Retired Generals of Flynn-Associated IP3: “United States Mideast Strategy Is Resourcing Conflict”

Yesterday, I decided that I should take a deep dive into a couple of issues that are playing big roles in current political drama: the Middle East nuclear power plant plans that Michael Flynn “represented” in some travel but did not note in his security disclosures and the manufactured controversy over Uranium One. I’m still reading and hope to post regularly on these and other topics, but want to point out one passing reference that made my jaw drop.

In Monday’s Washington Post article on Flynn’s troubles, we have this passage:

Around June 2016, according to his financial disclosure, Flynn ended his association with ACU and began advising a company called IP3/IronBridge, co-founded by retired Rear Adm. Michael Hewitt, a former ACU adviser.

IP3 initially proposed partnering with China and other nations, rather than Russia, to build nuclear power plants, according to a company spokesman, who said the China component has since been dropped.

In August 2016, the company produced a PowerPoint presentation that included Flynn’s photo and former government title on a page titled “IP3/IronBridge: Formidable US Leadership.” The document was labeled as a “Presentation to His Majesty King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz” of Saudi Arabia and displayed the seals of Saudi Arabia and the United States. The presentation was obtained by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, who made it public.

After reading this, I started digging a bit into IP3, to see what they have been up to. I found this fascinating piece in Medium, written by the all-star trio of Jack Keane, Keith Alexander and Bud McFarlane. The article dates from October 31 of this year, so it comes over a year after the PowerPoint referenced in the Post article. The Medium article opens with the basis for the US-Saudi relationship going back more than seven decades:

In 1945, President Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia forged a partnership under which the United States provided security for the Kingdom to assure the flow of oil to global markets. While the United States has never wavered from this commitment through 13 Presidents and 6 Saudi monarchs, the core themes of arms and oil alone no longer cover the full scope of our countries’ goals and mutual interests.

That’s pretty blunt language, but yes, the core theme of US-Saudi relations does indeed seem to be “arms and oil”. But a bit further down, we have this:

Any new U.S. strategy for the Middle East will fail unless we move beyond fighting terrorism or reacting to the influence of evolving regional encroachment from Russia and Iran. The United States must approach the Middle East in ways that promote diversified, strong economies. We need a strategy that doesn’t rely solely on resourcing conflict with weapons sales, arms agreements, or new deployments of U.S. military forces, but one of empowerment through the intellectual capital and industrial might of our nation’s private sector. We must better enable the stabilizing visions of our GCC partners, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan as part of a reimagined Middle East economy.

I have to admit that on my first reading of this paragraph, I chuckled. I was convinced that it contained a very revealing typo. I mean, surely these retired generals would never just come out and say that the US strategy in the Middle East is to “resource conflict”, would they? Didn’t they mean that the weapons sales, arms agreements and troop deployments are aimed at resolving conflicts even though they certainly provide the resources to prolong them? That’s how the US presents these moves, after all. Who even uses “resource” as a verb anyway?

I continued in my reading, and in this copy of a letter from the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee posted by Politico (always read the footnotes; the URL is in footnote 21) I hit paydirt with the URL for IP3 PowerPoint referenced in the Post article above. Here is the slide that the Post refers to on the IP3 team including Flynn:

That is slide number 3 in the presentation. Here is slide number 5:

And there we have it. The Medium article did not have a typo. Over a year earlier, the PowerPoint says the US should “shift toward resourcing stability” rather than resourcing conflict. I find that to be a remarkably candid statement, considering who is saying it.

For quite some time, my line on US strategy for any trouble spot in the world has been that the US asks “What group can we arm?”. Here we have a huge collection of retired generals saying very much the same thing in slightly different language. I follow my observation by saying our question should rather be “What can we do to address the concerns of those who are moved to violence in this trouble spot?” And again, this group is offering their alternative. I see this as a massive improvement in outlook and perhaps a bit of slowly dawning self-awareness on behalf of the generals for what their actions have wrought.

