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ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks at a discussion organized by the Economic Club of Washington, in Washington, DC on March 12, 2015. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump's State Pick Improvement on Obama-Clinton Russian Policy

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs

President-elect Trump’s pick to head the State Department, Rex Tillerson, has the commentariat in a buzz, and mostly a buzz about how Tillerson gets along too well with Russia’s Putin, or how he is an “evil capitalist” sort. But it’s wise to reserve judgment and let the confirmation hearings play out.

Here’s why:

If people were actually interested in giving the soon-to-be 45th president of the United States the benefit of the doubt, they would try to see what he sees in Tillerson, and what Trump sees just might be right and make Tillerson a good secretary of State.

I assume the president-elect sees in Tillerson an eminently qualified international businessman who knows how to negotiate well with heads of state with diverse and complex interests to achieve ends in his favor.

He did this very successfully as the head of his company, and now, if the Senate confirms him, he’ll do this as secretary of State while doggedly pursuing the interests and objectives — not of ExxonMobil — but of the United States.

That sure sounds good to me, especially after nearly eight years of this “leading from behind” “America is just like any other country and non-exceptional” nonsense.

Secondly, and this is a big one, the concerns about Tillerson’s friendly business-dealings with the Russian government only become legitimate concerns if the left’s (and “Never Trump” Republicans’) narrative that Trump is a willing or unwilling puppet for the Russians is true. But that narrative is nonsense.

The recent CIA conclusions have given new energy to those looking to place blame on the election results on anything other than the merits and failings of the candidates and the will and sense of the American electorate. But the CIA is alone in its conclusions, and its conclusions do not reflect the consensus view of the intelligence community.

While there is broad consensus that the Russians were involved in the Democratic National Committee hack, there is uncertainty and disagreement about the motives behind the hack and various methods of meddling in the U.S. election.

Considering the Russians meddle in other nations’ affairs as a matter of course and have sought to undermine U.S. interests at every corner, it makes a lot of sense that the Russians sought to undermine U.S. confidence in the electoral system.

Or, perhaps the Russians, like the vast majority of people on planet Earth, thought Clinton was going to win the U.S. presidency, and they wanted to unearth information on the presidential candidate it could use as blackmail once she assumed office.

In fact, the CIA’s conclusion that Russia’s involvement in cyber-theft was clearly meant to help Donald Trump win the presidency is the least likely, in my view. Is it really obvious to the CIA that the Russians preferred Trump and feared Clinton? Please.

The Obama-Clinton Russia-reset agenda was a boon for the Russians and during the campaign Clinton continued to point to her record on matters relating to Russia as “proof” of her qualifications to deal with them as U.S. head of state. But she was a disaster.

Her policies emboldened Russia to the point where it brazenly invaded a sovereign nation with little consequence.

Her policies failed to prevent Russia from frequently resorting to nuclear threats against the United States and our allies.

And her policies did nothing to slow down Russia’s boosting of Iran and acting as the Iranians’ second biggest ally and lobbyist, second only to the Obama administration, of course.

Her policies even failed to stop Russian hacking, of which the current president of the United States appears unwilling to do anything about. The protestations on the Russia issue from those who gave us Russia-reset should really be taken with a grain of salt, or preferably, ignored altogether.

Third, the entire Cabinet should be taken into consideration. The secretary of State is not an island.

If Tillerson makes it through the Senate, he will be working with General Mattis as secretary of Defense, among others. There is a lot more information at our disposal about Mattis, and about his support for our allies and his clear-eyed assessment of our enemies, and his confirmation is expected to garner wide bi-partisan support.

It sure seems more likely than not that the president-elect has concluded Tillerson and Mattis would work well together. It’s something to at least hold out as a possibility, is it not?

The confirmation hearings will give us a better picture of Tillerson’s views, but if I were to make a prediction, skeptical Senators of goodwill will be pleasantly surprised.

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