National Security Advisor Designate Michael Flynn spoke on January 10 to an audience of current and past national security and foreign policy officials and independent experts at USIP’s Passing the Baton conference. Below is a transcript of his remarks as delivered.
I'm going to thank Susan [National Security Advisor Susan Rice] again, but I would really like everybody to give her another round of applause. That was an amazing speech.
This is an appropriate place, the Institute of Peace, right? I want to thank everybody for their very kind welcome, not only here last night, but really sort of back into government. I want to thank the U.S. Institute of Peace, and I especially want to thank Nancy Lindborg and Steve Hadley, and many of the other former national security advisors and other cabinet officers for their graciousness, their time and their counsel over these past two months.
With the current and former national security advisors and the array of current and former National Security Council staffers and others that are in the room here today, I mean this really represents the collective wisdom and experience of some of America's greatest national security thinkers, practitioners and do-ers. And what I'd like to do is just take a brief pause because I'm in awe of Secretary Albright who is sitting here in front today, and I'd like everybody to just give her a big round of applause for her dignity. Thank you so much. Thank you.
I mean, there's, as Susan just demonstrated, and as Secretary Albright has also demonstrated, just a grace, a dignity, an elegance and a commitment to this country that is, that goes beyond our wildest imaginations. People outside don’t realize the sacrifices that you see in Dr. Rice, Ambassador Rice, and what you see in Secretary Albright, and I think that that transcends who we are.
It is Americans that are our greatest asset. Our American people, the American people that we have in this country, across this country.
That said, the gravity of this moment is a bit overwhelming, as I step back into government for what I know is a monumental task ahead. Transitions are hard enough. They’re hard enough in anything that we do. But transitions and transfers of power from one United States president to the next are historic and this one is no exception.
To me, one of the most significant moments in American history was at the very beginning, when President John Adams was not re-elected and had to hand the presidency over to his archrival, Thomas Jefferson. It could have been a constitutional crisis, but it wasn’t. Why? Because we have a peaceful transition of power, and that is the tradition that has bound us all ever since. As for Adams and Jefferson, in their final years, they became great friends and their correspondence is one of the best examples of patriotism and bipartisan sense of national purpose among all of our leaders that has ever existed.
As a model to the world, as a model to the world at least in our history, the United States has set the standard for the peaceful transition of power, and it is a model that continues to be the envy of the world. We stand today on the threshold of a new era as we continue to navigate the remainder of the 21st century, a century that has already presented us with numerous unpleasant surprises. Looking ahead, this century clearly represents one with even more risks, but also with many opportunities.
I want to personally again thank Ambassador Rice and her entire team for their preparation: the transition materials, as Ambassador Rice highlighted, that they’ve provided to us, the initiation of various NSC reform measures that she has already undertaken, and the time that she and her team took to help guide us and to help us be as well prepared as we can be prior to inauguration day.
As I stated, these early years of the 21st century have proven to be extraordinarily challenging as old, familiar threats and challengers have reasserted themselves and new ones have emerged, lending this period of time a feeling of great uncertainty and, in certain parts of the world, reverberating upheaval. Given the hyper-accelerated nature of the time in which we live, and emerging threats and active adversaries that are also moving at warp-speed, these 21st-century challenges are among the toughest we as a nation have faced in decades—in many decades.
This is why we are absolutely committed to leading a National Security Council with our president-elect’s vision to make America great again that has as its primary mission—its primary mission—the safety of the American people and the security of our nation. That mission is to be supported by an overarching 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 as well as the security and prosperity of other freedom-loving nations around the world. 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. The exceptionalism that defined America from the start became the standard by which every other free people measured themselves and the standard by which we should measure ourselves. America might have its ups and downs, but the assumption has long been that American power would always be there reliable, strong, present and ready. We have always been the indispensable nation and we always will be.
To that end, we must consider the elements that make us indispensable, and I’ll touch on a few. This requires extraordinary foresight and vision that is able to transcend political ideologies, a matching long-term strategy that lays out a roadmap to keep us on track despite the massive hurdles that we may encounter along that path, the right processes to review the assumptions to determine validity and meaning that form our strategy and, lastly, some means of measuring whether it’s working or not and being honest and accountable to ourselves. Given those elements, even in extremely difficult times, we have never lost our sense of America or what it is, or what it means to be an American and the idea of American exceptionalism.
Faced with some of the darkest days of civil and foreign wars, economic depression, and many recessions that we’ve gone through, weak leadership at home or hostile threats from abroad, the American people always maintain 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, this is the essence of American leadership. Whether we like it or not, the world needs us and in fact, demands it. What has changed is the nature and character of America’s enemies, and the new and dangerous technological environment in which they operate. That is why we are committed to having the National Security Council continue to serve as the fulcrum of national security and national security decision-making in the most effective way possible.
On the National Security Council we will serve four primary functions: we will advise the president on national security issues, we will formulate national security policy in coordination with the inter-agency process, we will monitor how policy is carried out, and we will also ensure that the president is properly prepared and staffed for the many national security-related events that we are likely to encounter. And I would add one additional function. I want to add that President-elect Trump, we need to help him work with our partners in Congress on both sides of the aisle despite the difficulties that we will face.
Serving as the national security advisor is an awesome responsibility and it gets to the very essence of protecting and defending the American people, our homeland, and our constitution. Given those responsibilities, it is our mission to ensure that the President, the national security community, and the American people continue to be well-served. In order to achieve that, we are absolutely committed to continue carrying out those necessary reforms begun by previous administrations. All of this will be done in the spirit of working towards common national security goals, particularly protecting American values and principles.
As we confront the serious threats facing us, we also recognize that what makes our country exceptional is what we are defending every day, and that’s freedom. We must never fear, we must never fear who we are or shy away from the values and the principles that America represents. Again, we have a lot of serious challenges in front of us, make no mistake about that. But we will face them. We will face these challenges undaunted, with a reenergized sense of responsibility and purpose.
Lastly, finally, I will tell you that KT McFarland and I, we’re very excited, we’re ready to get started and we’re very much looking forward to working with many of you in the room today and around Washington, DC and elsewhere throughout this great country.
Thank you so much and God bless America.