Professors take on the News – David Schmitz
February 23, 2017
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On February 14, 2017, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned over information regarding Russian sanctions that Flynn failed to disclose to members of the Trump Administration. On Thursday, February 16, Wire reporter Kate Grumbles interviewed Chair of the History Department, Professor David F. Schmitz. Below is a partial transcript of that conversation. Professor Schmitz’ comments have been minimally edited for clarity and concision.
Is there any historical precedent for a high profile member of the staff to be dismissed or resign so quickly in the start of a new presidential term?
You’ll see that people may not make it through Congress or withdraw before Congress votes on them, but for a high level appointee to have left after less than a month, I can’t think of any other example like that.
I would just reiterate that Flynn, himself, was a strong personality. When you choose people who are really not qualified for the position, don’t have the experience or the knowledge of what these positions are, you are going to have problems. If you’re bringing them in to be disrupters, you’re going to have these sorts of events. They’re inevitable when you have disdain for what you’re putting people in charge of running. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the only one we’re going to see.
The national security advisor’s job is to be an advisor to the president, certainly, but also to be the person that coordinates making American foreign policy. What national security advisors normally have done is organize the flow of paper and materials that go to the president, as well as the meetings that are held for discussion. They make sure that all the different views are heard, from the different agencies, from state, from the CIA, from their own national security staff and their studies. They usually don’t give their advice in that room, they usually give it in private. They try to make sure that the President is exposed to and is seeing the information.
Michael Flynn was a man who didn’t seem to care about that. He had a goal and a mission, so he’s been forced out. Of course the president, as we’ve seen, is more concerned about the leaks and how this got leaked, rather than the actual actions. You can see why this is sort of a situation where you have various ways that you’ve seen Russia and Trump campaign before and Trump’s praise of Putin. If you get a hold of a string in one place it may take you to the other places that there are concerns. You can see why some people don’t want an investigation, and you can see why the president wants to deflect it to the issue of leaks, rather than the actual actions of Flynn and others in other contexts.
Are there other examples of a private citizen negotiating with a foreign nation?
Well, yes. Certainly we know prior to the 1968 election that there were people in communication with the South Vietnamese government on behalf of the Nixon campaign. They were encouraging the South Vietnamese to drag their feet in the negotiations at Paris with the promise that if Nixon won the election, that they would be better off having Nixon as president. There were definitely communications between the Nixon people and the private citizens that were engaged in those actions, so we do have precedent.
How were US relations with Russia during the Obama administration and how will they change during the Trump administration?
Particularly during Obama’s second term, there was increased tension. Taking the Crimean peninsula, Russian actions in Ukraine and the fighting that went on there, their support of Separatists in Ukraine, their actions in Syria, have led to tensions between the West and Russia at times. Of course, the Russians view is that the West have been pushing NATO onto Russian borders. Putin sees himself as the person who’s going to reassert Russian power and influence in the world.
As the price of oil collapsed, Putin had to distract the population because of the problems that created for the Russian economy. He was facing sanctions on the export so I think they’re going to change.
Trump has clearly signaled that he doesn’t think the sanctions are right, that he has an admiration for Putin and his ability to be decisive. There’s certainly an authoritarianism to the way Trump views a lot of things and Putin is an example of that authoritarian rule. So we’ll see what they try to do in undoing sanctions. There’s clearly a divide even among some of Trump’s people about how much you should get rid of sanctions or become so friendly with Russia. The Japanese don’t particularly care for it, the Chinese don’t particularly care for it, the British don’t particularly care for it. The Prime Minister didn’t say anything when she was here, but their official position is to sanction, as is the EU’s over the Ukraine. So it’s going to put Trump in conflict with a lot of nations if he moves to friendlier relations with Russia without any change on Russia’s behalf.