accept where they're going to be, where do they want to be in the future?
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] We can't have it both ways, General. You can't say we want to isolate them with sanctions but they've got to play a positive part in the world. You've got to pick one or the other. That's what the Obama administration's doing.
Michael Flynn: The reason why the sanctions from, if you, you know, go way back, is because of bad behaviour.
Mehdi Hasan: OK, well you claim, and you've dismissed President Obama's nuclear negotiations as flawed, as dangerous, as a false choice. You've called it "Wishful thinking". Why?
Michael Flynn: Because I don't – I think that the assumptions that – I believe the assumptions that it is based on are really false assumptions. It's a lack of understanding of, not just Iran, but the entire region, and I think one of the assumptions that was made, a strategic assumption, that has been made with these is the, the sensibilities of the rest of the region. How would the rest of the region go – how is the rest of that, the Middle East, going to respond? And when I say the Middle East, really the Arab world. How's it going to respond? And I think that there was some assumptions that were made that are not good assumptions.
Mehdi Hasan: But again, you seem to be having your cake and eat it. On the one hand, you say Iran is a major bad behaviour, major bad player, it's a sponsor of bad groups. It's busting sanctions. And you're talking about the worry – you're worrying about the stability – but General -
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] I mean, all you have to do, Mehdi, is look at the International Association of Inspectors. Look at what the inspectors have said.
Mehdi Hasan: The IAA have said that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon. That is what they've said.
Michael Flynn: Look – look at some of the – look at some of the -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And the IAA is the group that’s gonna be empowered by a nuclear deal.
Michael Flynn: Look at some of the results of some of what they have said and it's like, these guys are not following through on what they're supposed to be doing. That's just on the nuclear issue.
Mehdi Hasan: But taking a wider point about the region, isn't the whole way you get stability in the region by bringing Iran into the fold? By bringing it in from the cold?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I do, so I think the region – yeah -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Rather than treating it like this kind of child that you patronise and dismiss?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I don't think we're patronising Iran at all.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Well, you talk about Iran like a kind of, like an unruly child.
Michael Flynn: Well, they're – I mean, they're definitely a, a nation state that has demonstrated behaviour that is unacceptable to international norms and laws, and they don't accept accountability for any of their actions. So that's – so putting that aside -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Here's a, here’s a country that is helping you fight ISIS. Iran is helping America fight ISIL in Iran -
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] For their own purposes.
Mehdi Hasan: But nevertheless, still helping the United States. They helped the United States fight the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2004.
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] They also killed – they also killed a lot of Americans in Iraq, I mean -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I’m not denying that. I’m saying to you they are helping you.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] And they also killed a lot of Americans in Beirut and Americans in other embassies around the world. So I mean, it's a funny -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And there's plenty of documents suggesting that some of your Gulf allies have supported groups that have killed Americans.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Sure, sure.
Mehdi Hasan: There are plenty of documents that show many of your other allies have worked against you. The point is, you only single out this one country.
Michael Flynn: I think that there should have been some decisions made before Iran came in to the discussion, that said, "Here is going to be the framework that we are going to abide by", and then bring Iran in. But I also think that – I also strongly believe that the rest of the region should have been part of the conversation as we went forward with this thing.
Mehdi Hasan: How would you control or contain, or curb, whatever you want to use – Iran's nuclear programme? Very briefly.
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] So I mean, we’re, yeah, we're looking at … in hindsight, I would have brought in other players up front and I would have definitely have brought in the rest of the region to let the rest of the region know, "This is how we are going to proceed. Here are the rules of engagement."
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] What are those rules?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I'm not -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I'm asking you what you would have done differently to President Obama.
Michael Flynn: Yeah. I think that, you know, what we were gonna expect out of Iran, I think nuclear development. I think changing the economic system in the Middle East is vital. I think all that – the entire region needs to change its economic -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You're not answering my question. How would you have got Iran's nuclear facilities to do – the President's proposed deal is to reduce the number of centrifuges, reduce – increase the number of inspections, etc, etc. How would you have got results similar to that?
Michael Flynn:Tactically mandate that they open up all their facilities to inspections.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And Iran says no. Then what?
Michael Flynn: Then keep them at bay and not allow them to have nuclear weapons.
Mehdi Hasan: But every single nuclear expert agrees that keeping them at bay, keeping the status quo, allows them to carry on enriching uranium. They've gone from 160, I think, centrifuges to 20,000 -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, 20,000, right.
Mehdi Hasan: - under your system. Under the status quo.
Michael Flynn: Right.
