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Rubio’s Grandstanding on Tillerson

Rubio is the last Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee whose final position on Tillerson still isn’t known. He was the senator doing the most grandstanding during the confirmation hearing earlier in the month:

“In order to have moral clarity, we need clarity. We can’t achieve moral clarity with rhetorical ambiguity,” Rubio told Tillerson. “We need a secretary of state who will fight for these principles.”

The remarkable thing about Rubio’s apparent hostility to Tillerson is that the nominee went out of his way to tell hard-liners on the committee what they wanted to hear. He fixated on the importance of American “leadership,” he called for “moral clarity,” and even endorsed sending arms to Ukraine. Only a fanatical hawk would have heard Tillerson’s answers and come away believing that he would be too “soft” on adversaries, and as far as I can tell that is the only reason why Rubio’s support for him is still in doubt.

Rubio’s grandstanding about “moral clarity” is all the more absurd when we remember that he has long been a supporter of the disgraceful U.S.-backed war on Yemen. His only criticism of the war has been that the U.S. hadn’t done enough to help the Saudis. As his shameful support for that war shows, Rubio’s “moral clarity” applies only when it comes to the actions of other states that he dislikes and doesn’t apply to the actions of our government or its clients. That’s a useful reminder that “moral clarity” is usually hawkish code for giving the U.S. and its clients a pass for outrageous behavior while using the same behavior to demand intervention elsewhere.

If I had to guess, I assume Rubio will end up voting for Tillerson to avoid backlash from the White House, but if he doesn’t no one should pretend that he is standing up for anything more than his desire for an extremely aggressive U.S. foreign policy.

Update: Rubio has announced he will support Tillerson’s nomination.

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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