Officials at European security services are baffled and wary over the latest turmoil in Pres. Donald Trump’s White House and many are concluding that “counting on America isn’t currently a smart policy.”
According to BuzzFeed’s Mitch Prothero, the resignation of Gen. Mike Flynn and allegations that the Trump team colluded with Russian intelligence services before and after the 2016 election have left NATO nations at a loss as to how to move forward.
“I was hoping you could tell me what the f*ck is going on over there,” said one anonymous official to Prothero, who wrote that allies who have worked with the U.S. in the past are at a loss as to how to proceed in the face of the Trump administration’s close ties to Russia, NATO’s foremost rival.
“There’s no guide for handling this sort of situation, happening with such an important and powerful ally,” the official said — who, like everyone Prothero spoke with, would only speak anonymously for fear of reprisals. “If anything, it’s a wake-up call to European leaders that counting on America isn’t currently a smart policy. Of course this is exactly what Putin wants — to destabilize the Atlantic alliance — but I have to counsel my policymakers the best I can, and right now it’s ‘Prepare to handle some crises without US support.’”
“The perception that Flynn had close ties to Russian intelligence and diplomats had alarmed a number of observers from Washington to Brussels, as had his reputation as a poor manager after his 2014 firing as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by then-President Barack Obama,” wrote Prothero.
The Trump administration’s secretive and slapdash approach to crafting policy and its conflicting and contradictory messaging has left many European observers unsure what the new president’s actual views on NATO are. Further complicating the issue is Trump’s apparent lack of understanding of how U.S. relations to the European Union actually work.
Flynn’s resignation this week over calls he made to Russia’s ambassador and the lies he told to cover his tracks removed a major Russian influence from the Trump cabinet, but the officials with whom Prothero spoke were not entirely reassured.
“This changes nothing in terms of European concerns about possible shifts in American foreign policy from this administration when it comes to the role of NATO and the EU,” said one NATO official.
They went on to say, “Those concerns will only be allayed when the new administration settles in and starts making coherent policy. We hear decent things from the diplomatic and military channels that policy will remain consistent, but that’s offset by statements from people on the political level leaving us with the same questions. Who is making policy? What are those policies? How much can we trust that there will be constancy between the White House and the Pentagon in terms of these policies? Maybe replacing Flynn will improve the organization and decision-making process, but that remains to be seen.”
One intelligence official said that Flynn’s “obvious ties and sympathies to the Russians were shocking and made a lot of people quite fearful. But will replacing him fix that perception? I don’t know … It’s hard to come back from concerns that Russia has infiltrated your security services. Broad replacement of everyone affiliated with Flynn would be a step towards reassuring NATO allies but it’s not going to be enough as long as the sense that the policymakers are unpredictable remains.”