Are Trump and Flynn playing 3D chess with Russia?

Written 20 November 2016

EDIT: This was written before the revelations regarding Michael Flynn’s ties to foreign governments and his later firing. Flynn is a fraud who deserves jailtime.

A lot has been made recently of Donald Trump’s and LTG Michael Flynn’s nice words about Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was known for having close business ties with Viktor Yanukovych, the former President of Ukraine who was known for being close to Russia. An image of Flynn sitting next to Putin at an RT Gala last year also raised eyebrows, as have his comments that Russia is a country with which the US should partner in the fight against Islamist terror.

There is certainly much to be said about Russia’s clear support of Trump. Russian intelligence has done much to uncover embarrassing emails from the Democrats and help push Trump to win the election. This does not necessarily mean that Trump will do Putin’s bidding. All it means is that Putin believes that Trump is much more likely to act according to his interests than Clinton is.

The idea that Russia can provide much help to the US does not make much sense. Firstly, Russia’s main focus in the Middle East is to preserve its alliances structures — including with Iran, a state which both Trump and Flynn strongly criticize — and its fight against ISIS, the main focus of Flynn’s energy, is fairly limited. Second, Russia can not provide much beyond what the US can already do on its own.

It may be that Trump, and more specifically Flynn, want to pose an image of favorability towards Russia. By acting favorably towards Russia, they may push the country into something which will ultimately disentangle the US from its involvement in the Middle East. By doing this, the US can focus on the regions it finds more important, specifically East Asia and Europe. Russia, which is geographically close to the region, would thus expend its own resources on fighting Islamist terror while the US rebuilds its alliances.

The means of doing this is fairly simple: bait Russia into taking control of the Middle Eastern energy markets. As I wrote last year, I believe that a large part of the reason why Putin intervened in Syria was as an attempt to corner the energy market by creating a Russia-Shia axis in Eurasia. Such an opportunity would be hard for Russia to pass up, so why not just give it to them? The US is far on its way to becoming energy independent (one of the most important legacies of the Obama administration), so US alliances in the Middle East are no longer necessary.

Doing so will entangle the Russians in the region for a long time to come and the threat of Islamist terror will instead be directed towards them. Furthermore, the Russian brand of warfare is inherently brutal in nature, as witnessed in Chechnya. This form of warfare, despite its gruesomeness, is the most effective at dealing with an insurgency, which is what Islamist terror is. The US with its values would find such a type of warfare inimical to its values, so allowing the Russians to take care of it may solve the problem.

Whether or not this will be the case is yet to be seen. It is important to remember that Flynn has been very critical of Russia in the past, so I doubt he will take up the role of being Putin’s puppet. He may play along with the idea for a time, however, just so long as he can bait Putin into fighting America’s war. Nevertheless, this idea is very risky and a full US withdrawal cannot be considered. Russia may not be able to handle the war, and if I am right about Flynn’s thinking, he may be planning to work with the Russians in case they are not able to handle something. If this were to go through, however, it is possible that two of America’s adversaries will be weakened while the US strengthens its alliances.

Note: Opinions presented here are my own only.