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15 February 2017 · 3 min read

Russian Roulette

General Flynn resigns as US National Security Advisor over links to Russia

In my blog last December I described President Trump’s new security team of General Flynn and General Mattis as a ‘fiery and intriguing cocktail’. After less than a month in office, Gen Flynn has indeed set the sparks flying over his liaisons with Russian officials, and on Monday evening handed in his resignation. So what happened and where does this leave President Trump’s foreign policy now?

General Flynn had a reputation for disregarding conventional norms when he was a serving Army officer, and his links to Russia were well known. Unfortunately it is these two aspects that have proved to be his undoing. He is alleged to have discussed lifting US sanctions against Russia with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, prior to President Trump’s inauguration and therefore prior to Gen Flynn’s formal appointment. It is against precedent, and possibly US federal law for a private citizen to discuss matters of national security with state officials. Gen Flynn’s real crime though was not the conversation, but obfuscating details of it when asked by Vice-President Pence.

What I think is most interesting about this situation though is the conflict it reveals in President Trump’s administration about how to deal with Russia. General Flynn was known to subscribe to the theory “keep your friends close but your enemy’s closer” and therefore wanted the US to work more closely with Russia. He is likely to be the driving force behind Russia’s omission from President Trump’s defence priorities, signalling that this US administration sees Russia as a diplomatic problem rather than a military one. General Flynn has President Trump’s full support, and was also particularly close to Steve Bannon, the President’s top strategist.

It seems though that Flynn’s fan club ended there. It is reported that Russia-phobia permeates the White House and the US Intelligence Agencies. As a result General Flynn was said to be disliked by President Trump’s more establishment aides. When rumours of General Flynn’s wrongdoing started to swirl, advisors told President Trump to fire him. Ironically, the President famed for appearing on the Apprentice and barking “you’re fired”, dithered over this dismissal due to his loyalty to his National Security Advisor, and so Flynn’s resignation reached him first.

Keith Kellogg, General Flynn’s Chief of Staff has taken over in his absence whilst a decision is made about a permanent replacement. The main name in the frame seems to be General David Petraeus, former CIA Director and who was also known as a ‘thinking general’ during his time in the military. He co-authored the US Army Counter-Insurgency doctrine with Gen Mattis (US Defense Secretary), although he was sacked a director of the CIA for a security breach. Appointing Petraeus would send a signal that Trump’s foreign policy strategy remains intact because Petraeus and Flynn are cut from the same cloth. Whoever is appointed though would do well to clarify the US approach to Russia before this issue becomes more of a problem.

One other issue this scandal raises is whether the personnel in President Trump’s government have the skills to negotiate the minefield that is the US Constitution and Capitol Hill processes. Whilst many have applauded his desire to make appointments from outside the political establishment, there is a real risk that their lack of knowledge about political process could be their undoing. 

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