Something about the resignation of Michael Flynn makes no sense to me. As the chief of the National Security Council’s staff, the national security adviser has, during my lifetime, always been one of the president’s most important and confidential advisers. The job has required frequent contact with the chief executive, as well as a relationship involving the utmost trust, discretion and confidentiality. Given its nature, it’s hard to accept the notion that the occupant of that position would engage in an ongoing dialogue with another nation’s ambassador without being sure that all he did and said had his president’s approval. It’s especially hard to see this happening in the very early stages of the NSA’s tenure.
Yet this is precisely what we are supposed to believe was the case with Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. And what is more, we are supposed to believe it happened during the always delicate transition period, when the president-elect’s associates and advisers are the main focal point of public attention, there being no coteries of departmental and agency officials to share the burden.
If Michael Flynn was fit for the NSA position, what sense does it make to assume he was acting without consulting his boss? If he consulted his boss, and the president was fully informed, why would the account of the conversation he gave to the vice president be of more than secondary importance? On the other hand, if he did not fully consult with and inform the president-elect, is that fact alone grounds for dismissing him from his position? The relationship with Russia is not just a critical aspect of the national security of the United States. It is important to war or peace for the entire world. It’s unimaginable that a competent national security adviser would converse with Russia’s envoy, especially on matters actively fraught with confrontational implications, and leave the president-elect in the dark. It would also be inexcusable.
Taking all this into account, one has to consider the likelihood that Gen. Flynn did indeed keep his boss in the loop and act with his authorization. Assuming that he did – and given President Trump’s well-documented intent to improve relations with Russia, and with Putin in particular – it would not be at all surprising if Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador were meant to reiterate that intention, thus taking some of the sting out of Obama’s imposition of sanctions against Russia. Whatever the proponents of those sanctions think, it’s easy to make the case that this unpublicized demarche was a reasonable effort to avoid any overreaction.
Viewed in this light, the notion that anything about Gen. Flynn’s actions ran afoul of the Logan Act is a blatantly histrionic absurdity. It was a demarche entirely in pursuance of what President Trump conceives to be the best interests of the nation, meant to make sure Obama’s actions did not create a situation that would restrict President Trump’s ability to steer U.S. policy in the direction he deems best for the nation.
Assuming that President Trump conscientiously believes that improving U.S.-Russian relations are critical to America’s national interests, this demarche is so far from being illegal that it would be more appropriate to say that its absence would be a dereliction of duty. If one accepts this positive view of Flynn’s demarche, however, the questionable aspect of the events that have transpired shifts focus—from wondering about Flynn’s actions to wondering why on earth President Trump thought it necessary that Flynn should be sacrificed to a media-generated tempest-in-a-teapot. A simple affirmation of his (Trump’s) dutifully reasonable purpose would suffice, accompanied by a “watch this space” alert focusing attention on the positive benefits in store from improved U.S.-Russia relations.
Of course, this positive view of the Flynn demarche assumes that there’s nothing in the content of his discussions with the Russian envoy that smacks of some untoward deference to Russia’s will. Anything that conveyed vassalage, predicated on some special debt the incoming administration owes to Mr. Putin and his government, would surely be “blood in the water” for the media and partisan sharks circling around every move the new president makes. The actual content of these conversations would clarify matters. Yet both audio tapes and transcripts of the calls are being withheld by the NSA/FBI.
Coming from someone habitually so bold in his attacks upon others, President Trump’s failure to defend his own comes as a thought-provoking surprise. Were Flynn’s actions in fact the result of incompetence, this would cast a shadow over Mr. Trump’s judgment in preferring him to a position of such critical trust in the first place. That would explain moving expeditiously to curtail the episode. Or was the Flynn appointment all along a feint, meant to pave the way for a different kind of freedom of action?
In any case, this focus on tactical policy and political possibilities leaves hanging the question of whether something in Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador would justify the so far thinly substantiated innuendo President Trump’s opponents are deploying to feed public suspicion about the nature of the new administration’s ties to Russia. All this brings to mind the early days of our Republic, when attitudes for or against the French revolutionary regime stoked the fires of partisan and patriotic outrage. As a people, we were still insecure, then, in our identity, but that generation’s firm commitment to the constitutional experiment, and the Declaration principles that inspired it, saw us through.
Neither Trump nor his adversaries have anything like that well thought out commitment now. They are, all of them, power-obsessed ideologues, including so-called pragmatists, whose calculations define life and governance in terms of power, and the interests of the nation without regard to God-endowed right and rights, including liberty. The specter of foreign manipulation ought to remind us of the vulnerability this power obsession entails, as well as the warlike attitudes it brings to light. A nation in which someone thinks it makes sense for an incoming president to declare war on elements of the government structures vital to our nation’s material survival is a nation already gnawing at its own entrails. An era thus begun is likely to see the fulfillment of the demise Obama’s tenure so ably advanced.
When a people finds that it sups upon itself, the first thing it should do is stop chewing. Pray God President Trump can lead us toward this wisdom. One good way to start: Proclaim a day of prayer and fasting, in which all are asked to go to the place in ourselves where we go to seek for God’s help, and earnestly entreat His aid. The rest will do us good.
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