Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Senate Confirmation Hearings: #1 Biggest is for Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson)

Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin

INTRODUCTION: A 2012 Congressional Research Service (CRS) study estimated that there were approximately 1,200-1,400 positions in government that require Senate confirmation.

For the Trump administration it will be no different. All the nominees are important and the confirmation process should be fair, open, with no holds barred in the questioning of nominees to ensure that the country gets the best appointed persons in office whether in the President’s cabinet, in the courts, or in other key positions. This post addresses that importance.

BACKGROUND: Donald Trump’s priorities list for DOD does not list Russia – why is that do you suppose? A Pentagon memo outlining President-elect Donald Trump’s defense priorities does not mention Russia, according to a copy of the memo obtained and published by Foreign Policy. The absence of Russia as a top priority would be a departure from military official warnings that Russia is a top threat to the United States.

That article is from The Hill: Pentagon memo on Trump's priorities doesn't mention Russia: The report

I surmise that Putin must be tickled pink (or red) as it were? I can hear him now:  “Cпасибо старого Дональд, друга.” (Trans: “Thank you, Donald, old friend.”).

Related and directly tied to that story without any doubt is the following; a simple and logical question:

“Will Donald Trump and his Secretary of State (if confirmed), Rex Tillerson (former CEO of ExxonMobil) and a close pal of Putin (in his own words, not mine) deal with Russia in strictly a business fashion or diplomatically? 

This is not a rhetorical question … the cards on the table and the deck appears to be stacked in Putin’s favor. (I note: Or maybe a big fat retroactive bonus check for old Rex for making the the big oil deal - more on that below).

MOSCOW — As a member of the U.S.-Russia Business Council and chief executive of ExxonMobil, Rex W. Tillerson frequently voiced doubts about Russia’s investment climate, saying as late as 2008 that Russia “must improve the functioning of its judicial system and its judiciary. There is no respect for the rule of law in Russia today.”
This past February (2016), however, Tillerson, Trump’s pending choice to be the next Secretary of State, was sounding a very different theme, telling students at the University of Texas that he has “a very close relationship” with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
In the intervening years, oil industry experts and other analysts say, as Putin consolidated his control over Russia’s oligarchs, Tillerson underwent a profound change of outlook.
He came to realize that the key to success in Russia, a country deeply important to Exxon’s future, lay in establishing personal relationships with Putin and his friend and confidant, Igor Sechin, the powerful head of Rosneft, the state oil company.
As Tillerson and other oil executives pivoted from the private sector to the state oil company (Rosneft), the criticism that they had directed toward the Kremlin dried up.
The payoff for Exxon was immense: a $500 billion joint venture in 2011 to drill for oil on the Arctic shelf and the Black Sea and another huge deal to develop shale oil deposits in Siberia. Those projects were shelved in 2014, after the West imposed sanctions on Russia for Mr. Putin’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine.
“This was a man who was deeply skeptical of Russia, and a person who gave every appearance of being unwilling to commit his firm’s famous reputation for sharp investment decisions and careful financial management to the risks of dealing in an anarchic environment (but on the Artic deal), Tillerson had done a 180 on what I understood his views to be,” said Bernard Sucher, a former Russia director of Merrill Lynch.
Tillerson’s personal relationships with Putin and Sechin are expected to undergo microscopic scrutiny during what are anticipated to be rocky Senate confirmation hearings in January. Senate critics, especially rivals of Trump, have voiced suspicions about Tillerson’s Russia ties, not least because Putin pinned an Order of Friendship medal on Tillerson’s suit not long after he signed the Arctic deal.
Senators will also explore the question of how Mr. Tillerson negotiated the narrow line between his interests and those of the United States. Mr. Tillerson can expect to be grilled on how he maintained access to Russia and its vast oil reserves at a time when Washington was trying to isolate Moscow. They will want to know to what extent the interests of the United States took a back seat to those of a company that is the source of his roughly $300 million personal fortune in stock and stands to reap tens of billions if sanctions are lifted.
From roughly 2010 to 2014, every significant global oil company was vying for a piece of the action, and the Russian government handed out various blocks to keep them all in the game. Nobody got a piece quite like Exxon Mobil, however, and a diplomatic offensive that Mr. Tillerson spearheaded is credited.
And as Michael McFaul said, who was the United States ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014: “Exxon was without question the biggest winner, and I think it was because they developed these personal relationships.”
Continue story at the NY Times link above or here.
Finally I conclude: This is very serious stuff to say the least. A serious quid pro quo may be lurking the background with all this: get the $500 billion back on track; get sanctions lifted or lightened a bit for Russia; making it appear like it’s tied to the mess in Syria and “peace” there, you think?). That is not some wild-eyed thinking – it’s a real possibility. Keep in mind Mr. Trump claims to an expert in such matters as he practices “The Art of the Deal.” (He even knows more about ISIS than the Generals he once said).
Shady deals like this usually come out after the fact, that is after someone has been in office awhile, either elected or appointed, but never this far in advance.
As for me, I see this as the first of many Trump administration approaches and possible missteps on the national political standards bar by lowering it a couple of more notches.
I will address my concerns to the Senators who will hold confirmation hearings for Tillerson and I will address this (maybe you can too):
A serious and not a rhetorical question is: “What will be Tillerson’s impact be with our relationship with Russia? I don’t mean their hacking, or their military involvement in Syria, or the economic sanctions imposed due to their invasion of the Ukraine and the Crimea. I specifically mean the impact of lifting those sanctions in favor of moving forward with the $500 billion ExxonMobil deal that Tillerson negotiated with Russia (Rosneft). Also, can we expect or will we see the Trump administration conduct international affairs and run things like a business and not along diplomatic lines? Or if necessary with steps like through the UN or NATO. Any buddy-buddy or palsy-walsy approach is not the best way when dealing with adversaries like Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, or Syria and others of that ilk.” 

All this is my focus. As usual, thanks for stopping by.

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