UPDATE: 11 p.m. Monday night. Politico reports Michael Flynn has just resigned. Jared Kushner is trying to find a replacement. Keith Kellogg, the chief of staff, will be the acting head of the National Security Council. More details here from the Washington Post and a DailyKos diary.
CORRECTION AND CLARIFICATION: This story was written on Monday without a distinction between the sanctions Russia is under. Flynn’s resignation is in reference to the most recent set of sanctions imposed by President Obama due to the Russian hacking to influence the elections — the ejection of 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services. The sanctions that affected the multi-billion-dollar Exxon-Mobil oil deals were in 2014, due to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a major conflict of interest now that Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson is secretary of state. (I cannot get over how this nomination was confirmed by Congress.)
I’ve long been trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s new “alternative reality” show and have heard the word “bizarre” so often last week from pundits and politicians about the unqualified choices for Cabinet or comments that he’s made. I decided to compile what I’ve read for friends and family who still seem puzzled or even clueless.
It seems we’ve got a tyrant, and commentators abroad, as well as an opinion piece in the The Hill today have begun saying the U.S. has gone rogue.
Another example was boldly expressed on Germany's Der Spiegel magazine cover recently (above). In an NPR interview last Friday, Der Spiegel Editor Klaus Brinkbaeumer discussed why he is urging his nation to build an international coalition to counter Trump to defend globalism, to protect institutions like the EU and the United Nations, to protect the stability of the world order.
What’s the common thread beneath all the political turmoil?
Let’s start with the latest controversy among Trump’s closest advisors … as I awoke this morning, MSNBC reported “The White House’s Michael Flynn problem reaches a tipping point”:
Multiple reports from late last week indicate that White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, despite repeated denials from leading members of Donald Trump’s team, spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about U.S. sanctions before Inauguration Day. Flynn, who previously insisted no such conversations took place, is now saying he’s not sure whether sanctions came up during his calls with Kislyak or not.
The troubling issue is that Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the public Flynn didn’t talk about sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
As Washington Post’s David Ignatius, who broke the story, points out, the real issue is:
… whether President Trump’s national security adviser sought to hide from his colleagues and the nation a pre-inauguration discussion with the Russian government about sanctions that the Obama administration was imposing.
“It’s far less significant if he violated the Logan Act and far more significant if he willfully misled this country,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in a telephone interview late Friday. “Why would he conceal the nature of the call unless he was conscious of wrongdoing?”
At face value, a private citizen engaging in diplomacy and then lying about it seems to be relatively minor. Flynn’s defenders reasonably countered that there were good public-policy reasons for a future national security adviser to talk with the ambassador of a major power about future policies, according to Ignatius.
But yet, the White House is facing multiple issues around sanctions and Russia. The most recent set of sanctions imposed by President Obama are due to the Russian hacking to influence the elections — the ejection of 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services. Huge implications that raise a different set of questions.
But here, my references are to the sanctions that affected the Exxon-Mobil oil deals in 2014 due to Russian invasion of the Ukraine, which are troubling because of the conflict of interest issues which blur the boundary between personal business and public service/governmental posts in Trump presidency and Cabinet. More about that later.
Flynn was a lieutenant general and defense intelligence director who in 2014 retired early after many dust-ups with his colleagues under President Obama regarding Flynn’s broad language that didn’t separate Muslim followers of the religion from terrorists, and seems to have some anti-Semitism, according to the Daily Beast. The Washington Post has written extensively about Flynn’s penchant for Islamophobia and conspiracy theories.
Democrats are also demanding an investigation over his being paid to speak at a dinner in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which Mother Jones says violated constitutional limits on accepting gifts from foreign governments.
Let’s connect all this to other more broader issues.
Firstly, Flynn’s alleged discussion with a Russian ambassador about the sanctions before Trump took office appears to have been prohibited by The Logan Act, according to the New York Times:
Throughout the discussions, the message Mr. Flynn conveyed to the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak — that the Obama administration was Moscow’s adversary and that relations with Russia would change under Mr. Trump — was unambiguous and highly inappropriate, the officials said.
The accounts of the conversations raise the prospect that Mr. Flynn violated a law against private citizens’ engaging in diplomacy, and directly contradict statements made by Trump advisers.
What’s glaringly troublesome is the fact under CEO Rex Tillerson, Exxon-Mobile had oil deals which Russian officials had optimistically estimated up to $500 billion before the 2014 sanctions from its incursion into Ukraine took effect. According to the New York Times on Dec. 12:
Now that President-elect Trump has chosen Rex. W. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to be the next secretary of state, the giant oil company stands to make some major gains as well: It has billions of dollars in deals that can go forward only if the United States lifts sanctions against Russia.
