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Questions for Tillerson

Rex Tillerson meets with Vladimir Putin as CEO of ExxonMobil. Photo: archive.government.ru/

Gerald Seib notes the broad Republican establishment support for Tillerson’s nomination:

Mr. Gates’ former boss, President George W. Bush–who has stayed largely out of political affairs since leaving office–called the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker, to push the Tillerson nomination [bold mine-DL]. Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, also a former defense secretary, has called Mr. Tillerson “an inspired choice.”

The support Tillerson is receiving from former Bush administration figures, including the former president himself, should make it much easier for Senate Republicans to confirm him. But it is a worrisome sign that so many of the people responsible for one of the worst foreign policy records in modern U.S. history are satisfied with his selection. Bush and Cheney were responsible for many of the least successful, costliest, and most destructive U.S. policies abroad of at least the last forty years, so their seal of approval on a nominee has to be taken as a warning.

Tillerson’s confirmation hearings will be important for finding out exactly where he stands on a range of issues that he hasn’t addressed publicly before. The assumption shared by most of his detractors and supporters is that he will be pragmatic and willing to work with Russia, but how accurate is that assumption and what will it mean in practice? Tillerson reportedly isn’t an ideologue, but that can cut both ways. He may not be obsessed with Iran as some other members of the administration are, but is he going to push back against that obsession or go along with it? Tom Cotton has announced his support for Tillerson. It is doubtful that one of the most fanatical Iran hawks in the Senate would do that if he had any concerns that Tillerson would oppose hard-line policies against Iran. As an Exxon executive, he was opposed to sanctioning Russia because of the problems sanctions would create for his company, but what is his view of the efficacy of economic sanctions in general and when does he think they should be imposed? What does Tillerson think of the Bush-Cheney record? What is his view of the Iraq and Libyan wars? Ongoing U.S. involvement in Yemen? Meddling in Syria?

These are some of the questions that Tillerson needs to be asked, and his answers will go a long way towards telling us what we can expect from him as Secretary of State.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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