One of Donald Trump’s main campaign themes was that, as president, he would quickly “bomb the shit out of,” “crush,” “destroy,” and “totally obliterate” ISIS. As it happens, before Trump took office, his predecessors in the Obama administration had spent months preparing plans to attack and seize ISIS’s capital—the Syrian city of Raqqa. All that Trump transition officials had to do to authorize the attack was approve the plan. But Trump’s team refused to do so and has not yet launched its own offensive. ISIS still holds Raqqa.
Also, in a total coincidence, the plan that Trump’s incoming administration rejected was vehemently opposed, for reasons of self-interest, by Turkey—aka the country that paid ex–National Security Adviser Michael Flynn $530,000 last year.
Here are the details, via McClatchy, of a mid-January conversation between Flynn and Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice about the planned operation, which would have involved arming Kurdish forces in Syria:
Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.
Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.
If Flynn explained his answer, that’s not recorded, and it’s not known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team before rendering his verdict. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces – and which was his undeclared client.
Turkey, which is involved in violent conflict with Kurdish separatists within its own borders, paid Flynn $530,000 through an intermediary named Ekim Alptekin via a contract that ran from August 2016 through November 2016. Other Trump transition officials were made aware of Flynn’s financial relationship with Turkey shortly after the 2016 election when the Daily Caller exposed the connection following Flynn’s publication of a suspiciously pro-Turkey op-ed in the D.C. publication the Hill.
Flynn’s failure to register as a foreign agent for Turkey subsequently became the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department—an investigation that, per a Wednesday New York Times story, both Flynn and other Trump transition figures knew to be ongoing in January when Flynn told Rice not to approve the Kurd-ISIS attack.
After a delay of four months—during which time Flynn was forced to resign for lying about his conversation with the ambassador from another foreign country that had paid him—the Trump administration ended up approving the Kurdish plan after all. For the time being, though, ISIS’s forces in Raqqa remain uncrushed and unobliterated. And, on Sunday, a group run by Ekim Alptekin will begin hosting its annual U.S-Turkey business conference in Washington—which, this year, has been moved from its previous location at the Ritz-Carlton to the Trump International Hotel.