The resignation of Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn is a major coup for Establishment forces trying to hobble the new administration before it can get to its feet. With a single-minded mania that would do Captain Ahab credit, the anti-Trumpers will now redouble their efforts to harpoon their great white whale in the White House.
It all pretty much comes down to Russia. Congressional critics of both parties are demanding that Flynn’s talking with the Russian ambassador in Washington be subsumed into inquiries about unproven allegations of Russian hacking of the U.S. election and the president’s dogged unwillingness to denounce Vladimir Putin as a murderer, thug, war criminal, and so forth. Obviously, no one but a cabal of Kremlin agents could consider a worthy goal of American policy a respectful, give-and-take policy toward so deplorable an adversary. The fact that discussion of sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama Administration came up in Flynn’s talk with the ambassador will spur efforts on Capitol Hill to codify them in law to prevent Trump from lifting them.
Trump is guilty of many unpardonable crimes and heresies against the Establishment. His insistence on controlling our borders, his America-first trade policy, and his rejection of nation-building and «regime change» as standard U.S. policy are bad enough. But anything less than a full-throated detestation of Russia is totally intolerable and must be stopped by any means necessary. It remains to be seen whether the full story of Deep State management of leaks to produce Flynn’s political assassination will be revealed.
Throughout the campaign, despite the neoconservative Russophobia of his GOP rivals and Hillary’s Clinton’s effort to run against a Trump-Putin ticket, Trump refused to take the easy way out and back off his stated purpose to «get along with Russia.» While few accuse him of having a wonkish, detailed knowledge of strategic issues – for example, mocking accusations that he doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is – he seems to have an instinctive understanding that nothing good can happen under his tenure if our current collision course with Russia isn’t abated.
To be sure, it was unclear where Flynn fit into that understanding. Already widely accused of being a Putin toady, largely based on sitting next to the Russian president at a 2015 dinner for the RT television network, Flynn doesn’t come across in his writing as particularly pro-Russian. In a book co-authored with über-neoconservative Michael Ledeen, Flynn depicted Russia as part of an enemy combination consisting of North Korea, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, and ISIS.
Flynn also advocated the creation of an Arab «NATO-like structure» of our Sunni so-called allies, starting with Saudi Arabia, who have exercised such a baneful influence on U.S. policy in pushing regime changes in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. With Flynn’s recently putting Iran «on notice» concerning a recent missile test, even some Trump supporters are concerned that this administration could repeat George Bush’s disaster in Iraq but on a far larger scale.
Still, this needs to be clear: while restoring normal ties with Russia is a prerequisite for Trump’s having a successful foreign and security policy, it’s not a guarantee. If the administration thinks it can cuddle up with the Kremlin so the U.S. and Russia can team up against China, or if they expect Russia to throw Iran under the bus, they don’t know the first thing about Russians or strategy. This is not a time for gimmicks or facile rhetoric; it’s time to find some real understanding on mutual interests and cooperation against real dangers.
Sometimes it seems Trump is the only one in his administration who understands that, though I have high hopes for Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. (Maybe Trump should only listen to people named Στέφανος!) In her maiden speech at the United Nations, his ambassador, Nikki Haley, condemned Russia in language that could have been drafted by Samantha Power (and in fact, was perhaps drafted by her residual staff in New York). White House spokesman Sean Spicer recently insisted that Russia must return Crimea to Ukraine, or else. Vice President Mike Pence has openly differed from Trump on Russia.
It will be important to see who replaces Flynn. Of the names being mentioned, the absolute worst choice would be General David Petraeus. This is someone who in Senate testimony, just before the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks advocated arming al-Qaeda – al-Qaeda! – in Syria. (But only the moderate terrorists, of course.) Amazingly, there was no burst of outrage from even one of the assembled solons.
Finally, a note about the Balkans. Just as America’s post-Cold War venture into global hegemony featured Balkan interventions calculated in large part to box in the Russians and curry favor with the Islamic world, a reversal of those policies – rapprochement with Moscow, treating Islamic terror as an enemy, not an item in our toolkit – eventually would help rebalance the Balkans in a positive way for Serbia and Republika Srpska. The key word is «eventually», where a more rational global policy from Washington would in time be felt locally as well. Conversely, if the Establishment succeeds in confining Trump, that larger change in context might not occur, perpetuating the current anti-Serbian policies for some time longer.