16 February 2017.
Late on Monday 13 February 2017 General Michael Flynn, President Trump’s National Security Adviser, resigned. The ostensible reason for the resignation was that he had “lied” to Vice President Pence about the content of telephone conversations Flynn had had with Russia’s UN Ambassador Sergey Kislyok in December last year, after the election but before Trump was sworn in as President or Flynn confirmed as National Security Adviser.
As is now customarily the case, the mainstream media both failed to put Flynn’s actions in their proper context, and even more seriously failed to understand the significance of this week’s events.
We need to go back before the US Presidential election in November 2016. It was widely anticipated (and hoped) by the mainstream media that Hillary Clinton, the favoured candidate of the neocons that have dominated US foreign policy for at least the last three presidencies, would win.
The first shock to the neocons was that Trump won. To compound their alarm, Trump refused to join in the demonization of Russia that had reached ridiculous depths during the campaign.
Instead, Trump recognized that Russia was a better friend than enemy, and that Russia’s assistance was vital to effectively combatting Islamic terrorism. The fact that the terrorist threat owed more than a little to US foreign policy, particularly since 2001, was not something the neocons were willing to acknowledge.
In speeches and interviews after the election Trump reiterated that he hoped to “get along” with Vladimir Putin. The apogee of neocon dismay came with Trump’s interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly last week when he openly acknowledged that America’s hands were not exactly clean when it came to killing people.
This simple undisputed fact caused an uproar in the American commentariat. For people very quick to criticize Trump for his use of “alternative facts”, they showed a remarkable reluctance to acknowledge what was an unvarnished truth.
America has an unparalleled record for killing more people in more countries through actions ranging from assassinations, to bombings, material support for terrorism and outright invasion and occupation than any other group or country by a very large margin. Part of the self-image of the exceptional country is to exempt oneself from an acknowledgement of this uncomfortable fact.
The neocons were clearly not going to take their electoral defeat in November as the end of the matter. Plan B, if Clinton was not elected, was already in place, with Trump’s Vice President, Pence, their man in waiting.
To suggest, as the mainstream media have, that Flynn misled Pence over the telephone conversations he had with Ambassador Kislyok is absurd. Those conversations with in accordance with Trump’s stated policies to which Pence was a party in formulating.
Secondly, the telephone conversations were intercepted (the term ‘hacked’ only being used when done by the other side). That fact itself seems immune from comment by the mainstream media. Pence has the highest possible security clearance. If there had been anything in those telephone conversations that was a cause for national security concern, then Pence would have been briefed on their content.
From the scant details made available thus far, it seems that Kislyok and Flynn discussed the latest sanctions imposed on Russia by Obama in the dying days of his administration. Those sanctions were allegedly in response to Russian “hacking” of the US election.
The transcript of the telephone call now released makes it clear that the Russian ambassador raised the issue of the sanctions. Flynn replied that the whole of US-Russia policy, including the sanctions, would be reviewed by the new administration after the inauguration. Nothing more, nothing less.
That entirely fact free allegation of Russian hacking filled hectares of mainstream media newsprint, although in all the breathless coverage the absence of evidence, logic or common sense in the allegations was entirely missing from the analysis.
Similarly, the overblown hyperbole about Flynn’s alleged “treason” has consumed the mainstream media. Once again, the actual facts bear little or no resemblance to reporting.
The fact that Flynn and Kislyok’s telephone conversations have come out two months after the event is significant for two reasons in particular.
The first is that the information was leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post, both of whom have been virulently anti Trump and anti Russia from the outset of the campaign for the Presidency.
The leaking must have been done by someone with access to classified information, and the motive for the leaking (itself a criminal offence) was with the clear motive of embarrassing and undermining both Trump and his foreign policy initiatives spearheaded by Flynn. The most important of these initiatives was an attempted rapprochement with Russia.
The second fact of importance is what the leak tells us about the determined effort by the neocons to shatter any attempt by Trump to normalize relations with Russia.
Their first overt foray in this direction was in the UN Security Council when US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was given a piece of paper while she was on her feet that she then read into the record. That part of her speech was an attack upon Russia and its policy with Crimea and Ukraine.
The comments were not only absurd and contrary to the facts on the ground; they were also directly contrary to everything that Trump himself had been saying in the preceding days and weeks. It is doubtful that Trump even knew about what Haley had been given to read.
The forced resignation of Flynn through the manufactured crisis of telephone conversations with the Russian UN Ambassador on an open line is therefore a major victory for the neocons. Trump’s policies viz a viz Russia have been compromised, possibly irretrievably.
When one considers that Trump’s policies posed a very real prospect of breaking the stalemate in US-Russia relations, any reversal is not something to be welcomed.
Trump showed some resilience to the neocons in resisting the imposition of either or both of John Bolton and Elliot Abrams, two arch reactionaries and anti-Russian diehards, from his foreign policy team.
He is going to have to be even more resilient in the face of the latest provocative outrage by people who clearly favour confrontation and war with Russia to more rational alternatives. For these reasons the forced resignation of Flynn represents a new and dangerous step that brings the prospect of war even closer.
*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org