Flynn, Kurds, and Turkey

Former Trump National Security Advisor LTG (ret) Michael Flynn, now a registered and paid agent for the government of Turkey, is reported to have been on their payroll prior to President Trump’s inauguration.  He revealed to Trump’s transition team in January that he had worked as a lobbyist for Turkey in 2016.

If that were not bad enough, he is reported to have vetoed a planned joint operation with Kurdish forces to retake the city of Raqqa in Syria from ISIS forces.  Allowing a paid agent of Turkey to have any control over, much less veto, an operation which Turkey saw as against its interests is a definite conflict of interest and quite distressing.

This, however, begs the question: Why would Turkey not want to combat ISIS?  They do, in fact, want to fight ISIS – but, not with the help of the Kurds.  Turkey does not want the Kurds to come out of this conflict with any greater sense of Kurdish national unity and power than they already possess.  Thus, Turkey is trying to balance its interests: it does not want ISIS infiltrating its territory, but it also does not want to lose territory to the Kurds.

The reason for Turkey’s opposition to the Kurds has its roots in the war going on since the 1980’s between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  The PKK has been fighting for an independent Kurdish state (“Kurdistan”) or at least greater autonomy from the Turkish government.  In 2007, they helped organize a group of Kurds from Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).  The PKK has been labeled a terrorist organization by many countries, including Turkey and NATO.

However, the Kurds have been one of the most effective forces in the fight against ISIS.  To be clear, the Kurdish groups which the U.S. is fighting alongside are not part of the PKK (although Turkey makes allegations to the contrary).  Turkey fears any inroads by the Kurds will embolden the PKK and eventually lead to an independent Kurdish state.  The presence of a “Kurdistan” would then cause Kurds in Turkey to wish to join it, taking their territory with them.  To get a better sense of why Turkey opposes Kurdish nationalism, take a look at this map; most of the Kurdish-populated territory lies within Turkey’s borders.

The U.S. is now, in fact, going to arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Y.P.G.) in Syria to fight against ISIS, despite Turkish objections.  This is significant and will likely help in the war against ISIS.  It will also lead to greater tension between the U.S. and Turkey, since Turkey bombed Y.P.G. forces last month.  In addition, it will likely lead to greater Turkish-Russian cooperation, as Russia seeks to protect Assad’s power in Syria and Turkey seeks to keep the Kurds in check.

Sources: Flynn Will Be Trump National Security Adviser

Media sources are reporting that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will be President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser. The post does not require Senate confirmation.

The official wouldn’t say whether Flynn had accepted the job, which left open the possibility that the arrangement was not finalized. The official was not authorized to discuss the offer publicly and insisted on anonymity.

Flynn has a reputation as one who isn’t a team player, as the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The appointment makes sense in a Trump administration, where loyalty to the president will be the litmus test for those close to the president.

With a staff of about 400, the National Security Council under Flynn will certainly focus on more ISIS from a threat of Islamic extremism viewpoint. That is a complete flip from President Obama’s defense of Islam while calling ISIS an aberration that does not represent Muslim values.

During the campaign, Flynn was criticized as Trump’s adviser due to his close ties with Moscow through Kremlin-run media company RT. Flynn attended an RT gala and has appeared on the network as a foreign policy expert. But the former 3-star general shares Trump’s views on winning–from his prime-time Republican National Convention speech:

There he said the president’s empty rhetoric had “caused the world to have no respect for America’s word” and lambasted Democrats for debating the merits of transgender bathrooms. “My God, war is not about bathrooms. War is not about political correctness or words that are meaningless. War is about winning.

Trump’s ‘Brains Trust’ and the FDR White House

When Donald Trump’s fellow New Yorker, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, assumed the White House in 1933, he brought with him a trusted group of experts who helped him write speeches, form policy positions, and bounce around ideas. The term “Brains Trust” (since shortened to “Brain Trust” in common usage) was coined by New York Times reporter James Kiernan.

A modern day FDR

Trump fashions himself a modern day FDR. A president for the “forgotten man.” A president who will take a flagging, hurting America out of the depths of despair and emerge the most powerful nation on earth. If you read any biography of Roosevelt, you see how Trump’s self-image lines himself up with the man.

