Good riddance, but problems persist

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.

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One thought on “Good riddance, but problems persist”

  1. One of the Republicans strenusously avoiding their duty to provide oversight is Jason Chaffetz of Utah’s District 3 and currently Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He was recently forced to flee his own town-hall meeting back home, and is being chastised by the Salt Lake Tribune for blaming his ignominious retreat on “paid hecklers who weren’t even from Utah.” (At least it wasn’t buses from Massachusetts this time.) He’s getting no sympathy from the Tribune: “Investigate, don’t emulate” he’s being admonished.

    Even though he won reelection handily in his district with 73.5% of the vote) and led Trump (45.5% statewide), he might want to consider his prospects in the just-around-the corner mid-term elections. Working to eliminate Obamacare and siding with a loser president too long could mean a more focused primary challenge or even loss in the general election. It’s not too early for Republicans to start reviewing their party’s fate following Nixon’s early retirement, although you can understand why they might want to avoid doing so.

    Tangentially related: Trump just last week cancelled a trip to Youngstown, OH where he was supposed to sign legislation to reinstate the right of mine-owners to dump mine waste in conveniently located streams. After all, he ran on the promise of reopening the mines once important to Ohio’s economy by eliminating burdenshome regulations on it. But since even if he goes out and directly subsidizes coal mining, it likely wouldn’t be done here in Ohio, anyway, but out West, by the vastly more economical strip-mining process. People are beginning to pay attention.

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