Doesn’t a $500 billion conflict of interest for Tillerson and Exxon-Mobile raise at least some eyebrows? It boggles the mind how the boundaries of office of secretary of state and public service have been blurred by profiteering. Of course, exploratory drilling in the Siberian permafrost or Arctic waters are an immensely expensive undertaking, which no other oil company, save Exxon-Mobil, is qualified for –– but why make Tillerson, a man who seems widely lacking in foreign relations and diplomacy, secretary of state?
Many of the Trump’s team’s choices for Cabinet and other roles have seemed “bizarre” or deeply unqualified, and the Tillerson congressional confirmation is no less. From a Trumpist perspective, choosing an individual with a personal stake in removing diplomatic sanctions makes a career Exxon-Mobil executive uncannily “qualified” for that position, and Tillerson is certainly that man, not to mention someone who would prioritize protecting a fossil fuel economy – and their wars – over other more diplomatic choices that would ensure a more safe, stable, sustainable world economy.
Mind you, Russia is also a huge country, but with a GDP the size of Italy’s, anxious to make use of the country’s natural resource – oil. But Russia is authoritarian regime, and democratic nations have to stay vigilant about this blurring of business and government leadership … as well as Trump’s own emerging authoritarian style.
How will this issue be settled, if at all? The public is keenly aware of Trump and Kellyanne Conway’s blurring of the boundary between personal business and the White House over Ivanka Trump’s clothing sales ; as well as Melania Trump’s libel lawsuit. which claimed her “brand” as first lady was damaged. But this Exxon-Mobil appointment and that of other Cabinet appointments –– such as billionaire Betsy DeVos, who has no public school education experience, and who invested in Michigan’s charter school experiment –– are approaching that of a kleptocracy.
Secondly, another incident seems to have been missed widely in the press, but which also falls in the realm of a private citizen engaging as a diplomat. Here’s New York Times’ reporting of Flynn’s December meeting with Austria’s far right Freedom party, founded by a former Nazi back in the 1950s:
BERLIN – The leader of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party has signed what he called a cooperation agreement with Russia’s ruling party and recently met with Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the designated national security adviser to President-elect Donald J. Trump of the United States.
Word of the agreement with Russia was the latest sign that the Kremlin is forging bonds with political parties across Europe in what some European leaders suspect is a coordinated attempt to meddle in their affairs and potentially weaken Western democracies. Many of these efforts are murky and involve obscure groups, and it is unclear whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has any direct involvement.
The Freedom Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, reported the signing of the agreement with United Russia, Mr. Putin’s party, on Monday on his Facebook page, where he also disclosed that he had visited General Flynn a few weeks ago in Trump Tower in New York.
Here’s a Dec. 20 MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell program on Flynn’s meeting with Austria’s opposition far-right Freedom Party:
Panelists on the show had some harsh words on Flynn’s meeting. Here’s an excerpt from the show transcript, from global security expert Joe Cirincione:
Remember, this is not the leader of a governing party, this is the leader of an opposition party.
As you say, a party that was founded by a Nazi and a former SS officer in 1956. A party that has just signed an agreement of cooperation with Russia.
So get this, the head of an Austrian political party has signed an agreement with a foreign leader, Russia, to cooperate with them to have regular meetings.
We used to call these kinds of people during World War II, Quislings, named after the Norwegian politician Quisling who cooperated with the Nazis in the occupation of his own country.
We are now seeing a new network of Quislings. The far-right parties who are allying with Putin, with Russia in a common cause against their own governments.
And now the soon-to-be national security adviser, the president of the United States has legitimized these people, has welcomed them into Trump Tower. The White House in waiting and blessed them, and this has not gone unnoticed.
The far right, the alt-right as we call them here are crowing about this, they`re talking about a new axis of nationalism that spans North America and Europe.
This is a deeply troubling development.
Cirincione’s observation is not so out of line, as Europe has seeing a resurgence of far-right parties, according to the New York Times, and Putin has allegedly been funding these parties since 2008, according to The Atlantic. The sanctions gravely affect the Russia’s major resource – oil – for a country which has a GDP the size of Italy’s, as The Atlantic’s Senior Editor David Frum pointed out:
The Trump campaign seems actually to be of like mind with Russian foreign policy. What we are seeing here is a very systematic Russian attack attempt to smash NATO and the EU to pieces.
Well, Russia has a GDP about the size of Italy. On its own, it is not a very powerful actor, certainly not compared to a united Democratic western world. It can only be powerful by setting the parts of the Democratic world at each other’s throats.
