Day: February 14, 2017
It’s hard not to celebrate the departure of General Flynn from the position of National Security Adviser. He was both pro-Russian and anti-Muslim beyond reason. A sworn enemy of the American intelligence establishment, he got caught by them talking sanctions relief with the Russian ambassador even before Donald Trump was sworn in. Then he allegedly lied to the Vice President about what was said. His comeuppance is well-merited.
Congressional Republicans are now pledging not to investigate him. Why would they do that? They are trying to contain the damage. Their reluctance suggests it is more than likely that Trump knew what Flynn was discussing with the Russians. Flynn’s testimony, or that of others cognizant of the contents of the phone calls, would call into question the President’s own behavior: did he authorize Flynn to discuss sanctions? Was he pleased that Flynn did so? Was this part of a broader scheme of accommodating Moscow’s interests?
The Congressional cover raises other questions: was it part of a deal to obtain Flynn’s resignation? Why wasn’t Flynn just fired? What are his non-disclosure arrangements with the Administration?
Whatever the answers, it is clear that Flynn’s resignation does not solve the basic problem, which is Trump’s unrestrained and so far unconditional desire for an improved relationship with Vladimir Putin. The President has never made it clear what he expects from this improved relationship, only that it would somehow magically make things better in the world. He also hasn’t specified what he would be prepared to give up in return: recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea? Southeastern Ukraine? Independence of Transnistria? Annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are already nominally independent? NATO accession of Montenegro, now on the Senate’s agenda for ratification? Further NATO expansion in the Balkans? NATO expansion further into Scandinavia? An end to American support for rebels in Syria?
These questions persist even without Flynn. Secretary of Defense Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson may restrain the White House from some particularly bad impulses, especially Trump’s inclination to ditch NATO altogether, but their leverage will be limited. If the President is prepared to pursue a rapprochement with Russia despite the failures recorded by his two immediate predecessors, he will no doubt pick a new National Security Adviser prepared to pursue his policy direction. I doubt that can be David Petraeus, who in any event is already tarred with the brush of security violations. But I trust there are lots of other people who will do the work if given the opportunity.
In the meanwhile, the resignation of the National Security Adviser (and according to the press his deputy) will throw a National Security Council already roiled by leaks into further turmoil. President Trump has already failed to respond with anything but a few thin words of support to Japan when North Korea tested a missile in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. He is looking unprepared for a crisis, which of course means that someone somewhere on earth is likely to think this is a good time to precipitate one. An already messy transition has unsettled America’s relationships across the globe and now seems likely to open the door to a serious security challenge.
It is easy enough to say good riddance to Flynn. But there are real risks involved in a presidency committed to cooperation with Putin’s aggressive Russia and unprepared to meet even the challenge of a North Korean missile test.
Last Wednesday, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and Gallup hosted a research briefing on media use in Turkey, from one of the last surveys conducted in Turkey before the state of emergency instated after the failed coup in July 2016. Chris Stewart, Partner at Gallup, introduced the speakers and noted the dynamism of the media market in Turkey with recent shifts that impact journalism in a huge way. The event featured Benjamin Ryan, Consulting Specialist at Gallup, who shared findings from the World Poll conducted in April 2016 through computer assisted telephone interviews, and William Bell, Director of Research at Voice of America, who presented the findings from BBG’s research in 2016.
Ryan said that Turkey’s survey results on confidence in political institutions resemble those of the US more closely than those of Turkey’s regional neighbors. Confidence in the military is consistently high, and approval of police forces is higher than before. Because this survey predates the attempted coup this summer, it will be interesting to see how that event will impact public opinion in the future. Attitudes on Turkey’s economic outlook showed steady improvement since 2006, particularly among young Turks. Ryan remarked that the steady confidence in political institutions is in line with Erdoğan’s own approval and might indicate his centrality as a leader. Not all of the findings were positive, as trust in the judicial system is notably lower than other institutions, about on par with US ratings.
Despite Freedom House reports indicating a decline in freedom of the press, 38% of those surveyed expressed confidence in media freedom; opinion varied along education, region, and age. Well-educated Turks, as well as those in peripheral regions–particularly the South East–tend to be more critical. Ryan remarked that countries with low press suppression have a positive correlation with public opinion of the media, yet those who had high ratings of suppression, such as Turkey, had no correlation.
Bell explained that on the surface Turkey is among the most diverse media markets, with a large number of media outlets and no clear dominant news source. People have access to foreign media sources and take advantage of them. However, recent political events engendered internet censorship and an overall reduction in media freedom. Many people express dissatisfaction with Turkish news sources. Internet is the most used platform for young people in Turkey, but Bell pointed out that younger population did not deem staying current with the news as important as their older countrymen.
Bell went on to explicate the process BBG uses to assess perceptions of the US abroad, where survey participants rate the importance of several attributes for an ideal state, then assess the United States using the same metric. The characteristics tested, created in collaboration with the US State Department, include quality of education, protection of human rights, peaceful relations among ethnic groups, business opportunities, disaster aid and relief, functioning democracy, and internal crime prevention. The US scored high in education and business opportunities. Over all, Bell showed that Turkey sees the US as better than other Arab countries, and the results show that young Turks are more likely to consider the US in a positive light.