Some Republicans and Democrats are worried that Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, is too cozy with Russia and Vladimir Putin.
There are valid concerns about this relationship. They should be explored in-depth during the confirmation process, particularly any conflicts of interest.
But if you look back at the different potential outcomes of the 2016 election or even Trump’s reported other potential secretary of state picks, Tillerson’s reported warmness toward Russia should give us some comfort in at least one area.
It should go without saying that the U.S. should try to avoid war. Sometimes war is necessary, and we should be prepared to wage it if needed, but it should always be a last resort.
This is basic, common sense, right? These are seemingly non-controversial statements.
Unless you were running for president in 2016.
The bulk of candidates seeking the White House this year seemed hell-bent on starting a war with Russia by creating a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone in Syria.
As former Republican presidential Rand Paul said of such a policy in October 2015, a no-fly zone would be “drawing a red line in the sky.”
“Once you draw a red line, and people cross it, what happens? Now we’re talking about an incident that could lead to World War III. We went 70 years having open channels of communication with the Russians, trying to avoid having one side shoot down the opposite side’s plane. I think the people who call for a no-fly zone are naive. Right now, Russia’s actually being invited by two of the neighboring countries, by Iraq and Syria. We’re going to say we’re going to stop Russia from flying in the area when two of the countries being flown over have invited that country in? This gets back to whether we want to diplomatically isolate ourselves, or whether we want to diplomatically engage.”
Paul is right—diplomacy should always be preferable to war and instituting a no-fly zone in Syria would be a virtual war guarantee.
In other words, it’s nuts.
Which Republicans running for president in 2016 were eager to start a war with Russia? Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush. Chris Christie. Ben Carson. Ted Cruz. Carly Fiorina. Lindsey Graham. John Kasich.
Obviously, it’s a long list.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Governor Christie during a Republican presidential debate last year, “If the U.S. imposed a no-fly zone over Syria and a Russian plane encroached, invaded that no-fly zone, would you be prepared to shoot down that Russian plane and risk war with Russia?”
Christie replied, “Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it.” “A no- fly zone means a no-fly zone, Wolf,” Christie bragged. “That’s what it means.”
Sen. Paul said of Christie’s comment, “Well, I think if you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate.”
These are dangerous people. Republicans and Democrats.
That they are elected officials doesn’t change this fact. I’m not one for fear mongering, but that these leaders’ affection for a no-fly zone reflects so much Washington foreign policy establishment thinking should scare everyone.
Many of the hawks in both parties uncomfortable with Rex Tillerson right now were more than comfortable with a no-fly zone in Syria. One of their current concerns, no doubt, is that a Secretary of State Tillerson may be much less likely to push for such a policy.
So, if nothing else, whatever Rex Tillerson might end up looking like if confirmed as head of the State Department, the U.S. is probably less likely to go to war with Russia.
That seems like an obvious thing to want to avoid.
As crazy as it sounds, so much of Washington disagrees.
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.