Mehdi Hasan: So why do you think it would work – isn;t it doing the same thing again and again - ?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] But that – no – see, you're – I mean, you're arguing – you're arguing their bad behaviour. You just talked about -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] No, I'm saying to you -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] They were able to do that underneath the noses of the sanctions -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I’m saying to you, I’m saying to you, you're opposed to a deal that brings Iran in from the cold and puts curbs on a nuclear programme. You're saying you don't like that deal. I'm saying how would you get Iran to curb its nuclear programme? Apart from telling them off, I've not heard a single practical proposal from you.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Right. So I think at this s-
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Would you bomb them?
Michael Flynn: What I would do is I would take a big step back, 'cos we're here and now. This is where we are. We need to change the economic – the ecosystem of the entire Middle East, otherwise we’re talking about a region that will go to far, far greater conflict in the future. Right now, that region is built on essentially oil. I mean, let's face it, and the price of a barrel of oil is very low, not gonna change. And my belief is that – and we know that nuclear development of some type is going to happen. We already see the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Do you believe Iran will – do you believe Iran will get a bomb as a result of these negotiations?
Michael Flynn: I believe if it goes the way it’s going, yes I do. Absolutely.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And yet the director of the -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] And I don't think it's gonna take 10 years to get there.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] And yet the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, former colleague of yours in the intel community, he's called it a good deal, and accused critics such as yourself, who say it'll lead to a bomb, as being, quote, "Wholly disingenuous." The director of the CIA basically says you're lying.
Michael Flynn: Yeah. I don't think he's saying I'm lying. I – I heard-
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] He says you're disingenuous. "Wholly disingenuous." That’s a euphemism for lying.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I heard him, I heard him make those comments. I heard him make those comments when he spoke a month or so ago. You know, I look at this and I say, "Look. The assumptions were flawed going in." We are, we are at a place now where this is not just about nuclear weapons. This is about changing a system inside of the Middle East that the Arab world recognises it must change.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I appreciate that.
Michael Flynn: If they don't figure out there’s a disconnect -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But that's a diversion for the purposes of our conversation. I'm asking about the nuclear programme.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, it isn't a diversion. Yeah, the nuclear programme -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] We could make the Arab world become the wonderful home of democracies tomorrow -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Iran will have a nuclear weapon in some period of time less than 10 years -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You know that for a fact, do you?
Michael Flynn: No, I don’t know it for a fact but I, if I look at, if I look at other historic examples -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] You believe Iran is intent on building a nuclear weapon?
Michael Flynn: If I look at other historic examples, and North Korea's the best one but there's others, that they will have a nuclear weapon. They're intent on having a nuclear weapon.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And that's not the – but that's not the view – just to be clear, you're an ex-member of the US intelligence community.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Right, right.
Mehdi Hasan: That is not the view of the US intelligence community that you were part of until August of last year?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, I don't think so.
Mehdi Hasan: You do think that’s the view of the US - ?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I don't think that's the view of some.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, James Clapper, who's the Director of National Intelligence, told Congress in February,
"We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." What do you know that the director of national intelligence doesn’t know?
Michael Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah, of course we don't – what I look at is I look at, what are – what have been the behaviours? What have been the statements? And what is the intent? And I try to read into that intent, I try to read into those things, when -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] With respect, that’s what we heard about Saddam Hussein and we know how that worked out, General.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] And – and this gets back to – this gets back to understanding – that's right. This gets back to understanding what it is that we are facing.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Hold on, you're saying -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I believe Iran is going to have a nuclear weapon.
Mehdi Hasan: And yet your reasoning for that, which you just outlined for us, is exactly the reasoning offered by Dick Cheney and co in 2003 in relation to Saddam and Iraq.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Yeah, that was a mistake. Total -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] And yet you’re making the same mistake again.
Michael Flynn: No, I don't think so. I think that – yeah -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] You're repeating the same rhetoric.
Michael Flynn: Saddam had, he had chemical weapons. He had capability. He definitely had 'em. What the, you know, the poor intelligence that, that was displayed at that time -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But also poor thinking. It was an assumption.
Michael Flynn: - a very, lack of imagination. Total lack of imagination.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And yet you're making the same assumptions today. You're saying, "I believe that they’re gonna build a weapon but I don’t have any evidence for that, but I believe it".
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] No, I – what I’m trying to do – yeah, what I’m trying to do, Mehdi, is I’m trying to get us to use our imagination and think differently about this. But this deal lacks imagination because it's solely focused on one very narrow thing: the development of nuclear weapons. Instead of let's take this up and say, "How can we take this group," this P5 plus 1 and Iran, and maybe brought in the other members of the region and say, "How can we change from an investment in conflict, to an investment in, basically, a new life for these people of the Arab world?"
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You say – General -
Michael Flynn: If it goes in this direction, Mehdi, this is a bad direction to go in.
Mehdi Hasan: - Not just bad direction, according to you, it's wishful thinking on the President's part.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] It's wishful thinking.