  1. FDR was a quick study. His main mode of acquiring information was conversation. He did not read many books.
  2. FDR possessed the charisma to connect with large numbers of the American people. He was an expert at using the “new media” of the time: radio.
  3. FDR possessed vaulting self confidence. He presumed to make the presidency into whatever he wanted it to be–conformed to his own image.
  4. FDR possessed “noblesse oblige” – a sense of patrician duty, as a wealthy man.
  5. FDR possessed strong character. Courage, tenacity, hopefulness.
  6. FDR possessed a clear vision of America and her role on the world-historical stage.
  7. FDR possessed the political skills to get his vision communicated and his programs enacted.
  8. FDR enjoyed an element of luck–events lined up with his own agenda.
[Source: The Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University]

FDR’s “Brains Trust” were mostly legal experts who knew how to bend law to Roosevelt’s liking. Names like Louis Brandeis, who became a Supreme Court Justice, Harold Ickes, and Basil O’Connor were associated with FDR’s great social and economic New Deal. The closest equivalents  Trump has on his team are Chris Christie, Reince Priebus and Stephen Bannon.

These men are most like “Second Roosevelt Brains Trust,” an expanded circle including Thomas Gardiner Corcoran and the firebrand General Hugh “Iron Pants” Johnson. Bannon is much like a parallel-opposite universe version of brain truster James Warburg, mixed with Gen. Johnson’s middle finger. Priebus is a composite, a get-it-done man obsessed with the boring details.

But FDR didn’t really listen to his “Brains Trust.” And Donald Trump doesn’t really listen to his advisers.

In the campaign, Trump’s closest advisers were his adult children and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Entering the White House, Trump has absolutely no clue what is required to build a West Wing staff, never mind an entire administration. Following his business instincts, he chose people he believes will be personally loyal to him, speak plainly, and offer competing views. He will likely ignore their advice but use their viewpoints to gauge reaction among various groups.

Trump sees himself as a Republican FDR–taking care of the “forgotten man,” jobs, the economy, veterans, but with a McKinley-style protective tariff, and a quid-pro-quo foreign policy tilt toward Henry Cabot Lodge and the Senate Irreconcilables. Trump sees America as reliving the years between 1919 and 1933, with both parties indulging in an excess of browbeating, oppressive moralizing, albeit from different viewpoints. Meanwhile, regular Americans suffered.

Agreeing With Everyone, Listening to No One

Having both a populist, “alt-right” icon in the White House, along with the RNC’s polished lawyer chairman is Trump’s way of being FDR.

Describing how Churchill found Roosevelt “slipperier than he had expected,” historian Frank Costigliola wrote:

FDR gave nearly everyone the impression he agreed with them. An observer described his emotional energy: “There was a warmth about the man that made you believe he was trying to help. He was trying to go your way.”

When “60 Minutes” interviewed Trump, he looked straight at the camera and told his “alt-right” followers: “Stop.” Then he appointed Bannon to a senior role, sending decidedly mixed messages.

Bannon’s appointment drew sharp criticism from political operatives on both sides of the aisle who see Bannon as being too close to the alt-right and white nationalism. Breitbart has published stories with headlines stating that women faced with harassment online should “log off” and called Republican Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew.”

President Obama said that Trump told him he would maintain a strong “commitment” to NATO, after repeatedly challenging NATO’s role and relevance during the campaign. Obama, who is leaving on his last international trip of his presidency, will try to calm world leaders’ fears about Trump as an unpredictable and unstable force at the helm of the world’s only superpower.

“I think that’s one of the most important functions I can serve at this stage during this trip is to let them know that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America’s commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship and a recognition that those alliances aren’t just good for Europe,” the president added. “They are good for the United States and they are vital for the world.”

Then Vladimir Putin, NATO’s greatest critic, called Trump and the two “discussed combining efforts in the fight against terrorism, talked about ‘a settlement for the crisis in Syria’ and agreed their aides would begin working toward a face-to-face meeting between them.” The Washington Post reported:

Trump appeared to absolve Russia from responsibility for intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, and questioned the relevance of NATO, which has charged Moscow with engaging in provocative air and sea actions on the alliance’s eastern flank.

Beg pardon, but can all these be true? Can Trump really support “a strong and robust NATO relationship” and at the same time “absolve Russia from responsibility for…annexation of Crimea” at the same time? Mixed messages and “slipperier” than expected.

In all things, Trump wants to make every personal meeting be about the person meeting with him leaving believing they have Trump’s full agreement and support. They will have, most of the time, neither. Trump has never signed a document without knowing the specific method he will use to get out of the commitment, take a more powerful position, or simply walk way.

