The woman regarded as Hillary Clinton’s choice for Defense Secretary says “my worry” is that Donald Trump will not consider Israel’s interests in forging a deal with Russia over Syria.
Michele Flournoy spoke at an Israeli security conference earlier this week. After Philip Gordon, a former aide to President Obama on the Middle East, expressed the concern that Trump would align with Russia on Syria “without getting anything for it” in terms of constraining Iran in the Middle East, Flournoy said:
Yeah. And this is where I think you have to worry for Israel and Israel’s interests, which is that you could end up with a situation in Syria, where he says OK, we’re going to get some kind of ceasefire and peace deal in exchange for some kind of general commitment of Russia to fight ISIS, which they’ve never really done, and Israel’s interests aren’t even considered in the process. That’s my worry.
Flournoy was widely-thought to be Hillary Clinton’s “Defense Secretary in waiting.” Last year she advocated for a far more aggressive U.S. intervention in Syria against Bashar al-Assad and ISIS, which she styled as “limited military coercion,” including enforcing a “no-bombing” zone in areas controlled by rebels. She is the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, a liberal-interventionist thinktank.
Her comments underline the fact that during the campaign Clinton was more attuned to Israel’s interests than Donald Trump.
John Kerry has contradicted Flournoy on Russia. He said last year that Russia only intervened in Syria to prevent ISIS from bringing down Assad.
In the conversation at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies published three days ago, Flournoy expressed the fear that Trump was being “played by Putin.” The U.S. must be hardheaded, she said:
My concern is that the objective should not be simply to reduce tensions. The objective should be to protect our interests and allied interests from a more aggressive regime in Russia. We all would like to see less tense relations, but you have to put at the core protecting our interests. And I worry that in seeking to simply reduce the temperature or cool things down, that Trump may– President Trump may — make some concessions that would not be in our interests or those of our allies, long term, and that he risks being played by Vladimir Putin and being put in a much weaker position.
David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, affirmed Flournoy’s view, saying a grand bargain with Russia could be “dangerous to Israel”:
Part of this rapprochement with Russia would include some understanding with Russia’s allies in Syria, Iran. That’s a very dangerous strategy for all the reasons we discussed, dangerous to Israel.
But Flournoy said that based on the advisers Trump has in place, the Trump administration is likely to be very tough in its dealings with Iran. It will keep the Iran deal but “add cooperation with Israel and others in the region to push back harder on Iran’s destabilizing activity and support for terrorism.”
Philip Gordon echoed that, and said: “As they do confront Iran, Iran will respond, and there’s a risk of escalation.”