Putin has Trump on ropes early as Flynn resignation rattles world politics
© Greg Nash

Michael Flynn’s abrupt resignation as national security adviser, and the admission that he misled the vice president about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, raises the clear question of whether Flynn was rogue or authorized. Far from cauterizing the wound, Flynn’s departure puts more blood in the Senate waters, and rattles diplomats at the United Nations. The Watergate refrain, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” is the tune of the day on Capitol Hill.

As if on cue, Russian President Vladimir Putin is testing the waters with President Trump. On January 29, in their first call after Trump’s inauguration, Putin pushed extending the Obama-Putin New START Treaty  which Trump called a “bad deal.” This week, Russia appears to be violating the Reagan-Gorbachev Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, by advancing the production of ground-launched cruise missiles and suspending the accord on plutonium disposal. Trump has played into the trap by questioning the value of nuclear parity with his Russian counterpart.

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At the end of round one, Putin clearly has Trump on the ropes. Regardless of whether Putin has some nefarious leverage over the president, he clearly has mastered the art of diplomatic maneuvering better than the American team. This diplomatic knowledge, indeed these skills, appear to be lacking in most of Trump’s cabinet and Flynn is merely the first man down, struck by the ineptitude of thinking that foreign affairs can be treated like business.

 

Whether Trump can regain his footing depends on whether he accepts that he does not have much experience in statecraft and that it is more like brain surgery (which presumably he would acknowledge he cannot perform and less about domestic political views).

Diplomacy is not only about formal state dinners and knowing when to keep state secrets secret. The world is a dangerous place where cultural and national values differ. Economic systems and fundamental economic views are at odds. Add to that radically different levels of prosperity and education and ubiquitous access to arms, and the need for wise and experienced experts is evident. Discussing a North Korea missile launch at an open air restaurant in Mar-a-Lago, though sheer folly, is the least of Trump’s failures to “get it.”

Some of the biggest breakthroughs in diplomatic relations since World War II have occurred outside the hallowed halls of government: in the bucolic estate of Bretton Woods, Camp David, the Wye Plantation, and Potsdam. There has been Henry Kissinger’s “shuttle diplomacy” and Richard Nixon’s “ping-pong” diplomacy. Trump certainly has the resources to replicate those successes; He is world renowned, a forceful speaker and seems to be in command of his personal destiny. But the crew around him is not ready for prime time.

Trump’s golf diplomacy or throwing Flynn and the Department of Justice under the bus will not end the questions about the Russia conversations. Nor will the fact that Trump says he didn't tell Flynn to talk about sanctions.

When the Chinese state media called Trump a “rookie” after the Taiwan call, they may have been on point. Now the president is pressing China on the North Korea sanctions and he is weakened by his own shooting from the hip.

Senator John McCainJohn McCainFrustrated Dems say Obama botched Russia response Coats: Trump seemed obsessed with Russia probe The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE said in a statement, “General Flynn’s resignation is a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus.” David Gergen, advisor to four presidents has abandoned his matter of fact tone in commenting about the Keystone Kops state of affairs by saying, “this is very serious.”

Sean Spicer has admitted that Trump has known for weeks that Flynn was misleading him about Flynn’s December 2015 conversations with the Russian Ambassador when sanctions were being considered and the Department of Justice was alerting Trump about the lies.

The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Russian Duma, Leonid Slutsky said; “I think that we should not build any theories or hypotheses now. Flynn has left….As for the relations between Russia and the U.S., regardless of the incident with Flynn or some old or future ones, the relations are far from being on track yet.”

More to the point, European allies are shaken by what the mixed messages from Trump and the resignation of Flynn means for NATO; Russian legislators are vocal about the “plot” to derail better U.S.-Russian relations; and China is being diplomatic but suspicions remain.

A U.N. Security Council Western diplomat, who, for obvious reasons did not want to be identified, said, “The mess in Washington is having ripple effects in Europe; the assumptions about alliances are shot, and eastern Europe is scared silly about who will protect them.”

The Flynn admissions and resignation have galvanized the free floating anxiety affecting the international community as well as the American public. Until now, fair-minded people wanted to give the man a chance. A common view was that Trump was doing as he said he would do in disrupting the old way.

Now it is clear that the recycling of old stalwarts is not a viable path forward. Many of them, like Flynn, are out of touch. They are not bold disrupters but are ideologically out of touch. Step one for the president is to gather the group of insiders who are responsible and say with gusto “You’re fired.” Step two is to prepare to answer the question, “What did you know and when did you know it?” For that he will need a skilled and seasoned adviser.

Pamela Falk, former staff director of a House of Representatives Subcommittee, is CBS News TV & Radio Foreign Affairs Analyst & U.N. Resident Correspondent and holds a J.D. from Columbia School of Law. She can be reached at @PamelaFalk


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