On Tillerson, Leave the Knee-Jerking to the Left

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Paul Mirengoff of Power Line offers an interesting take on Trump's choice of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. Some of this echoes or expands upon a few points I heard during a radio interview on the same subject during an errand yesterday (from NPR, I thought, until I was unable to find it this morning):

[I]t's not unreasonable to view the fact that Tillerson had lots of dealings with Putin as a plus. The last two administrations both were terribly naive at the outset in dealing with Putin. In July 2001, President Bush said of Putin, approvingly, "I looked the man in the eye; I was able to get a sense of his soul." In 2009, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton gave us the infamous Russian reset.

It seems unlikely that Tillerson will make this kind of mistake. Having engaged in demanding negotiations with Putin, he surely knows what kind of man he's dealing with. He is likely to provide Trump with a far more realistic advice about Putin than Trump's predecessors received. And knowing that Tillerson has loads of experience with Putin, Trump is likely to take the advice seriously.

If Tillerson had been chosen by a president-elect Cruz or Rubio, I wouldn't have many qualms about the selection. But Trump's statements about Putin, for example the ones about working with Russia in Syria, justify extra scrutiny for a nominee with ties to Russia. The real problem, though, is Trump not Tillerson. [link in original]
The radio interview focused on the importance of businessmen having to gain a realistic appraisal of conditions in the countries where they work, as well as of their leaders. The interview did not, however, include the larger context of the naïveté of the previous two administrations, of which Mirengoff reminds us above. We may or may not have Dick Cheney's "KGB, KGB, KGB" here, but I am willing to consider the idea that this is a better pick than many seem to think it is.

This choice has elicited even more knee-jerks from the left than others, and often for the wrong reasons. This makes it very easy to dismiss anything said from that direction on the matter, and it is fine to regard that as prima facie evidence that Trump has made a good pick. But it is not fine to fail to examine this pick closely. A knee-jerk in response to a knee-jerk is worse than the first knee-jerk: That would be to allow someone one holds in contempt to set terms.

-- CAV

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