Michael Flynn
Credit: DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Flickr

When I think about the security challenges emanating from the Middle East, there are two things that I most definitely do not believe will make things better. The first is introducing nuclear power to the region through a “U.S.-Russian partnership to build and operate [dozens of] plants and export the dangerous spent fuel under strict controls.” The second is convincing the Arab states to “purchase ‘Russian military hardware’ to compensate Moscow for losing military sales to Iran.”

Michael Flynn thought these were good ideas, however. Or, at least he took a trip to Egypt and Israel in June 2015 to try overcome their natural objections to this harebrained scheme. He apparently took another trip in October 2015 to Saudi Arabia, but the details on that aren’t clear.

During the summer of 2015, the letter says, Flynn traveled to the Middle East to pursue the nuclear venture – a trip he did not disclose.

He reported another trip, to Saudi Arabia, in October 2015 on security clearance forms, but the letter says he omitted key details of that trip, including who paid for it. He said he traveled with a “friend,” whom he did not identify, had a speaking engagement that could not be confirmed by the agencies that booked his speeches and stayed at the King Khaled International Hotel, the letter says. Congressional investigators could find no evidence that such a hotel existed.

To be clear, when you’re reading the following, this proposal wasn’t approved by the Obama administration and wasn’t in any way a “U.S.-Russian partnership” if that term suggests a state-to-state agreement. It was proposed by American businessmen and former military officers who were looking to make money for the U.S. nuclear industry while playing at setting U.S. foreign policy.

Lawmakers believe [Flynn’s] travels were related to a proposed U.S.-Russian partnership that would have been financed by Saudi Arabia to build, operate and secure dozens of nuclear reactors throughout the Middle East, the details of which were outlined by internal company memos first published by Newsweek. Flynn was reportedly tasked with developing a security strategy for the network of reactors and calming the concerns of uneasy U.S. allies in the region, such as Israel and Egypt.

While proponents touted the potential security benefits of the arrangement, particularly the opportunity to secure radioactive waste that could be used to make nuclear bombs, there is evidence to suggest that U.S. entities might have been pursuing a more self-interested agenda. Designers of the venture, Newsweek reported, sought not only to jump-start the sputtering U.S. nuclear industry but also to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran, two powerful impediments to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

I consider all of this to be psychotic. The only rational way to deal with the Saudis’ desire for nuclear power and/or a nuclear deterrent is to try to dissuade them. The Kingdom may seem stable today but that could change tomorrow. And, in any case, they’re the leading exporters of militant Islam in the world. Egypt has undergone a coup within the last decade, there’s infighting among the Gulf States (as seen currently with the isolation of Qatar), and Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen are consumed with sectarian and ethnic war. Anyone who wants to introduce dozens of nuclear reactors into this mix is insane, and it doesn’t make it better that they want the risk so they can be paid handsomely for trying to contain it.

Also crazy is the idea that it’s in America’s interests to encourage Arab states to become clients for Russian military hardware. This is supposedly justified by the expectation that Russia’s relationship with Iran would be ruptured if they entered into this nuclear plant building plan. The resulting isolation of Iran would be enough to compensate for suddenly having as many Russian military advisers crawling around Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States as are currently crawling around in Syria.

And why was Michael Flynn chosen for this mission? It was his connections to the Russians.

This particular scheme probably seemed outlandish to the Kremlin so I wouldn’t suggest that they were behind it. But having a bunch of Americans pushing a scheme that would convert the Middle East into vassals for their military technology must have had its attractions.

This is all coming up now because Michael Flynn either didn’t disclose the contacts he made on these trips or gave false or misleading information about them. It’s hard to say why he would claim to have stayed at a fictional Saudi hotel, for example.

That Trump made Michael Flynn his national security adviser was the single worst staffing decision I’ve ever seen.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com