By Robert Parry
The neocon-dominated U.S. foreign policy establishment won an
important victory in forcing the resignation of President Trump’s
National Security Advisor Michael Flynn over a flimsy complaint that he
had talked to the Russian ambassador during the transition.
The Washington Post, the neoconservatives’ media flagship, led the
assault on Flynn, an unorthodox thinker who shared the neocons’
hostility toward Iran but broke with them in seeing no strategic reason
to transform Russia into an implacable enemy.
After Flynn’s resignation on Monday evening, the Post gloated over
its success in achieving the first major crack in Trump’s resistance to
Official Washington’s establishment. The Post cited Flynn’s “potentially
illegal contacts” with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a reference
to the Logan Act, a 1799 never-enforced law that forbids private
citizens from negotiating with a country in dispute with the U.S.
Though no one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act, it has
been cited in recent decades as an excuse to attack American citizens
who disagree with U.S. government policies while traveling abroad and
having contacts with foreign leaders.
Often those accusations are aimed at Americans seeking to peacefully
resolve disputes when a U.S. president is eager to escalate a conflict,
such as President Ronald Reagan’s denunciations of civil rights leader
Jesse Jackson for visiting Cuba and House Speaker Jim Wright for
exploring ways to end the Contra war in Nicaragua.
In other words, the Logan Act is usually exploited in a McCarthyistic
fashion to bait or discredit peace advocates, similarly to how it has
now been used to destroy Flynn for daring to look for ways to reduce the
dangerous tensions between Washington and Moscow.
But the media-driven attacks on Flynn are particularly curious since
he was the National Security Advisor-designate of an incoming
administration at the time of the calls and – as such – he would be
expected to make contacts with important foreign officials to begin
laying the groundwork for relations with the new president.
Whether U.S. sanctions against Russia were mentioned or not, the
notion that an elected president or his designees – during a transition –
can have no meaningful contact with diplomats whom they may need to
deal with in a matter of weeks represents a particularly contentious
interpretation of a law that has never been tested in a court of law and
may well represent an unconstitutional infringement on free speech and
An Expanding Hysteria
Indeed, referencing the Logan Act appears to be an excuse to continue
– and expand – Official Washington’s hysteria over Russia, which has
become the useful villain to blame for every U.S. foreign policy debacle
and even Hillary Clinton’s disastrous presidential run.
Flynn’s more egregious offense in this case may have been to mislead
Vice President Mike Pence on exactly what was discussed, but Trump’s
White House has not seemed previously overly concerned with the precise
accuracy of its statements.
Indeed, Trump and his team have tangled themselves up for weeks by
promoting “alternative facts” — that Donald Trump’s inaugural crowd was
bigger than Barack Obama’s and that Trump would have won the popular
vote if not for three million to five million illegal votes. Though
these absurd claims pertain more to Trump’s ego than to anything
important, he and his representatives have continued fighting these
fights on Twitter and TV appearances and show no signs of stopping.
So, the ouster of Flynn for failing to provide a complete readout on
some telephone conversations in December stands out as even more
significant in the context of the deluge of falsehoods that have poured
forth from Trump’s White House.
Flynn’s real “offense” appears to be that he favors détente with
Russia rather than escalation of a new and dangerous Cold War. Trump’s
idea of a rapprochement with Moscow – and a search for areas of
cooperation and compromise – has been driving Official Washington’s
foreign policy establishment crazy for months and the neocons, in
particular, have been determined to block it.
Though Flynn has pandered to elements of the neocon movement with his
own hysterical denunciations of Iran and Islam in general, he emerged
as a key architect for Trump’s plans to seek a constructive relationship
with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Meanwhile, the neocons and their
liberal-interventionist sidekicks have invested heavily in making Putin
the all-purpose bête noire to justify a major investment in new
military hardware and in pricy propaganda operations.
The neocons and liberal hawks also hated Flynn because – as director
of the Defense Intelligence Agency – he oversaw a prescient 2012 analysis
that foresaw that their support for the Syrian insurgency would give
rise to “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern
The DIA report, which was partially declassified in a lawsuit over
the 2012 killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S.
personnel in Benghazi, Libya, embarrassed the advocates for an
escalation of the war in Syria and the ouster of secular President
Flynn even went further in a 2015 interview
when he said the intelligence was “very clear” that the Obama
administration made a “willful decision” to back these jihadists in
league with Middle East allies, a choice that looked particularly stupid
when Islamic State militants started beheading American hostages and
capturing cities in Iraq.
