At the center of the “Passing the Baton 2017” conference, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and her successor, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, exchanged declarations of bipartisan cooperation in their transition—and, to applause, a prolonged handshake. Flynn then laid out a vision for national security policy in the Trump administration in his most extensive public remarks since being named for the position.
“General Flynn inherits a vital job at a challenging time,” Rice said in opening the midday session of the Jan. 10 conference. Her remarks commended the “exemplary handoff” from the administration of President George W. Bush to that of President Barack Obama and reviewed the current administration’s challenges on national security. “Americans face a more diverse array of threats, from a more diverse range of sources, than ever … from state actors such as Russia and North Korea to terrorists like ISIL, often enabled by new technologies. And, it includes transnational threats that can reach our shores—climate change, epidemics like Ebola, or the illicit flow of drugs and weapons.”
In the face of those risks, plus systemic strains to the post-World War II international order, “it might be tempting to turn inward,” Rice said. But “we must protect ourselves and the international order we helped build, without subordinating our values or abandoning the alliances, partnerships and cooperation.”
“While it’s no secret that this Administration has profound disagreements with the next one, I intend to make myself available to him, just as my predecessors have for me,” she said. “We are all patriots first and foremost. Threats to our security and democracy should be above partisanship.”
Rice said she and Flynn, as well as their teams, had met repeatedly to ensure a smooth transition, and her staff had prepared more than 100 briefing memos.
Flynn thanked Rice for her work “to help us be as well-prepared as we can be” to take office. And he underscored the U.S. tradition of cooperative transitions of power, recalling the first passing of authority between political foes—from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Their relationship demonstrated “patriotism and a bipartisan sense of national purpose.”
Peace Through Strength
In the new administration, Flynn said, “the safety of the American people and the security of our nation … is to be supported by an over-arching policy of peace through strength. As we examine and potentially re-baseline our relationships around the globe, we will keep in mind the sacrifices and deep commitments that many of our allies and our partners have made on behalf of our security and our prosperity.”
Flynn added: “In fact, alliances are one of the great tools that we have and the strength of those alliances magnify our own strengths. One of those strengths is the unapologetic defense of liberty. This is the core element of American exceptionalism, and why America must and will remain a superpower,” he said. “We have always been the indispensable nation and we always will be.”
Even in times of trouble, Flynn said, “Americans have always maintained their faith in the uniqueness of our democratic experiment, which produced the greatest force of economic growth and innovation, and the greatest model for liberty, the world has ever known. That has not, and will not, ever change. This is the essence of American leadership. Whether we like it or not, the world needs us, and in fact, demands it.”