Trump’s National Security Advisor Flynn resigned after only three weeks in office. While I am certainly no fan of Flynn or of Trump I find this defenestration a dangerous event. It will hamper any big change in U.S. foreign policy that Trump may envision.
The resignation followed a highly orchestrated campaign against Flynn by intelligence officials, the media and some people within the White House.
After the election and Trump’s unexpected win the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Russia and sent Russian embassy officials back to Moscow. This move was intended to blockade a Trump policy of better relations with Russia. Flynn talked with the Russian ambassador and, as a direct result, the Russian’s did not respond tit for tat for the sanctions and expulsions. This was an absolutely positive move and in full accordance with announced Trump policies. Henry Kissinger made a similar move and visited the Russian embassy weeks before he became Nixon’s NSC. During the 2012 election Obama made a similar “deal” with the Russians in a comparable situation:
President Barack Obama was caught on camera on Monday assuring outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have “more flexibility” to deal with contentious issues like missile defense after the U.S. presidential election.
Despite tens or hundreds of claimed White House leaks in the media I am still not sure what really happened next. Trump’s enemies and some intelligence officials accused Flynn of lying about the phone calls with the Russian ambassador. It is unclear what the alleged lies really are and especially why they should matter. Obfuscation is part of any White House business. If Flynn had secretly talked with the Israeli ambassador (which he probably did) no one would have attacked him.
So why was Flynn really under pressure and why didn’t Trump back him? It would have been easy for Trump to say: “I ordered Flynn to do that. Obama did similar. In both cases it was a GREAT success. USA! USA! USA!” Nobody would have been able to further attack Flynn over the issue after such a protective move.
But Trump, completely against his style, held his mouth and did nothing. What else happened in the White House that let him refrain from backing Flynn?
Sure, the real beef other people have with Flynn is not about Russia but other issues, like his plans to reform the intelligence services. But by throwing Flynn out like this Trump opened himself to further attacks.
As it looks now a rather small gang of current and former intelligence officials – with the help of the anti-Trump media – leaked Flynn out of his office. They will not stop there.
Now blood is in the street and the hyenas will lust for more. The Trump magic is broken. He has shown vulnerability. Now they will go after their next target within the Trump administration and then the next and the next until they have Trump isolated and by the balls. He just invited them to proceed. All major foreign policy moves he planned will be hampered. The detente with Russia has probably ended before it even started.
There is another, overlooked country where Flynn’s position as NSC influenced policy decisions. Flynn had at times lobbied for Turkey and good relations with the Erdogan government. Even on the very day of the presidential election an op-ed of his damning Erdogan’s enemy Gülen and lauding Turkey was published.
After Trump was inaugurated and again talked of no-fly-zones the Turkish president Erdogan made another of his famous 180 degree turns.
Erdogan had wanted a no-fly-zones (aka a Turkish protectorate) in Syria from the very beginning of the war. The Obama administration would not give him one and in the later years shunned him. Erdogan turned to Russia but was told that he would have to limit his ambitions in Syria: no no-fly-zone, no Turkish march to Manbij or Raqqa. Erdogan agreed. But after Trump talked of new sanctions and Flynn was installed as NSC Erdogan again changed his position. He is now again calling for a no-fly-zone and is again promising to conquer Manbij (held by Kurds) and Raqqa (held by the Islamic State). (Any such attempt would be hopeless. The Turkish army and its Islamist proxy forces have tried to conquer the much smaller Al-Bab, held by the Islamic State, for over four month now and still fail at it.)
The Russian’s will have taken note of such unreliable behavior. One wonders how Erdogan now feels as his lobbyist in a top position of the Trump administration is gone. If the Trump administration now acts against his plans will he creep back to Putin and ask for forgiveness? Would that be accepted?
Flynn is no big loss for the world, the U.S. or the Trump administration. But Trump has now lost the initiative. He long managed to set the media agenda for the day by this or that “outrageous” tweet or remark. Now this advantage has been taken away from him over some nonsense allegations and his lack of backing for one of his top people.
He will soon rue the day he let this happen.