Trump’s Big Problem

Trump’s biggest problem is that he’s no Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt came from genuine old money. His family had genuine patrician roots, a history of philanthropy, war heroes, and Teddy. Politics was a family sport for the Roosevelts, and they were quite good at it.

In contrast, Trump is Al Czervik–crass, nouveau riche, parsimonious, rococo. You’d no more find Donald Trump in the rustic accommodations at Warm Springs, or driving his own car, than you’d find him ironing his own shirts. (But Trump insists on styling his own hair.)

Roosevelt had no real chips on his shoulder, other than his disability, which he handled with alternating resignation and alacrity. He believed he had a duty to America and that the smart elites had the solutions for the common man’s problems. In peace, and in war, that was Roosevelt’s overriding ethos. The Constitution, human nature, historical claims of ethnic peoples, and God’s will be damned.

Trump believes a bit more in human nature: the baser sort that craves and values money, power, and fame. As to the other items, he’s about FDR’s equal. As much as Trump claims to be an anti-establishment populist, he’s really an elitist in disguise, except that the actual elitists reject him as unfit. President Obama and Hillary Clinton meant exactly what they said about unfitness (as did many conservatives with Ivy League pedigrees).

The unanswered–and unanswerable but for hindsight–question of a Trump administration is if the new president will have the intellectual wherewithal to cope with the strategy, implementation, negotiation, and dispensation of government at the executive level. It’s one thing to sit around with Donald, Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Jared Kushner, then issuing orders to his closest associates. It’s quite another leading a cabinet meeting.

A casino version of FDR

FDR’s administration was famous for infighting. The battle between Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles and diplomat William Bullitt was well known–involving Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Bullitt even went on a rant accusing Welles of being a homosexual (a scandal at that time, which led to Welles’ resignation)–although the truth of it was never fully proved–earning Bullitt Roosevelt’s eternal scorn.

Trump’s transition team and undoubtedly his cabinet will also be marked with scuffles, outright venom and “knife fights.” CNN reports:

Donald Trump’s transition is being marked by sharp internal disagreements over key cabinet appointments and direction, both for internal West Wing positions and key national security posts, sources involved in the transition team tell CNN.

One source with knowledge of the transition described it as a “knife fight.”

Priebus and Bannon. John Bolton or Rudy Giuliani as secretary of state; Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn or Lt. Gen. Ron Burgess as national security advisers; and Sen. Jeff Sessions in some cabinet-level position. These are names from all over the political spectrum, all with personal loyalty to Trump at one point or another, but none to each other.

Building a team around a man without a core policy, who easily agrees with everyone but listens to no one is a recipe for conflict and chaos. That’s how Trump will govern. It’s very much like FDR, but garish, without Roosevelt’s graceful soft edge. It’s a casino version of FDR.

Prediction: Disharmony and Elitism

On health care, immigration, NATO, abortion, ISIS, and nuclear proliferation, Trump says whatever will either make people feel at ease, or throw them off balance, depending on the reaction he’s looking for. Don’t look for consistency, coherence, or harmony in a Trump administration.

President Donald Trump has one of the greatest opportunities to actually get things done in a four year term. With control of both houses of Congress, nearly enough state legislatures and governorships to unilaterally pass and ratify Constitutional amendments, and executive powers unparalleled in the history of the presidency, Trump could really make conservatives’ dreams come true.

But disharmony, competition, infighting, backbiting, and the incoherent rantings of self-obsession could stand in the way of Trump’s triumph.

Despite all this, I must recognize that Stephen Bannon is no intellectual Neanderthal, indeed he’s an elitist’s elite: a U.S. Navy officer, Harvard Business School, and Goldman Sachs–he sounds more like Ted Cruz than Vermin Supreme. Bannon knows the ropes, try as he does to set them on fire.

Trump’s “Brains Trust” of the establishment foundation-builder Priebus, firebrand Bannon, and a cadre of smart people might pull off the improbable. After all, they won the election.

But if you were expecting a small government, Tea Party, liberty-minded group of rugged boots-and-chaps-wearing Reaganites, you’re going to be disappointed. Trump’s “Brains Trust” is every bit as buttoned-down, big government, central planning, and ask-no-questions as FDR’s was.

And Trump himself is just as determined to ignore them all as was his New York predecessor.

