Guest Opinion: A dangerous secretary of state?
It's easy to look at the pick of Rex Tillerson as secretary of State with alarm.
The reasons are many.
He is a businessman with longstanding ties with Russia, including a cozy relationship with President Vladimir Putin.
As the top exec of ExxonMobil, Tillerson has expressed a disdain on sanctions, including ones that scuttled a $500 billion deal between ExxonMobil and Russia's state-owned Rosneft.
And, as evidenced by an independent oil deal Tillerson backed two years ago with the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, he has defied the very same State Department he now has been tapped to lead.
And that's to say nothing regarding his skepticism toward the science and scientists associated with climate change.
That is why there's much merit to the call for extreme vetting, if not outright opposition, to Tillerson's nomination.
Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have signaled that they might oppose Tillerson. McCain rightfully wants to hear Tillerson explain his relationship with Putin, who the Arizona senator describes as "a thug, bully and a murderer."
McCain and others presumably will also want to know how Tillerson views Russian geopolitics, from the annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine to alliance efforts with Iran — all of which pose challenges and risks to U.S. and its allies.
Frankly, we can't make sense of President-elect Donald Trump's nomination. Trump has called his pick as a "world-class player" who knows the world stage but he has provided little of substance to explain the choice.
Yes, Tillerson is a titan in his field and, as are many of Trump's Cabinet picks, an outsider with no previous experience in government.
Yes, Tillerson articulates caution against aggressive environmental regulations, a worldview shared by Trump. The oil and gas executive may even argue more assiduously than the president-elect on why the U.S. might pull out of the Paris climate deal.
We can understand, too, that Tillerson is an accomplished deal-maker, deft at negotiations and navigation in international relations.
But he has done so in representing the interests of a company, not a country.
He did not earn an Order of Friendship award – the highest honor Russia bestows a non-citizen – for vigorously articulating U.S. diplomatic or political interests.
A friend of Russia? That's no selling point
Trump certainly must know the optics of a Tillerson nomination for secretary of state.
Especially given strong evidence that Russia – at Putin's directive – was behind the hacking of emails of the Democratic National Committee and the blatant efforts to influence this year's U.S. presidential election.
Especially at a time when Putin's aggression tests the United States' resolve — witness Russia's role in Aleppo and its propping-up of the Assad regime.
Especially given Tillerson's business holdings and the troubling ties they have to any relaxing or lifting of sanctions against Russia.
And especially given nagging questions of Trumps' own business ties with Russia and their implications.
There are legitimate fears that Putin may see Tillerson, not unlike Trump, as a political novice who could play into the hands of the Kremlin.
Tillerson might yet manage to assuage critics, provided he distances himself from the Russian leader, differentiates his role as a statesman from that of private businessman, and divests business interests that pose potential conflict, among other things.
But the president-elect is playing with fire.
And those in Congress who are charged with checks and balances will need to manage it from becoming a conflagration.