And there are parties inside the EU willing to do that, not because they`re Nazis, but because they have various kinds of sinister agendas that are more modern than Nazism. And the Trump campaign seems to be – either share those or not to understand the stakes.
Unfortunately, NATO’s expansion up to Russia’s borders during the Clinton and Bush administrations would set Putin on the defense and lend support for election meddling against a Clinton presidency.
Thirdly, Flynn’s penchant for fake news and conspiracies figures into the question of Russia’s hacking to influence the elections. Flynn, as national security adviser, needed no rigorous congressional confirmation, but he made big headlines by tweeting the most oddball of rumors – what came to be known as the #Pizzagate story, a fake news/conspiracy theory that had its origins in the last few weeks of the presidential campaign regarding the Clintons, human trafficking and sex crimes. The Washington Post has a fairly comprehensive record of Flynn’s foibles.
Flynn could be trying to sow discord with the same kind of fake news stories in White House briefings.
On Feb. 6, after a week of massive protests over Trump’s Muslim travel ban, where even those from seven Muslim countries had undergone a 12-16 months visa application process, and those who already had “green cards” were sudden banned from entering the company, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s program led with an unusual story of how the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Ryhoravich Lukashenko, had just given a 7-hour press conference that Belarus would open its borders to allow in visitors from 80 countries WITHOUT a visa.
This would all seem very odd, but apparently, Belarus is on the border of Russia. Such news then caused Russia to suddenly threaten it would militarize its borders and cut off the supply of oil and gas.
Maddow said that Russia has wanted a military base in Belarus, which has refused:
Not long ago, the Russian state-run media outlet, the propaganda outlet that`s called Sputnik, they floated the idea that Belarus was about to be invaded by the West. They cooked up this fake news story that Belarus was desperate for Russian weapons and Russian protection because Poland – yes, Poland was going to invade Belarus.
“And that`s insane. Poland is a NATO country. They are an E.U. country.
Yes, Poland is as nuts as any country but Poland is not invading Belarus,
Then Maddow went on to describe that more recently:
“According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought
information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request
because little evidence of such activities appears to exist.” ...
“The AP is reporting that the top level national security aides to this
president are inquiring with U.S. agencies about those Polish incursions
into Belarus. Why the heck are they pursuing that as a line of inquiry in
the Trump National Security Council?”
Well, it would seem that Lukashenko’s move to open its countries’ borders was an effort to have dispelled that theory, according to Politicsusa.
Maddow said Flynn was rewriting Trump’s daily intelligence briefs. Let’s not forget he was formerly the defense intelligence director under Obama and was forced into early retirement over what his colleagues believed were Islamophobia – a Muslim religious war was growing and not being adequately contained, which leads us back to:
Fourth: Flynn’s shares Islamic bigotry and anti-Semitic beliefs with Trump’s appointed advisor, former Goldman Sachs banker, white nationalist, and Breitbart News executive Steven Bannon. Bannon describes Breitbart News as a “platform for the alt-right,” according to the Guardian:
Interest in what the “alt-right” stands for was only heightened after video emerged this week (after Trump’s election) from a Washington DC conference hosted by the National Policy Institute, showing attendees giving the Nazi salute.
The National Policy Institute is run by Richard D. Spencer, the white supremacist who coined the term “alt-right.” Spencer’s estranged wife, Nina Kouprianova, who also writes under the name who also writes under the name Nina Byzantina, was a Russian translator for Putin’s political strategist and propagandist, Aleksander Dugin, according to Raw Story.
On MSNBC’s Joy Reid’s program, counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance describes Bannon’s interests in “Duginism”, after Trump put Bannon, who has no military or national security experience, on the National Security Council:
Dugin is a Russian that is sort of the Rasputin of the anti-democratic movement in eastern Europe that hates the liberal elite. Dugin has this vision of Eurasianism, which is to align the United States and Russia together in a Christian war against Islam. I believe that Steve Bannon is actually setting the strategy for the White House, and on the National Security Council, he’s just going to be the commisar. He’s going to make sure that all aspects of national security power will work in alignment with the political power and the strategy that he’s laying out for Donald Trump.
The Guardian article “Putin and Trump could be on the same side in the troubling new world order” goes into more detail:
It is no accident that he earned the nickname Putin’s Rasputin. His books and posts – often, it must be said impenetrable or plain madca – are required reading for those who seek to understand the new landscape of Brexit, Donald Trump’s victory and the global surge of the far right. …
Dugin is a ferocious champion of Russian imperialism, or what he calls Eurasianism. He supports tradition against liberalism, autocracy against democratic institutions, stern uniformity against Enlightenment pluralism. In The Fourth Political Theory (2009), he claims all this adds up to a new and coherent ideology, supplanting liberal democracy, Marxism and fascism – though he still seems pretty fond of fascism.