Mehdi Hasan: And yet people like Zbigniew Brzezinski, General Brent Scowcroft, former National Security advisers, people like Ephraim Halevy, former Head of Israeli Mossad.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Right.
Mehdi Hasan: A variety of nuclear specialists in the United States -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Oh, I know. I know.
Mehdi Hasan: Admiral William Fallon, former head of Central Command. They've all come out and backed this deal on exactly the grounds you're saying you oppose it. They're saying it will open up new possibilities in the region.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Let's – so let's – this is a bit of a hypothetical but this is happening as we speak. So we have nuclear agreements being signed with Saudi, with the Saudis, with the Jordanians, and with the Egyptians and possibly, if I understand it right, if I read it right, maybe even in Tunisia. So those are nuclear agreements between those nations and Russia, because Russia is a, is a nuclear developer.
Mehdi Hasan: You believe they're all gonna get nuclear weapons? That's your worry.
Michael Flynn: Oh, it's gonna – if there's one thing I learned in the military, a long time ago, and it’s the phrase, "Be for it when it is going to occur". It now equals nuclear development of some type in the Middle East, across -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] There are plenty of analysts who disagree with you on that.
Michael Flynn: - and now what we want – oh, I'm telling you, it's gonna happen. It is going to happen.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And yet Israel – Israel has had nuclear weapons in that region since the 60s and that didn’t prompt a nuclear arms race.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] So what we're going – what we're going to see, what we're gonna see is we're gonna see either – and I, where I'm involved and what I hope for is that we have nuclear energy development, because it also helps for projects like desalinisation and getting water -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But nuclear energy’s fine. It's legal. It's permissible.
Michael Flynn: Nuclear energy would be great. If it was nuclear energy, in theory, the best case, [COUGHS] excuse me, the best case would be no nuclear. That’s not gonna happen.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You would like to see a region, Middle East, free of nuclear?
Michael Flynn: Yeah. That's ridiculous.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Is that what you would like? Can I just confirm that?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I would love to see it.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] So you would love to see Israel give up its 200 nuclear warheads?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I would love to see it but it’s not practical because - actually nuclear energy is very clean and it actually is, it is so cost-effective, much more cost-effective for producing water from desalinisation
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] OK, so then what’s the problem? So then why don’t we just welcome nuclear energy and keep, carry on efforts to stop nuclear weapons?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I would love it. I would love it. I would love it.
Mehdi Hasan: OK, so we’re all on the same page. One last question on -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I mean, I think that's the – but it has to be done in a very internationally, inspectable way and – yeah.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] That's exactly what's happening right now, General. You keep -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] No.
Mehdi Hasan: You keep – well, the majority of experts disagree with you, respectfully. You keep going on about the Iranian threat and you began this part by talking about Iranian bad behaviour. Isn’t it the case, General, that Iran, for all its bad behaviour, in terms of threat levels, is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict or launch a pre-emptive attack on the United States?
Michael Flynn: Iran. Well, I think no. I don't think that's -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You don't agree with that statement?
Michael Flynn: I don’t think that's a true statement. I don't think that's a true statement.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] That statement, General, that statement is your statement from February 2014.
Michael Flynn: I don't think that’s a true statement because -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So were you lying when you said it last year?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Well, I think it's – I think the word is directly – now if you say against -
Mehdi Hasan: Your words – you said -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I know, I know.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] You said, "Unlikely". Let me just clarify. "Unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict, or launch a pre-emptive attack on the United States". Those are your words as head of the DIA.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Right. I think what we have to do is we have to look at our embassies around the world. I mean, a direct attack would be on the sovereignty of the United States. I think Iran attacking like a, like an Al Qaeda 9/11 type of attack is unlikely. That’s unlikely.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So you still stand by that thing?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] On the soil – yeah. On the soil of the United States -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So it's not incorrect?
Michael Flynn: It's not incorrect. It’s not incorrect. I think that that's true.
Mehdi Hasan: Barack Obama has staked much of his presidency and his foreign affairs legacy on his handling of Iran. Do you believe he’s been risking US national security in doing so? Putting American or even Israeli lives at stake?
Michael Flynn: I think it's been a dangerous approach to US national security, yes I do, because I don't think that he has taken in the totality of Iranian behaviour for at least the last three and a half decades. You know, and I have the past history with the United States, but we have to not – we have to worry about the past and we have to recognise where we made mistakes and where others made mistakes. But we have to think about what is the future that we are trying to achieve? And I believe that it's very, very narrow – it's a very narrowly viewed future. We have to think about the next 10 years, the next 50 years, the next century -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So when you hear -
Michael Flynn: - and there are, there are solutions that can get us there.
Mehdi Hasan: So when you hear people like Senator Lindsey Graham saying: "The President has failed miserably to protect America," or Senator John McCain calling him, "The most naive president in history," is that a critique you share?
