Some time next year there will be confirmation hearings for Rex Tillerson as our prospective Secretary of State under the Trump administration. It was something of a long and winding road to wind up with this name and thus far it looks like one of the picks where Trump’s detractors on both sides of the aisle seem to think they can cause trouble. Supposedly, Tillerson wasn’t even in the running initially until The Donald decided he didn’t like the looks of the rest of his choices. (Frankly I put basically zero stock in that report. The media is just annoyed that Trump doesn’t telegraph all of his punches for them.) Now they’re all aflutter over the PEOTUS praising his ability to develop “warm relations” with foreign leaders, even ones we don’t get along with very well.
This translates to Russia and Vladimir Putin (obviously) and the media smells blood in the water since some Senators – most notably John McCain – are promising to grill Tillerson hard over his former business relationships with and friendship merit badges from the Russian president. You can expect just such a question to arise early in the confirmation process. I imagine that if John McCain gets first crack at it, he will want to break it into several stages, but his opening gambit will be along the lines of, “Mr. Tillerson, how would you describe your relationship with Vladimir Putin?”
I’m not one of Rex’s staffers, but if I were I would hope that he would cut the senator off at the pass with something along these lines:
“Senator, my relationship with Vladimir Putin and various Russian business executives is pretty much the same as with any of the host of other government leaders and industry executives I deal with all over the world. It’s business. My company had a mission to conduct perfectly legal and acceptable business in places across the globe. That means meeting and coming to agreements with all manner of folks. Some you like and agree with, some not so much. But much the same as some of the relatives you inherit when you get married, you muddle along as best you can and try to make it through the holidays without starting a war.
” But since I heard your comments about my… what was it again? ‘Cozy’ relationship with the Russians? I’ve had a pretty good yardstick to follow. I’ve kept my relationships in these matters productive and successful, even when some of the actors involved were engaged in fairly unsavory activities. And I did it just the way the United States government, including the previous administration has done. You’ve pointed out many of the transgressions of Vladimir Putin and the Russians, seeming to imply that my doing business there somehow disqualifies me for the office I’ve been nominated for.
“I would remind you that as recently as August of 2012, President Obama signed legislation extending permanent normal trade relations to Russia and Moldova. That was only a couple of years after Stanislav Markelov was murdered only a short distance from the Kremlin and many people suspected the Russian government was involved. That bill, which put an end to the application of Jackson-Vanik, was broadly supported in Congress.In fact, Senator McCain, I’m fairly sure that on December 6th of that year you voted in favor of that bill, normalizing our trade relations. Somehow I doubt that anyone viewed Vladimir Putin all that differently then than they do now.
“The fact is, Senator, that our government – along with nearly every major corporation which does business around the globe – comes to agreements and strikes deals with foreign leaders who do things we don’t approve of. Just for one example, the human rights abuses which take place in China are legendary, and yet just this past August Congress began reviewing a brand new proposal for a bilateral investment treaty with that nation. And again, sir, neither you nor the previous White House administration seemed to be opposed to it.
“Our nation doesn’t get other countries to comply with our goals of freedom and democracy at the end of a gun. We lead by example and hope that diplomacy is our best weapon in ideological wars. Opening up trade and exposing other cultures to the benefits of capitalism is one way we do that. The business dealings I had with Russia as the head of our company were precisely that… business deals. And they weren’t much different from the ones made right here in Washington, DC on a regular basis. To suggest that this is somehow disqualifying would mean that most of the folks in this chamber should never seek a diplomatic post either.
Or something like that anyway. But hey… I don’t work for Tillerson. I’m sure he’ll come up with a great answer on his own.