Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, a key post in the administration and integral to US security, resigned abruptly after 24 days on the job. Michael Flynn had sensitive conversations with Russian officials even as President Obama was enacting sanctions following Russia’s interference with US elections. Flynn misled Vice President Pence and President Trump about the nature of the conversations which led to his ouster. This is the shortest tenure of a National Security Adviser in US history and presents a problem for Donald Trump for three reasons:
Loyalty – Donald Trump makes decisions about his administration and leadership team based largely on personal loyalty rather than on experience, integrity, and competence. Michael Flynn was an ardent Trump supporter throughout the campaign and a detractor of Secretary Clinton – even joining “Lock her up!’ chants at the Republican National Convention. In contrast, Elliott Abrams, Rex Tillerson’s choice for the number two spot at the State Department, is a highly regarded conservative diplomat who criticized Trump last May. Using loyalty as his primary metric, Trump chose to terminate Abrams’ candidacy regardless of his qualifications and experience.
Disarray – At a time when the US needs a cohesive national security strategy, the sudden departure of the person who chairs the National Security Council creates chaos and disarray. Despite having campaigned with the promise to eradicate ISIS, Trump has yet to reveal a plan to address the military and humanitarian issues in the Middle East. Flynn’s departure will almost certainly further delay the development and implementation of a strategy. Meanwhile, North Korea launched a ballistic missile over the weekend which is precisely the kind of global security threat that a National Security Adviser should help the president manage.
Leadership – One of the key concerns about a Trump presidency has always been that he might not be able to attract experienced and competent leadership for the many roles that need to be filled. The failure of Michael Flynn and the chaotic nature of the administration will only make this more difficult.
A key component of leadership is taking responsibility for a mistake. Democrats are already asking tough questions about when President Trump knew about Flynn’s potentially illegal conversations. Donald Trump needs to acknowledge that he made a poor choice with Michael Flynn and agree to an investigation of the circumstances surrounding his firing.