Perhaps most chilling about this cabal surrounding Trump, is Bannon’s own admitted worldview and core mission as adviser, which seem to confirm the earlier references to Dugin. In an interview with The Daily Beast:
Bannon proudly claimed, “I’m a Leninist.” “Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon includes in that his desire to bring down the whole Washington establishment, both parties, and Western liberal, secular governments.
This DailyKos diary, “Bannon’s Blueprint. Read it for yourself” focuses on Bannon’s overt message of a global religious war that apparently is imminent, from a speech he gave at a 2014 conference hosted by the very conservative Human Dignity Institute at the Vatican.
I certainly think secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals, right?
If you go back to your home countries and your proponent of the defense of the Judeo-Christian West and its tenets, oftentimes, particularly when you deal with the elites, you’re looked at as someone who is quite odd. So it has kind of sapped the strength.
But I strongly believe that whatever the causes of the current drive to the caliphate was — and we can debate them, and people can try to deconstruct them — we have to face a very unpleasant fact. And that unpleasant fact is that there is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global. It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act [unintelligible].
And this Daily Kos diary back in November, called “Everything You Need to Know About Trump, Bannon, Breitbart and Russia”:
The modern Alt-Right sees themselves as a modern “Pat Buchanan,” John Birch, and William F. Buckley far right intellectuals that want to bring down Western, multicultural liberal culture as we know it to install a “Traditionalist” worldview. In their own words, they see the future this way:
As the decisive struggle in the second half of the 20th century was vertical, East vs. West, the 21st century struggle may be horizontal, with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite.
And fifth: According to the Washington Post, Flynn is creating the most military-heavy National Security Council of the modern era:
President Trump is filling the government’s national security leadership with former military officials and businessmen, rejecting the policy and academic types both parties have traditionally relied on. But the militarization of the Trump foreign policy team is even more concentrated in the White House staff led by national security adviser Michael Flynn — and it has observers both inside and outside the administration concerned.
Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, is steadily assembling the most military-heavy National Security Council staff of the modern era. His effort stems from two motivations, according to several transition officials I spoke with. First, he wants people he knows and trusts. More broadly, Flynn believes that the Obama administration’s NSC staff had a dearth of real war-fighting experience, resulting in bad policy decisions and poor follow-through, especially when combating terrorist groups abroad.
And here’s a DailyKos omnibus compilation of things that Trump has done since his inauguration.
One last thing. Raw Story reports: Counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance has also said that 10 or 20 years ago, Trump would have faced a treason trial for being co-opted by Putin.
When did all of this happen to Donald Trump, right? He met Gorbachev. He was a big supporter of glasnost. At some point, he was co-opted by Vladimir Putin. and that means he bought into and embraced the dictatorial ideology that was done by a spy master of the KGB. Ten years ago, 20 years ago,there would be treason trials. I would like to bring one point up. because long ago there was a guy named Yuri Bezmenov, a KGB officer, and he wrote,’This is who the KGB targeted and recruited, egocentric people who lack moral principles and who are too greedy or who suffer from exaggerated self-importance. These are the people the KGB wants and finds easiest to recruit.'”
“Vladimir Putin went to the Yuri Andropov school of intelligence, he learned how to manipulate people, and at some point we need to find out when did Donald Trump’s ideology shift from western capitalism to Russian authoritarianism,” Nance concluded.
Why wouldn’t this be treason today?
There’s many more details that can’t be adequately covered in this diary. So please follow the links that I’ve included here and read up.
The only positive I see is that we live in an age of instant communications technology, unlike any before in our entire human history — where we can share resources and information to avert the worst aspects of scarcity, the xenophobia and man-made catastrophes that have occurred over and over from prehistoric times.
It’s time for us to realize we are indeed all a global family in need of global healing – otherwise, we are in for the fight of our lives. We all have the same basic human developmental needs regardless of who we are, where we live, or what religion we worship — and these should be the common ground for building a more beautiful, sustainable, thriving world for ourselves and our loved ones as never before in human history.
It’s time for us to use all our human potential and humanity … and stop history from repeating itself before it is too late.
This generation is on the cusp of a new age in our common, global humanity. Let’s do our best to see that the forefathers’ 240-year-old experiment in democracy and the principles enshrined in the Constitution — the love of individual freedom and expression — survives.