 

Trump Would Fail His Own VP Vetting Process

Anyone telling you they know who Donald Trump is going to pick as his running mate is lying to you. That’s because Trump himself has no idea who he’s going to pick as his VP. He’s just as lost as everyone else.

What we do know is that he’d fail his own vetting process, but more on that later. First, let’s look at the con game Trump is using to keep himself in the headlines.

His short list is Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, likely in that order. But Trump is playing a shell game, using misdirection, “crazy Ivans” and other ruses to point us all over the map. Maybe he is just throwing spaghetti at the wall, seeing what sticks–how the press and the GOP react.

It could be like the daughter who calls home from college to tell dad she’s pregnant by a biker named Crush, and needs money to bail him out of jail, then to move in with him in the single-wide he shares with his other baby-mama. Then she says that no, she just failed biology and probably has to take summer classes–and by the way can she have $100?

Trump presents Flynn for shock value, so the party will sigh with relief when the real VP pick is Christie or Pence. I personally prefer Gingrich, who’s the only one I’ve seen actually display testicular fortitude in standing up to the Boss. But that in itself probably disqualifies Gingrich, for obvious reasons.

Uber-GOP lawyer A.B. Culvahouse, Jr. is doing the final vetting for Trump. This is the same lawyer who vetted Sarah Palin for John McCain. We saw how well that worked out, although Culvahouse claimed that Palin disclosed everything, and McCain went with the “high risk, high reward” option.

Like everything else the dilettante does, Trump will play his VP pick like three-card-monty, except even he doesn’t know where the money card is until he makes his final choice. But in the biggest irony of this race so far, Trump’s VP hopefuls will have to submit to everything the candidate himself avoids.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2012, [Culvahouse] described how deep the vetting dive goes, demanding the potential picks hand over their “tax returns, medical histories, financial statements, court records” while answering very personal questions about “infidelity, sexual harassment, discrimination, plagiarism, alcohol or drug addiction, delinquent taxes, credit history, and use of government positions or resources for personal benefit.”

Trump would fail his own vetting for VP. Perhaps the delegates in Cleveland should hold Trump to the same standards to which his lawyer holds his VP pick?

Trump Is Really Considering a Democrat With Russian Ties as VP

Donald Trump’s VP short list includes former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who last year was a registered Democrat, sitting at the table of honor with Vladimir Putin after giving a speech at Russia Today (RT)’s tenth anniversary.

Yay.

The Washington Post reported Saturday:

Trump is said to be understanding and open to that argument, but he is slightly bored by the prospect of going with a traditional Republican. As a longtime celebrity, he has countered that advice with points about the need for surprise and star power. But he is torn about whether his gut instincts should outweigh political calculation, the people said.

The Republican suicide machine seems to run on perpetual motion energy. It’s not enough for Trump to throw a millstone around his neck, wear cement overshoes, slip a noose over his head, and jump from the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s not enough that Trump also bored by attacking Clinton.

Now he’s got to find a fellow former Democrat turned against Obama–mostly over how to fight ISIS and how to define our terrorist enemies. It would be just like Trump to choose someone like this, who was fairly well fired at the height of his career as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for not playing nice with others.

I’ve known my share of military intelligence pukes–Army included. Some of them are quite humble, erudite and a joy to work with. Some of them are flaming, raving jerks somewhere in the vicinity of General Jack D. Ripper (of Dr. Strangelove). I can’t speak myself about Gen. Flynn because I don’t know him. but Politico reported some think he’s flown the cuckoo’s nest.

“Somehow Mike Flynn has blown a gasket,” said one senior U.S. official with ties to him who was not authorized to speak publicly. “He is so angry with this administration that he has forgotten his New England roots.”

(Let the record show that Rhode Island, Flynn’s home state, is only marginally considered New England–and then only by dint of the Pawtucket Red Sox–and has been a true blue liberal stronghold since before the Civil War. I would not call that “New England roots” in the more accepted sense of the term.)

The Democrats would have a ball with Flynn, like they famously did with Ross Perot’s unfortunate pick Adm. John Stockdale. The kids at Vox got a head start, speculating about Flynn’s possible actual employment by RT–which would put him on Putin’s payroll. Just the person Trump wants as a running mate.

Even the fact that Trump is considering this man is proof of incompetence at trying to win this election–or proof that Trump is a Democrat masquerading as a Republican. One or the other  becomes terrifyingly closer to the truth every day.