Of course, once we dive into the IP3 team’s vision for how we “resource stability” things go right back to the track history of these generals proposing policies that are almost the exact opposite of what should be done. But that is fodder for later posts.

Just a couple of closing notes seem in order. First, it is clear from the committee letter in which I got the PowerPoint URL that the file actually was sent to the committee by an employee of ACU, which is a competitor of IP3. Further, the cover slide contains the cryptic note “2016 MSH Proprietary and Confidential”. I haven’t found an explanation for “MSH”. I thought it might refer to Michael Hewitt, but his middle initial is W. It doesn’t seem to fit any of the companies involved or the ACU employee who sent the file.

Also, in all the articles I’ve read about Flynn’s involvement in this effort, it appears that he consistently and publicly advocated for the building of the power plants to avoid Russian involvement and to be undertaken as an approach to reducing Russia’s influence in the Middle East. That makes Flynn’s June 2015 trip sponsored by ACU very confusing, since ACU is the group advocating Russian involvement in the building and running of the power plants. It would, however, align with his move to IP3 once it was formed. Also, the stories now seem to suggest that within the White House, IP3’s approach was quashed based on Flynn’s conflicts of interest rather than any White House preference for Russian involvement in building the plants. Will that story change? After all, Russia eventually got the contract for Egypt.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

35 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    A conflict over resources or a resource conflict? Enquiring minds want to know.

    And who’s stability does this gaggle of generals want to enhance? When arming one side or another, one usually intends that one side win, unless one is just selling arms to both sides in hopes of enhancing revenue and profits. That would require not caring where the resources being fought over go. With oil, someone always cares.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Needless to say, but not quite, is that the people living in the lands whose “stability” we seem intent on “resourcing” most likely want the US hegemon to stay out.  Stability that keeps them in poverty, with no rights and no rights to participate in government or to determine their own futures, let alone giving away their few marketable resources at low prices, is not a stability most people subject to it really want.

    BTW, is “resourcing stability” inelegant jargon meant to suggest that the use of force by the US is productive, right and proper, a “force” for good, so to speak?

    • Jim White says:

      I thing their “resourcing stability” is about what they say they are offering in terms of a future with nuclear power somehow providing enough jobs to keep everyone happy. Of course, it comes with a stifling security system that I’ll write about later that seems based on complete surveillance. But somehow, yes, these idiots see “prosperity” for the serfs of the Mideast in terms of US corporations. That’s just stunningly fascist and deserves a ton of ridicule in a separate post. And I really do think, though, that these guys realize that what we “resource” now is nothing but the tools for conflict, if not the conflict itself when we send our own troops. That’s a baby step in the right direction.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        So we’re providing the resources for stability.

        As you say, those resources come with so many caveats that repression instead of stability would be the probable outcome.  That would be enhanced by the rationale of protecting new and valuable resources and made possible by the additional funding such resources would provide.

        There is also the problem that, as with the sale of any modern weapons system, the “sale” includes continuing, expensive, often repressive provision of “service and support”.  It often costs far more than the underlying goods being supported.

        Securing “stability” to provide those resources would be another rationale for continuing authoritarian repression.  Nuclear power plants offer the added benefit of inviting intense and continuing international scrutiny, and the need to control and dispose of new and spent fuel. Then there is the environmental suicide of installing a series of nuclear power plants in exchange for drilling, refining and exhausting further petroleum extraction.

        All in – and especially given significant cost reductions in renewable energy sources – the idea of proliferating nuclear sites across the Middle East seems to be a boondoggle of immense, inherently imperial proportions.  It dwarfs by orders of magnitude Senator Dirksen’s notion that a few billion here and a few billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

        • Jim White says:

          If only there were some other renewable energy source that doesn’t come with environmental suicide and a need for repressive security! Especially in a desert area where the sun is unrelenting…

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            The gentleness of the snark is inspiring….But who’s going to go to war over sunshine which isn’t “portable”, over which you cannot assert exclusive authority, and for which you cannot charge monopoly prices. Pity about the wasted power generation though, and the failure to meet the needs of so many real people.