Michael Flynn: I think that those are – from those gentlemen, I think that those are – those are certainly what they believe. I share some of that. I think that they're also talking about the Islamic State and the rise of the Islamic State, the rise of terrorism. So I think if they – if what they're talking about is that whole context, then I share it and I believe that we have to be very circumspect about what has – what kinds of actions have we brought forward in the Middle East that have caused this expansion of this rise of Islamic extremism, and also this behaviour that Iran has had over many decades.
Mehdi Hasan: But just on the President's national security policies, here's what's interesting. Here in Washington, DC, you hear a lot of people across the political spectrum but especially on the right, saying he's weak, he’s not tough enough, he apologises to all our enemies, he's given up some of the successes that he inherited, etc, etc. Then across the world, and I'm sure some of our viewers will share this view, you have people who say, "Barack Obama? I mean this is a guy who's ramped up drone strikes in Pakistan, killed US citizens without trial, toppled Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. Is back in Iraq, bombing ISIL, surge troops in Afghanistan. Sent Navy SEALS in to kill Bin Laden." So the critique elsewhere in the world is actually it's not that he's too soft, it's that he’s as hard as George Bush was. He's too tough.
Michael Flynn: Yeah. I think he's too tactical. So the examples that you just gave, Mehdi, those are all tactical examples and I think drone strikes is a tactic. We need, we need big leadership and we need big, strategic vision right now. Strategic vision that I believe only the United States can provide, frankly because just the scale of what the United States can offer the rest of the world, and we need big strategic visionary leadership that solves a problem in the Middle East that the rest of the world is part of. The word "abandonment" has been used by multiple people from multiple countries about the United States. "We feel abandoned." That’s not a good place for us to be, and those are pretty senior people in these governments.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But aren't those – aren't those the kind of leaders who rely on the US to keep them in power?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] So that's – so if we were – if we're dropping drones and we’re killing, you know, this guy or that guy and we're training 60 guys, I mean, those are tactical, you know, narrow things that will never – those are investments in conflict, in greater conflict. They are not investments in real strategic solutions. And there are strategic solutions for this region. And frankly, an entirely new economy is what this region needs. They need to take this 50 year old to 25 or 30 year old. I mean, Saudi Arabia, the largest segment of their population, in Egypt, the largest segment of their population, 15 to roughly 30 year old, mostly young men. You’ve got to give them something else to do. If you don't, they're going to turn on their own governments. And we can solve that problem.
Mehdi Hasan: And yet the United States backs those governments in Saudi Arabia and Egypt that are seen as so repressive and undemocratic.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] That has to be a conversation that we have. That’s a conversation that we have to have with them, and we have to help them do that -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And in the meantime?
Michael Flynn: - and allow these -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And in the meantime, we carry on giving them weapons, supporting their conflicts?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] In the meantime, in the meantime, what we have is -
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Turning a blind eye to human rights abuses?
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] In the meantime, Mehdi, what we have is we have this continued investment in conflict. The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just – that just fuels the conflict. Some of that has to be done but I'm looking for the other solutions. I'm looking for the other side of this argument, and we're not having it.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Given – well, given this is part of your -
Michael Flynn: We're – we're not having it as the US.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Given this is the part of your narrative that I agree with, let's wrap up on that point. Let me ask you one question before I go. You've been very critical of President Obama and American strategy in recent years. Have you considered running for office yourself now you’ve left the military? America has a long history of Generals -
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] I've been asked – I have been asked. I have been asked, but I, you know, right now, I mean, God, what -
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Which party, because you're a registered Democrat, I believe?
Michael Flynn: Yeah. Yeah.
Mehdi Hasan: Yet many would say you sound like a Republican.
Michael Flynn: Well it's funny because it depends on where – well, what I am is I am a realist, and I'm someone who, who has done – spent my, most of my life on, based on you know, our national security. So you know, my answer is, you know, thank you for considering it, but it's just not something that I'm interested in.
Mehdi Hasan: Not right now?
Michael Flynn: Not right now. I mean, it's just – it's, God, I mean, look at politics. It's so ugly.
Mehdi Hasan: But to quote the President on Iran, "All options are on the table"?
Michael Flynn: Yeah, all options are always on the table. You know, the best, for – to finish real quick – the last … one of the things I learned as a military guy is, "The best plan gives you the most options at the last possible minute." So I'm gonna maintain all my options, right up until the last possible minute.
Mehdi Hasan: OK. Well, that’s all we have time for here on this Head to Head special from Washington, DC. General, thank you very much for joining me here in the studio.
Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Thanks, Mehdi. Very nice to meet you.
Mehdi Hasan: Thank you all at home for watching. Next week we’ll be back in the Oxford Union in front of an audience, for a new episode of Head to Head. Goodnight.