The nomination of Rex W. Tillerson set off alarm bells on the right and the left. Democrats see another corporate titan, an oil company CEO no less, whose company they hold responsible for a campaign of disinformation in support of climate-change denial. Republicans see a transactional man who views Vladimir Putin as simply another negotiating partner whose domestic and international sins shouldn’t be discussed too loudly for fear of ruining a “deal.” Both sides see someone with no national security experience, a novice working with a novice president-elect.
If Tillerson is to survive confirmation, he will have to do so almost exclusively on GOP votes. To do that, he and his backers must disassociate themselves from efforts to whitewash Russian espionage, international aggression, war crimes (in Syria), support for Iran and domestic human rights abuses. Republicans and Democrats suspect Tillerson was picked precisely because he plans to ignore Russian behavior and promote an egregious form of realpolitik in which Russia and the United States carve up the globe into spheres of influence, human rights is a verboten topic and our traditional allies in the Middle East and Europe are sacrificed to accomodate a kleptocracy run by a KGB thug.
Rather than ignore these real, substantive concerns, Tillerson and his backers such as Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Robert Gates and Stephen Hadley should face them head-on. They need to be crystal clear on four points.
First, Russia has attempted to interfere with our democratic elections and those of our allies through cyberterrorism and espionage. This is a fact.
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Second, there must be severe consequences for this behavior, including sector-wide sanctions. We should do our best to supply Europe with cheap oil and gas, thereby weakening Vladimir Putin’s economic and political power. We should respond in kind to cyberattacks, making public Putin’s corruption and international designs.
Third, we do not subscribe to the notion that Russia is entitled to re-create its empire and establish a sphere of influence. We will defend the autonomy of other nations in keeping with our treaty obligations and the United Nations charter. It is not in U.S. interest to allow Iran and Russia to create Middle East client states. We will support traditional allies in the region economically and militarily.
Finally, we will use human rights instrumentally, as a key to pushing back against Russia, just as we did in the Cold War against the Soviets. We need to support dissidents, persecuted groups and civil liberties in Russia. We should expand the range of information going into Russia, and we should label RT as a propaganda arm of the Russian government.
If Tillerson subscribes to those basic concepts – which, in one form or another, his famous backers claim to support – he and his advocates should say so definitively. It is not enough to say he’s a great guy or a patriot. It is not enough to say he is a good businessman. Indeed, by repeating meaningless platitudes, his supporters do him no favor; they perpetuate the suspicion that on the particulars of Russia, Iran and other foreign-policy challenges, he is as lacking in conviction and discernment as the president-elect. The time for coddling Russia and partisanship at the expense of national security is over. It is time to tell us what Tillerson thinks and what he is prepared to do. If it’s not satisfied, the Senate has an obligation to reject him.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Post’s conservative Right Turn blog.