- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2017


Sen. Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to grandstand against President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of State, former Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson.

It was a petulant, childish affair.

Mr. Rubio questioned Mr. Tillerson’s integrity, his moral fiber, and lectured him on his measured, yet completely forthright, responses.

“In order to have moral clarity, we need clarity. We can’t achieve moral clarity with rhetorical ambiguity,” Mr. Rubio scolded, as if he has any experience making international deals, or bending heads of state, where rhetorical ambiguity can be used to one’s advantage.

Would it really be wise for Mr. Tillerson — before he even takes his spot as the world’s top diplomat — to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal”? That’s a term even the Obama administration has refused to use.

In addition, it’s clear that Mr. Trump believes Russia can help the U.S. eradicate the Islamic State. Why would Mr. Tillerson look to insult a person he’s going to have to try to negotiate with?

That’s not to say Mr. Tillerson’s soft on Russia — or doesn’t have moral clarity.

Mr. Tillerson said the U.S. “must be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia. Russia today poses a danger. It invaded Ukraine, including Crimea, and violated the laws of war.”

He then took a swipe at Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, saying he would have sent lethal arms into Ukraine after Mr. Putin annexed the region — both to send a strong message to Russia, as well as to allow the Ukraine the ability to defend its territory.

But there was also sense of restraint — an understanding that the U.S. can’t enter every political battle around the world.

Resolving the differences between Russia and Ukraine, Mr. Tillerson said, has to be negotiated by the two countries, adding, “I don’t think that’s up to us to decide.”

That’s called realism.

But Mr. Rubio wasn’t satisfied. He was equally miffed when Mr. Tillerson refused to label Saudi Arabia a human rights violator — again using it as an example of Mr. Tillerson’s lack of “moral clarity.”

Yet, Mr. Tillerson’s remarks on the Kingdom were reserved and wise.

“When you designate someone or label someone, is that the most effective way to have progress be able to be made in Saudi Arabia or any other country?” Mr. Tillerson asked.

He then got to the heart of what Mr. Rubio was really questioning — his character.

“My interests are the same as yours,” Mr. Tillerson assured. “There seems to be somehow a misunderstanding that I see the world through a different lens, and I do not. I share all the same values that you share, and want the same things for people all over the world in terms of freedom.

“But I’m also clear-eyed and realistic about dealing in cultures. These are century’s long cultural differences.

“In the many, many years that I’ve been traveling to the Kingdom, while the pace has been slow, there is a change underway.

“How and if they ever arrive to the same value system we have, I can’t predict that. But what I do believe is it is moving in the direction that we want it to move.

“What I wouldn’t want to do is take some kind of precipitous action that suddenly causes the leadership in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to interrupt that. I’d like them to continue to make that progress,” Mr. Tillerson concluded.

It was a sober, serious answer.

Mr. Rubio — who was the only Republican senator to take three rounds of cross examination — insisted his questions weren’t aimed at Mr. Tillerson’s character or patriotism, yet they were.

Not only did he attack Mr. Tillerson for refusing to place labels on other nation states, he then chastised Mr. Tillerson’s world knowledge, saying perhaps he was not enough of a subject matter expert to be able to do so.

(Note: Although Mr. Tillerson was being judicious in his answers, he had just received his security clearance the night before, and therefore wasn’t privy to the classified information Mr. Rubio has been receiving for the last six years).

It’s clear Mr. Rubio doesn’t trust or like Mr. Trump, but Mr. Tillerson gave Mr. Rubio no reason to mistrust or dislike him. Perhaps, Mr. Rubio was looking to settle a political vendetta against the president-elect after being called “little Marco” on the campaign trail for almost a year.

That makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is what Mr. Rubio was advocating. Does he really want the U.S. to aggressively start disrupting other nations’ cultures in an effort to democratize them?

So-called moral clarity is what led the U.S. to intervene in Iraq and Libya, and the results have been disastrous.

That’s not to say the U.S. shouldn’t look to advance our freedoms around the globe, it’s just that we can’t let moral clarity morph into self-righteousness, which in turn blinds us from our own limitations, cultural nuances and realities on the ground.

Mr. Tillerson wants the U.S. to lead, and actually shares Mr. Rubio’s hawkish views on Cuban policy, the Iranian deal, and China’s posture toward North Korea, Taiwan, and in the South China Sea. He testified to as much.

But, Mr. Rubio wasn’t in the mood for listening.

His point was to grandstand, push out his political rhetoric, and in the process belittle Mr. Tillerson.

Talk about moral clarity.

Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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