Via the Free Beacon, a revealing clip in how it captures the deeper angst of Russia hawks about Trump. The problem with Tillerson isn’t really Tillerson, it’s that Trump’s interest in Tillerson is another example of his oddly single-minded insistence on rapprochement on Russia. Name any other issue (apart from “the wall”) and chances are good that Trump has hedged on it or even floated a contrary position at some point over the last 18 months. For cripes sake, he backed off waterboarding a few weeks ago after touting it throughout the campaign as something jihadis deserve, all because Gen. Mattis told him he’d get better intel from offering a detainee a pack of cigarettes. Even on his pet issue of immigration, he’s showed signs of accommodating certain classes of illegals. On Russia and Putin, though, he’s been exceptionally consistent, even to the point of questioning the CIA’s assessment that Russia hacked the DNC despite the fact that he has no reason on the merits to doubt it. It’s easy to imagine cabinet members in other departments influencing Trump’s thinking but on Russia it seems likely that Trump will make nice no matter who ends up at State. Would Russia hawks prefer to have Mitt Romney there if all Romney’s going to do is put a hawkish face on a policy of appeasing Moscow? Better to let Tillerson own that, no?
If you missed it yesterday, read this post about potential Republican opposition to Tillerson’s confirmation. It’s only McCain, Graham, and Rubio who are expressing “concern” so far, but all Schumer would need is three Republicans to vote no if Democrats hold together to defeat the nomination. And they may end up with more than three:
That sound I'm hearing right now is balloon deflating for Tillerson. This is gonna be a tough vote for many Senate Rs.
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) December 12, 2016
Rich Lowry sees a tough confirmation process too:
This Steve Coll piece on Rex Tillerson describes what a complex global player Exxon-Mobil is (and made me realize I was too slighting when discussing Tillerson’s experience). Tillerson was a kind of corporate head of state. But with Tillerson marked out as a vulnerable nominee if Trump actually selects him and Democrats inflamed on Russia and convinced that he’s an enemy of Planet Earth, congressional Democrats will want to closely examine every Exxon-Mobil deal anywhere in the world and rifle through every Exxon-Mobil document they can’t get their hands on. It’s hard to believe that they won’t find material that is at least easily exploitable in a political context and if Tillerson doesn’t comply with document requests and the like, he will be attacked for stonewalling and hiding something. Even if he’s confirmed, it will likely be a painful process for him and Exxon-Mobil.
Weirdly, the Russian government is doing Tillerson no favors. If Putin and his loyalists want Tillerson at State, the obvious play right now is to lie low and not say anything too encouraging, especially with anti-Trumpers of all stripes aggravated by the CIA news about Russia interfering in the campaign. Instead you’ve got excited quotes from Russian apparatchiks showing up in English-language media today. “The choice of Tillerson is sensational. Trump continues to amaze,” said one Russian senator. “This is a fantastic team. These are people that Russia can do business with,” a consultant to Putin’s staff agreed. Um, okay. John Bolton it is, then.
One interesting question for Trump’s first year, regardless of who ends up at State: What sort of face-saving “victories” will Putin hand to him to encourage entente between the two countries? Trump’s not going to lift sanctions or pull back from eastern Europe for nothing; he’ll be flogged by hawks for “weakness,” which will irritate him to no end and could sway public opinion unless he has concessions from Russia to point at. Putin must be prepared to do something to make America’s strongman look superficially “strong,” but what? He could lend the U.S. some help in reining in China, but he needs to be careful about making too much of an enemy of a much, much more populous nuclear power on his border. The U.S. can pull back internationally; there’s no place Putin can “pull back to” to avoid China. Perhaps Russia will suddenly discover that it’s badly understocked on luxury hotels? The new Trump International in Vladivostok will be the classiest of all Trump properties, that I can tell you.
Note Peters’s surprising credulity at the end here, by the way, about whether Russian meddling might have tipped the election to Trump after all. I fear his next four years on Fox News will be unhappy ones.