          • Phil Perspective says:

            I noticed some interesting names on that slide.  Of the three women, one was a C- Augustus flunkie and another is Ellen Tauscher.  Tauscher is pretty tight with HRC.  Talk about bipartisanship.

  3. harpie says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Jim! The name IP3 hit my radar last night, but it was all too exhausting to look any further at that time. I’m looking forward to the future “ton of ridicule” post you refer to in your response to eoh, above.

  4. Kevin Carhart says:

    When I read Earl and Jim’s remarks on energy and “resourcing stability”, I said to myself “Winner!!”
    Because it reminded me of this wonderful paper, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” by Langdon Winner. When you build a lot of nuclear power plants, you are creating a massive artifact that is very difficult to change afterwards, that reinforces authoritarian control generally because nuclear power plants tend to need centralized and hierarchical leadership on the inside. Indeed, the sun beats down, and solar power permits more “social equity, freedom and cultural pluralism.” Resourcing stability through nuclear power plants means reinforcing a landscape where antidemocratic power is logical and necessary at least inside the plant. Which may make it more difficult outside of the plant. If you don’t already know this paper, I highly recommend it.
    http://innovate.ucsb.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Winner-Do-Artifacts-Have-Politics-1980.pdf

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Kudos to San Juan, PR, mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. In accepting an award, she said that the American people deserve better than their current president: they have such a big heart and he has such a big mouth.

  6. Jim White says:

    To the first-time commenter whose comment I just put into the trash: although the comment looked innocent enough, I threw it out because you chose to have the clickable link on your name go to an escort service. I’m not sure what you’re up to, but that particular attempt is just not going to work.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Rucker and Parker at the WaPo have a nice article on the air of impunity and aimless bellicosity displayed by our narcissist-in-chief.  A Republican campaign consultant puts a gloss on it:

    [Consultant Alex] Castellanos added that for many voters, and especially Trump’s base, there’s an “upside” to his bellicosity. “A strong daddy bear is what a lot of voters want,” he said. “Right or wrong, at least he’s fighting for us.”

    To coin a phrase, “What do you mean by, ‘us’, kemo sabe?”

  8. matt says:

    Hey, all this is really insightful.  I wish the EW community ran the State Dept.  That said, since most of you are versed in current events/behind the scenes history… I have a couple of questions.

    As we zoom out, we can see a group of politicians, generals, corporations collaborating on a pretty big shift in foreign policy.  This is bigger than Trump and one might think he is just a pawn essentially used to “block” the continued status quo of Hilary’s State dept and possible presidency.  My question, are we better off going down this road of “Marshall Plan” economy building in the Middle East vs. resourcing conflict, poverty, and ideological fanaticism?

    And does anybody know where Hilary would have gone with Middle East foreign policy had she been elected?

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Hillary would most likely have continued Obama’s risk and conflict averse f.p.  She would not have viciously dismantled the State Department, gutting our soft power in such a visibly, in your face to the rest of the world way.  In fact, she would likely have beefed it up, both to do its job and as a counterpoint to the generals.  Whatever her priorities, she is smart enough to want experienced advice from more than one vantage point, and to use it.  If Donald wants someone’s advice, he’ll give it to them.

    Even a functioning State Dept, with one of the smallest budgets inside the Beltway, has trouble arguing for its priorities against the independent state across the Potomac.  That was notable during Bush/Cheney administration.  Gooper’s vehement distrust of State, in fact, goes back generations; the McCarthy era is a notable example.  So dismantling it is both in keeping with extreme GOP views and a matter of spite for Trump.  He hates advice and the experts who give it.  He hates former Sec. State, former presidential candidate, and current uppity woman-he-wouldn’t-grab Hillary.  Most of all, he hates his supposedly foreign-born, dark-skinned predecessor.

    As he has in other areas, Trump has dropped the pretense, the reasons for which he doesn’t understand, and is openly dismantling State.  Like a shaggy boiler-suited repo man in a tow truck, he has hung a Going Out of Business sign on Foggy Bottom, just ahead of the inrush of property developers longing to “repurpose” the site.

