Staying the Iran Course Post-Flynn

I’m on the road this week, so I don’t have time for a full-length post, but I wanted to get something out on the resignation of Michael Flynn and what that likely means for the Trump administration’s Iran policy.

The short answer: not much. Flynn was an ideological hardliner on Iran to the extent that he was willing to try to reverse engineer Iranian complicity for the Benghazi attacks during his time as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. But he was just one among many in the Trump White House, and even with Flynn gone, Bannon, Pompeo, and Mattis all remain. Furthermore, based on this week’s press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there is still plenty of appetite for rhetorical confrontation — and perhaps armed conflict — with Iran.

With Robert Harward now officially out of the running, who succeeds Flynn in the post is once again an open question. For what it’s worth, I think Harward would have fit right in with the Iran hardliners in this administration, despite — or possibly because of — his upbringing in imperial Iran. Still, his presumed lack of ideological fervor and enhanced grasp on reality would have made him an improvement over the conspiracy-minded Flynn. In fact, his possession of these traits may have been the reason he turned down the gig. According to anonymous sources speaking to the New York Times, Harward “harbored strong reservations from the beginning about taking the post because of Mr. Trump’s unpredictable style and the level of chaos that has engulfed his White House.”

That same article reports that ex-general David Petraeus is now stepping up his lobbying for the position. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the administration decides to go a different direction in the wake of the Harward rejection toward someone more ideologically predisposed to the Bannon/Trump worldview. Devout loyalty and a willingness to readily say yes are clearly more important criteria than trivial things like actual qualifications.

Author: Jonathan Leslie

PhD candidate at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

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