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Did Turkey’s payments to Michael Flynn delay our military operations against ISIS?

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Press and public attention have been focused largely on the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia, and there is much to be learned.  Questions regarding Turkey, however, reveal most clearly how personal considerations may have overridden our national interests.  Specifically, did Turkey’s financial relationship with Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, block a proposed campaign against ISIS because it was opposed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

General Flynn did not start out as a champion of Erdogan.  In a video recorded on July 15, 2016, Flynn – who was then-candidate Donald Trump’s top military advisor – spoke approvingly of the coup launched against Turkey’s authoritarian president.  Flynn charged that, under Erdogan, the Turkish military was “excised for many years by what really became a secular country, meaning a regular sort of nation state, and then began to move towards Islamism.”  Flynn claimed that Erdogan “is actually very close to President Obama” and that “(the coup) is the military and worth applauding.”

{mosads}Yet, only months later, Flynn penned an op-ed for The Hill newspaper that marked a complete reversal of his opinion about the attempted coup and the Turkish strong-man who was its target.  “We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective,” Flynn wrote, blaming the coup – as Erdogan did – on Fethullah Gulen, whom Flynn described as a “shady Islamic mullah residing in Pennsylvania.”  Flynn concluded his pro-Erdogan opinion piece by stating: “(I)t is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.” 

Flynn learned who his real friends were when he accepted more than a half-million dollars in payments on behalf of the Erdogan government.  In his belated declaration to the Foreign Agent Registration Unit of the Justice Department in early-March of 2017, Flynn reported that he was paid $530,000 for work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

Not only did this payment affect Flynn’s view of the aborted coup; it may have affected one of the Trump administration’s first major foreign policy decisions. Ten days before Trump took office, the Obama administration presented Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor-designate, with a plan to retake Raqqa – the ISIS capital in Syria.  The plan involved partnering with Kurdish forces in a military action.  Turkey strongly opposed the plan since it involved working with the Syrian Kurds, whom the Erdogan government considers a threat.

According to the McClatchy news service, Flynn told Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, to hold off on the plan – a decision that delayed the military operation for months.  The McClatchy article reported that it is not recorded whether Flynn explained his decision, nor is it known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed a U.S. partnership with Kurdish forces and was, at the time, Flynn’s undeclared client.

Weeks after Flynn’s firing as National Security Advisor, ostensibly for lying to Vice President Pence about his meetings with Russian officials, the Trump administration approved the very plan that Flynn had blocked.  In May 2017, the Pentagon announced that President Trump had authorized the limited arming of Syrian Kurds to help in the fight against ISIS in Raqqa, despite strong opposition from Turkey.

Did the payments that Flynn received on behalf of the Turkish government affect his decision to delay a military operation aimed at taking out an ISIS stronghold in Syria – an action strongly opposed by the Turkish President?   Those payments certainly seemed to influence Flynn’s view of the military coup against Erdogan.  Could their impact have extended to his actions as National Security Advisor?

The House Oversight Committee has begun an investigation of Flynn’s initial failure to report the payments he received to support the Erdogan regime.  As part of that investigation, the committee has requested White House documents relative to the hiring and firing of its first National Security Advisor to determine, among other things, whether it knew about the payments.   So far, the White House has refused to comply, which should result in a committee subpoena for those documents.

Questions about the Trump administration’s personal and financial ties to Russia continue to draw appropriate concern from the public and press. The example of Turkey’s payments to Michael Flynn, and their apparent impact on U.S. foreign policy and military operations, demonstrates the potential consequences of such hidden conflicts.  It looks to be a lot more than “fake news.”

Raja Krishnamoorthi represents Illinois’ 8th District and is a member of the House Oversight Committee.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill. 

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