Rising Powers Assess National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s Fall From Grace
National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s sudden resignation from the Trump administration on February 13, 2017 after reports of having misled White House officials regarding his contacts with Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislayak, is leading to questions and concerns in rising powers about national security decisionmaking under the new government.
Given that Flynn’s resignation from his position as the National Security Advisor in the Trump administration was precipitated from a questionable contact with a Russian official, the Kremlin expressed its preference not to comment on the matter. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reportedly told journalists, “This is a domestic issue of the Americans and the Trump administration, not ours.” However, Russian officials vigorously defended Flynn and are sympathetic to the Trump administration.
- Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee at the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament wrote on his Facebook page, “To expel the National Security Advisor for his contacts with the Russian ambassador, which is a usual diplomatic practice, is something far worse than paranoia.” Kosachev suggested that “Russophobia has already infected the new administration from top to bottom.”
- Alexey Pushkov, a member of the State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house, said “Flynn fell victim to an aggressive media campaign that aims to exploit anti-Russian sentiments to undermine Trump’s presidency.”
- Vladimir Jabbarov, a Russian Senator, stated that “US media accusations of President Donald Trump administration’s alleged contacts with Russian intelligence aim to impeach Trump.”
Commentators at the government supported nationalistic media outlets RT and Sputnik followed suit and even gloried Flynn as the only man who could have made headway in the US-Russia relations; despite extensive reporting on the resignation itself, other news outlets refrained from publishing opinion pieces. A general consensus seems to be that Flynn’s resignation signals further cooling of U.S.-Russia relations.
- RT published an op-ed titled “Flynn sacrificed to prevent Trump from recalibrating US relations with Russia.”
- RT published an op-ed highly defensive of Flynn. It stated, “despite the media’s insinuations that Mike Flynn had committed some sort of heinous crime, the reality is far less sensational.” It continued, “The US media’s obsession with peddling fake news with regards to Russia has actually helped to deprive the world of the one man who could have really mended relations between the world’s preeminent nuclear powers.”
- According to Sputnik, Alex Fenenko, a Russian academic, presumes that following Flynn’s resignation, “the President’s entourage led by Vice President Mike Pence may take a harder line on Moscow…This means the weakening of the wing which stands for a constructive dialogue with Russia and China.”
Although the Indian government was silent on Flynn’s resignation, commentators used the resignation as a springboard to discuss the competence and efficacy of the Trump administration and that of President Trump.
- A column in Business Standard claimed that “Trump administration has been a comic opera of buffoons.” The columnist also noted the “incompetence, nepotism and arrogance” of the Trump White House.
- An editorial in The Indian Express, a Congress Party leaning newspaper, further noted Trump’s less than conventional performance. It stated, “Trump has had bizarre conversations with world leaders, attacked Nordstrom for failing to buy from his daughter’s firm, chosen ill-qualified cabinet members, attacked the judiciary for shooting down his ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.” The author continued, “ All these, though, pale into insignificance with the resignation of his national security advisor, Michael Flynn.”
- A column titled “The Trump White House is becoming a global headache” in Hindustan Times opined that General Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador was “inappropriate.” Furthermore, it claimed that Flynn’s action and the subsequent resignation highlight “the amateurish nature of how some of his [Trump’s] appointees have approached governance.” The author suspects that in addition to immaturity, the “unsettled nature of the administration will worry many around the globe who are invested in security ties with the US, including India.”
Because the performance of Trump’s administration thus far suggests incompetence to some commentators, they questioned Trump’s appointment making judgement.
- After discussing the preeminent role that the United States plays in the international system and security, and how the position Flynn held is especially important for Trump, “a president who has no experience of government,” editorial in The Indian Express claimed that the “casualness” with which Trump could have made such a critical appointment suggests “he ill-understands the responsibilities of the position he now holds.”
- In a similar tone, an editorial in the left leaning The Hindu stated, “Mr. Trump could learn some lessons from the Flynn episode. He could use better judgment when he chooses his next NSA. He should set his house in order and formulate a cohesive approach towards domestic and foreign policy issues… If not, his administration could well be trapped in crisis mode.”
A column in The Pioneer, a pro-BJP party newspaper expressed some sympathy toward the Trump administration.
- It stated, “While Flynn’s departure is an embarrassment to the Trump Administration, it’s not the disaster that the President’s critics are making it out to be. Wrong choices are often made; it’s important they are corrected at the earliest.”
- Not only was the column sympathetic toward the Trump administration, it criticized the Democrats for giving Trump a hard time putting together his team in place. It claimed, “Democrats have been less than helpful, seeking to delay, if not altogether block the clearance of his nominees…It’s also not fair on the Democratic Party’s side to create hurdles in President Trump’s effort to have his team in place. He has been elected in a free and fair poll process and the Democrats must respect the verdict.”
According to an article in The Japan News, the largest daily circulation, Flynn “has an understanding about the Japan-U.S. alliance. He responded favorably to Japan’s concerns about security issues. The U.S. side’s remarks that the Senkaku Islands are covered by the Japan-U.S. security treaty were well received. It is said that Japanese Ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae has already built relations with both Jared Kushner and Flynn to the extent that they are mutually contactable at any time when necessary.” That said, some Japanese commentators weighed in on the impact of Flynn’s resignation on Japan-U.S. relations.
- An article in The Mainichi, a liberal-learning newspaper and the third largest daily circulation, stated that Flynn’s resignation “represents a blow for Japan because he was predicted to become an effective intermediary between the two countries.”
- Despite losing Flynn as the key intermediary, a commentator from Nikkei Asian Review, a center-right business paper, anticipated progress in the relationship between Shinzo Abe and Trump due to their shared interest. The commentator stated, “In his keen pursuit of warmer relations with Russia, Trump had found a kindred spirit in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a recent guest and golfing partner at the president’s Florida retreat, who has launched his own friendly efforts for detente with Moscow.”
An editorial in The Japan News also commented on the relations between the Trump administration and Russia in general.
- The commentator thought that the Trump administration has had “unprincipled approach to Russia.” It opined that “Trump’s conciliatory moves toward Russia should be avoided for now.”
Like the Japanese commentators, the South Korean counterparts also seemed to view Flynn as an asset to U.S.-Korea relations.
- Korea Joongang Daily, a conservative newspaper, reported that “Flynn has previously expressed strong support for the U.S. alliance with South Korea and prioritized the Pyongyang issue.” Thus, “there is concern on the impact his resignation will have on security affairs.”
- Given Flynn’s alleged illicit interaction with a top Russian official and the subsequent resignation as well as related allegations regarding Trump’s team members, an op-ed in The Dong-A Ilbo, a conservative-leaning paper, opined that “the improper Russia dealings scandal” is “gradually strangling” President Trump.
During a recent press conference, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to comment because the resignation was an internal US affair. Commentaries from the Chinese newspapers and experts showed disappointment with the Flynn’s resignation.
- An op-ed in Global Times, a nationalist newspaper, thought that “Flynn’s resignation eroded Trump’s authority as president.”
- In a similar vein, Tao Wenzhao, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said “Flynn’s resignation would be a big blow to Trump.”
- Zhu Feng, a US-China relations professor at Nanjing University, said with Flynn’s resignation, “a communication channel was cut off” between China and the U.S. because he is was one of the most familiar faces in Trump’s team that Beijing had interacted with. This expert expects the resignation to have some impact on the Sino-U.S. relations.