Why Flynn’s Departure May Be a Good Omen for US-Iran Relations
The departure of Mike Flynn, Trump's national security adviser, over his illicit contact with a Russian diplomat should be considered a timely plus for the troubled US-Iran relations, in light of Flynn's unbounded animosity toward Iran and his intention to target Iran, vividly demonstrated in his putting Iran "on notice" after Iran's recent missile test. Flynn's replacement will be likely someone less ideological and less hawkish and will be someone familiar with the complexities of the inter-agency national security council.
For now, however, it is abundantly clear that Trump administration's false starts are piling up rather quickly, showing a novice president who is learning the ropes of leadership the hard way. So far, in the space of the less than one month in office, Trump has done a terrible job practically on all fronts, resulting in a high popular disapproval rate. His national security team is in total disarray as a result of Flynn's early controversy, Trump has yet to institute a regular pattern at the White House, which has faced setback after setback, beginning with the judiciary branch's knocking down his executive order on refugees and partial Muslim ban.
Had Flynn stayed at his post, he would have tried to translate his extreme anti-Iran views into White House policies, to the detriment of regional peace and tranquility in Persian Gulf. His penchant for hard power approach toward Iran is clearly reflected in his recent book, Fields of Fight, which prioritizes the threat from Iran. Flynn was a shallow intelligence officer who lacked strategic depth and the position of national security adviser was too big a responsibility for him; even many Republicans who disliked Flynn's extreme views had called on Trump not to pick him and, naturally, must be elated by his resignation.
One beneficiary of Flynn's departure will likely be Rex Tillerson, the much more moderate secretary of state who was eclipsed by Flynn during the month of January and, yet, is bound to see his star rising principally because the extremists such as Flynn have proved their anachronism; another extremist at the national security council, Steve Bannon, considered a key ideologue of the Trump administration, will inevitably feel the heat of his soul-mate's departure and, chances are, his wings will be somewhat clipped by the person filling Flynn's post.
Of course, it is too early to predict a shift toward moderation by Trump, who is considering the pro-Iraq war, regime-change advocate, Elliot Abrams for the position of deputy secretary of state. But even with Abrams' selection, he would have to compete with Tillerson for influence and a 'turf war' in the State Department can be safely predicted.
Meanwhile, the policy ramification of Flynn's departure with respect to Iran is worth pondering. Flynn followed a specific anti-Iran agenda that was not fully shared by Mattis the Defense Secretary, who in his nomination hearing voiced in support of the Iran nuclear deal. Flynn was adamantly opposed to the nuclear deal and would have advised Trump to take steps against it one way or another, such as dragging foot on implementing US's obligations, etc. The nuclear deal now is indeed safer in the US because of Flynn's exit.
Optimistically speaking, Flynn will be replaced by someone who is keenly aware of regional realities in Middle East and the need to focus on the US-Iran common grounds, such as the threat of terrorism, narcotics, and instability in Afghanistan and Iraq. The range of shared and/or parallel interests between US and Iran logically calls for avoiding the kind of Manichean discourse held by Flynn, which could have infected the US policy for some time. Flynn's exit can, therefore, have a corrective influence, one that would put an end to the overt anti-Iran hostilities seen on the part of the new administration at its infancy. Hopefully, over time the maturation process of the Trump administration will yield the right results in terms of a balanced approach toward Iran, which has been lacking so far.
* The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Iranian Diplomacy's editorial policy.