A Beloved ‘Regime Change’
But “regime change” in Syria was dear to the neocons’ hearts. After
all, Israeli leaders had declared Assad’s removal central to smashing the so-called “Shiite crescent”
reaching from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut.
The neocons and liberal hawks had come very close to getting the direct
U.S. military intervention that they so wanted to destroy Assad’s army
after a mysterious sarin gas attack
outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. The Obama administration quickly
pinned the atrocity on Assad even though a number of U.S. intelligence
analysts suspected a “false flag” attack carried out by jihadists.
Still, despite those doubts, it appeared a bombing campaign against
Assad was in the offing, except that Obama delayed its implementation
and Putin then proposed an alternative in which Assad would surrender
all his chemical weapons.
Putin’s interference in the neocon/liberal-hawk war plans made him
the new prime target – and Ukraine became ground zero for the effort to
explode the cooperative relationship between Obama and Putin.
On Sept. 26, 2013, only weeks after the aborted U.S. bombing campaign
against Syria, Carl Gershman, the neocon president of the
U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took
to the Post’s op-ed page to declare “Ukraine the biggest prize” and
suggest that winning it could ultimately lead to toppling Putin inside
Key U.S. government neocons, such as Assistant Secretary of State for
European Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain, then began
pushing for the violent right-wing coup that – in February 2014 – ousted
Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych and touched off the new
Cold War with Russia.
Amid these heightened tensions, the mainstream media in the United
States and Europe joined in the full-scale Russia/Putin-bashing. All
rational perspective on the underlying reality was lost, except for a
handful of independent Internet journalists and foreign-policy outsiders
who rejected the over-the-top propaganda.
A Few Dissenters Too Many
But even a few dissenters were a few dissenters too many. So, to
enforce the new groupthink – holding Russia at fault for pretty much
everything – a new McCarthyism emerged, deeming anyone who dared
disagree a “Moscow stooge” or a “Russian propagandist.”
The ugliness penetrated into the U.S. presidential campaign because
Democrat Hillary Clinton took a belligerent line toward Russia while
Trump broke with the Republican establishment and called for improved
ties between Washington and Moscow. Clinton called Trump Putin’s
“puppet” and – after Clinton’s stunning loss – the Obama administration
floated unproven allegations that Putin had intervened in the election
to put Trump in the White House.
This hysteria over Russia gained added strength because Democrats
were so angry over Trump’s election that liberal and progressive
operatives saw a chance to build a movement and raise lots of money by
pushing the Trump-Putin accusations.
This opportunism has turned much of the liberal/progressive community
into a pro-New Cold War constituency willing to engage in a new breed
of McCarthyism by demanding intensive investigations into alleged
connections between Americans and Russians.
From the neocon side, The Washington Post has gone so far as to promote baseless accusations
from an anonymous group called PropOrNot that 200 Internet sites,
including Consortiumnews.com and other important independent news
sources, are guilty of spreading Russian propaganda. Congress approved a new $160 million bureaucracy
to combat such “propaganda.”
However, since Trump’s inauguration, the focus has shifted to Flynn,
as the personification of the effort to cool off the New Cold War,
because he had phone conversations with the Russian ambassador that
presumably were intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Because Flynn supposedly misrepresented some details of the calls to
Vice President Mike Pence, senior Justice Department holdovers from the
Obama administration concocted an argument that Flynn might be
vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
The argument is dubious because the Russians would know that the U.S.
government knew exactly what the conversations entailed, so how would
the blackmail work? But this “blackmail” argument is another throwback
to the earlier McCarthy days when gays were barred from sensitive
government jobs because of their alleged susceptibility to blackmail.
But the gambit to get Flynn worked. Amid frenzied coverage on CNN,
MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the rest of the
mainstream media, Flynn and the Russia détente that he stood for were
not expected to be long for this world of Official Washington.
Flynn’s resignation and its acceptance by Trump also prove that these
tactics work and that “tough-guy” Trump is not immune to them. While
the President may battle to the end over pointless questions about the
size of his inaugural crowd and his belief that he should have won the
popular vote, he will cave when the pressure builds on a matter of
genuine substance and real importance to the future of the world.
The so-called permanent government of Washington and its complicit
mainstream media – what some call the Deep State – have taught Trump a
lesson and have learned a lesson, too. They now can be expected to
redouble their march toward war and more war, ironically with
progressives and leftists in tow.
~ Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.