    That leaves the Pentagon without its fig leaf, and openly outsources “diplomacy” to whatever the president and the private sector want.  As crisis on crisis develops under his tie-covered belly, Trump mangles to say, “We’ll take care of it”.  Sure he will.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Tillerson’s apparently not out yet, but the figurative moving van seems to have pulled up to the curb.

        I guess Tillerson was giving us snark the other day when he said the reason he’s gutting State is because he and Trump will have solved so many of the world’s problems in their first term that a gutted State Dept will be more than capable of meeting our needs.  (We’ll still be able to put a few boots on the ground.)  I hope Pompeo, rumored to be Tillerson’s replacement (he didn’t like the CIA anyway, but was doing an absolutely Fantastic Job!), likes the carpets and drapes Tillerson picked out for the Seventh Floor.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Mike Pompeo, the former congressman from Koch Industries, seems set to privatize our foreign policy according to the priorities of Charles and David.  I wonder how Time magazine will greet this news.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Josh Marshall’s take is that the news reports were probably fake, put out by the White House to embarrass Tillerson into resigning.  Shades of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.  Last time I checked, he was still in his dream job at DoJ.

      Marshall’s point was to gently castigate journalists for falling for another one from Honest Abe Trump.  He then lets them partially off the hook, because “who could have known” that Donald might use a program of lies to get what he wants, but is afraid to ask for directly.

      According to this logic, Trump, apparently having taken the “decision” that Tillerson should go, exhibited his usual level of cowardliness CEO courage in attempting to use shame and the media instead of a henchman to deliver the long knife between the shoulder blades.  I suppose we should be thankful that Trump never read or understood Shakespeare or Machiavelli.

      Tillerson is not in his dream job: he left that to come to State.  He’s unlikely to hang around as long as Sessions, so it will be another case of Kremlin tea leaf reading to guess when Rex will wave goodbye to his monarch, and what gifts he will leave on his way out.

      We’ve had presidents who lied before; all of them I should think.  But we have not had one who lies so shamelessly and pervasively about so many big and little things. 

      Lies are the ballast and rudder that keep the HMS Trump afloat in the rough seas of reality.  Without them, it would capsize in a whirlpool of self-doubt, self-loathing and self-destruction.  Not even Sarah Huckabee Sanders can lie her way through that.

      • harpie says:

        This guy, Mr Berzerker @psiphyr has a plausible theory about Rexit:

        Rex isn’t going to Punch Out, yet. He has to make it to Feb 1, or he’ll have to pay taxes on his divestment. 1:38 PM – 30 Nov 2017

  10. bloopie2 says:

    Speaking of resources: Even solar power brings up the prospect of inequality and war. A project called Desertec (now dead, I believe) aimed to supply Europe with energy from solar plants in Northern Africa. Here’s a paragraph from one article about it; note the last sentence of the paragraph.
    “It is within this context of pro-corporate trade deals and a scramble for influence and energy resources that we should understand the Desertec project and especially its industrial arm, the Dii. Desertec could play a role in diversifying energy sources away from Russia as well as contributing to EU targets of reducing carbon emissions – and what better region to achieve these aims than MENA, an area well endowed with natural resources, from fossil fuels to sun and wind. It seems that a familiar ‘colonial’ scheme is being rolled in front of our eyes: the unrestricted flow of cheap natural resources from the Global South to the rich industrialized North, maintaining a profoundly unjust international division of labour.”

    https://newint.org/features/2015/03/01/desertec-long/

  11. Jim White says:

    Hmmm. A breaking report from Reuters calls into question whether Flynn did break with ACU before associating with IP3 and that he may have been in favor (I would add, behind the scenes, in opposition to his public statements at the time saying he was out to reduce Russian influence) of ACU’s plan for Russia to build the Saudi reactors–and that the company claimed the plan would call for the easing of US sanctions on Russia.

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