In recent history, the politically-powerless Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh stand out as Americans who chose the immoral side in international affairs. Donald Trump, whose hair is evocative of our championship football team, seems determined to eclipse their wrong-headedness. His relationship with Vladimir Putin, who is reputed to have colluded in Trump’s victory, is the defining aspect of this odd election.
Trump’s pro-Russia tilt reaches far back into his campaign. His ambitions in Russia’s booming hotel market go back even further. Many of us went on red alert when he hired Paul Manafort, a longtime consultant to Viktor Yanukovich, the Putin-backed president of Ukraine who fled to Mother Russia in 2014. But now we learn that Manafort has done major deals with the Russians on his own. A second mysterious adviser to Trump, Carter Page, claims to be intimately associated with Gazprom, the state-controlled oil monopoly. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who is at Trump’s side in the White House, attended a banquet to celebrate Russia Today, an international pro-Putin TV channel. He sat close to Putin at the banquet table and spends his idle time making phone calls to Kremlin leaders.
But the most massively compromised nominee named to the Trump cabinet so far is Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State on whom Putin bestowed Russia’s Order of Friendship award. Tillerson himself negotiated a $500 billion deal with Putin to allow his company, Exxon Mobile, to share Russia’s fossil fuel in the Arctic. Even more significantly, Exxon Mobile, under Tillerson’s leadership, has acquired 63 million acres of drilling rights in Russia, almost five times the land mass it controls in the US. Exxon Mobile will rise or fall on the strength of that investment; Tillerson’s 41 plus years at the company, along with his refusal to say anything critical of Russia, suggest that falling is not an option under consideration.
Thanks to international sanctions led by the U.S., Exxon Mobile has drilled precisely one oil well in those 63 million Russian acres. While Trump is considering cancellation of the sanctions, the mechanics of how he would profit by doing so are unknown. But Trump’s most passionate goal is to leverage the presidency to leave office with a bigger bank account, while Tillerson cannot conceal his determination to advance the welfare of the company that has occupied his mind and his time for four decades.
It is not a stretch, however, to think that Trump sees his future fortune as buried deep beneath the frozen Siberian tundra, or that Tillerson has a plan for becoming the CEO who added to his affluence after resigning. Circumstantial evidence, when it seems compelling, should not be ignored. Time, or buffoonery on the part of the chaos-prone next president, will tell.
The writer lives in Pawleys Island.