I am thinking that at least part of the reason that senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham folded on Rex Tillerson is that without Tillerson there is no State Department presence in the White House. Foreign policy would be controlled by ultra-nationaliist Stephen Bannon, who wrote Trump’s extremist inauguration address, and National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who is under investigation for his contacts with Russia and whom much of the intelligence community (both in the US and internationally) assume is a Russian intelligence asset. Keep in mind that both McCain and Graham, as senators, have been briefed on the investigation into Flynn and know much, much more than either the press or public. The notion that they have to approve a nominee for secretary of state who is also close to Vladimir Putin must turn their stomachs, but intelligence probably shows that, unlike Flynn, there is no evidence that Tillerson is actively colluding with the Russian government. And Tillerson, at least, judging by his answers to the senators during his hearing, might provide a moderating hand. Right now we look to a general named Mad Dog Mattis, as secretary of defense, to be the sole moderating force in the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
If you look at Putin for what he is–the chief gangster in charge of the world’s largest kleptocracy–his meddling in our politics, in Germany’s, in France, is not that much different than Al Capone’s interference in Chicago politics, and Illinois politics, and even as far away as Washington D.C. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the logic is there. You cannot understand Vladimir Putin without understanding that Russia, for him, is no more a country than was Zaire for Mobuto or the Philippines for Ferdinand Marcos. Each used his position as head of state not to govern so much as to peel off vast wealth from the national economy. It is vital, for Putin, to have democratic regimes back on their heels, questioning their own processes, and run by men who owe Putin more than just a little for their success. We still look at Russia and see ideology but it’s not ideology at all, it’s just a vast criminal enterprise. When the KGB became the FSB and took over what remained of the Soviet Union, the game utterly changed in ways that most westerners cannot get themselves to see. It is no longer communism, it’s not even socialism, it’s crony capitalism reduced to it’s ugliest, most cruel and debased form. And now it has given us Donald Trump. Is this an existential crisis for us? What if instead of FDR that Huey Long had become president in the Depression? Is that where we are now? I’m not sure. It is all so unsettling. I woke up this morning and turned on the news, afraid of what might have happened while I was asleep.