Politics & Policy

Questions for Mr. Tillerson

(Reuters photo: Benoit Tessier)
These important questions should not be lost in the hubbub over Tillerson’s Exxon career.

The American appetite for businessmen in government is a hardy perennial. Ross Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992 on the strength of his “get under the hood” appeal. The Republican party nominated Wendell Willkie in 1940 (though he’d been a Democrat until 1939) because he was perceived as a businessman “with a heart.” Now, the president-elect has chosen Exxon Mobile chief Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. Is a businessman — a great deal-maker, according to the Trump camp — what we need as secretary of state?

Progressives tend to respond in Pavlovian fashion to corporate CEOs, especially oil-company executives. “Corporate America” is their bête noir — which just demonstrates their tunnel vision. In fact, the leaders of big corporations in the U.S. tend to bend with fashion in political matters. Recall that a number of large companies denounced Indiana when it passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and some even withdrew from the state. Among those bringing pressure to amend or repeal the law were Apple Corporation, Angie’s List, Subaru, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and Gen Con. Some of the nation’s largest companies are very generous to progressive causes, and when they start foundations, it’s Katie-bar-the-door (yes, that means you, Ford Foundation).

In my experience, small-business owners tend to be more conservative than executives of large corporations. Why? 1) Small businesses lack the heft to influence the government; and 2) they lack the manpower/income to comply with costly regulations. Large companies are better positioned to lobby the government for favorable treatment, including policies that will harm their competitors (which often includes the small businesses), and they have the staff to fill out stupid, useless government forms.

When I heard that Mr. Tillerson was instrumental in getting the Boy Scouts to change its policy on homosexuality, that Exxon Mobil donated to Planned Parenthood on his watch, and that he favors a carbon tax, I wasn’t surprised. Thiels, Mackeys, and Kochs are thin on the ground.

Tillerson’s business experience is impressive, but it tells us nothing important about whether he is a good choice for secretary of state. What is most relevant, and what the senators who question him during his confirmation hearings will want to illuminate, is what are his views on American foreign policy?

President George W. Bush intervened aggressively in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Barack Obama withdrew precipitously from Iraq, dithered about Afghanistan, and studiously declined to intervene in Syria. What are Mr. Tillerson’s views of the wisdom/folly of those policies? Where does he stand on normalizing relations with Cuba? The Paris climate accord? The Iran deal? Mr. Obama tilted the U.S. toward Iran and sharply away from Israel and the Sunni powers in the region. What are Tillerson’s views?

Does he agree with John Kerry (and his old friend James A. Baker III) that solving the Israel/Palestine dispute is the key to peace in the region?

What is the major geo-strategic threat to the United States?

Is a trade war the way to deal with China? Who would be hurt by a 35 percent tariff on imported goods? What are other options for curtailing Chinese aggression?

Is it ever in the U.S. interest to defend human rights, or small nations menaced by bigger neighbors?

Then, there are the critical issues President-elect Trump raised during the campaign. Does NATO remain a keystone of U.S. defense? Does it serve U.S. interests to see South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and other nations acquire nuclear weapons? Should the United States repeal the sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea (as Tillerson urged when he was pursuing the interests of Exxon Mobil)?

#related#And while we’re on the subject of Russia, how many consecutive presidencies should begin with a resolution to improve relations with Russia? Why, in light of Putin’s unrelenting hostility, vicious, often murderous behavior toward critics and rivals at home, Soviet-style anti-American propaganda, possible hacking of our political parties, and unblushing war crimes abroad (especially, lately, in Syria), should we seek better relations? Doesn’t that seem pusillanimous just now?

Mr. Trump promised to destroy ISIS “very quickly.” How would that be accomplished?

The president-elect has said that strongmen are preferable to chaos. Agree? Trump took a congratulatory call from Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has launched a terror campaign against drug dealers and addicts. Thousands have been killed. What ought the U.S. response to be?

Who are our most important allies? What, if any, is America’s global role?

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Copyright © 2016 Creators.com

Most Popular

White House

The Trivialization of Impeachment

We have a serious governance problem. Our system is based on separation of powers, because liberty depends on preventing any component of the state from accumulating too much authority -- that’s how tyrants are born. For the system to work, the components have to be able to check each other: The federal and ... Read More
U.S.

‘Texodus’ Bodes Badly for Republicans

‘I am a classically trained engineer," says Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, "and I firmly believe in regression to the mean." Applying a concept from statistics to the randomness of today's politics is problematic. In any case, Hurd, 42, is not waiting for the regression of our politics from the ... Read More
Elections

In Defense of Tulsi

Some years ago, a liberal-minded friend of mine complained during lunch that Fox News was “stealing” his elderly parents. “They should be enjoying retirement,” he said, noting that they live in a modest but comfortable style with attentive children and grandchildren to enjoy. “But instead,” he sighed, ... Read More
Culture

Not Less Religion, Just Different Religion

The Pew Poll tells us that society is secularizing -- particularly among the young -- and who can deny it? That is one reason that the free expression of religion is under such intense pressure in the West. But it seems to me that we aren't really becoming less religious. Rather, many are merely changing that ... Read More