President Trump’s newly confirmed secretary of State on Thursday is criticized for being “too close” to the Russians. Former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and there is no getting around that. But is that a problem or an advantage?
It’s important to understand what that “relationship” could produce for the national security of the United States. On Wednesday, before Tillerson’s confirmation, in the briefing room of the White House, national security advisor Michael Flynn delivered a stern rebuke to Iran for their recent missile test, and quickly walked off.
It was the first time since the presidency of George W. Bush that the Iranians have been scolded in such a public forum. Will Iran get the message and understand this president will draw a red line and mean it? Do they fully understand that this administration has placed professionals in their field at the helm of this nation’s interests abroad?
Tillerson as secretary of state indeed has a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It would come as no surprise that one of his first acts as America’s chief diplomat if he hasn’t already phoned Putin to discuss the Iranian situation. Could we have expected the same tone of that conversation as if it were former Obama secretary’s of state John Kerry or Hillary Clinton?
The answer is a resounding no. Russia is Iran’s number one supporter for arms and monetary-backing. That should include their support of terrorism throughout the world. Can the situation be resolved peaceably with two men that have knowledge beyond their titles? That question could be critical in the coming months as Iran pushes the edges with its show of military prowess in the Middle East.
One thing you will not see with the powerful former oil executive is some gimmick clock to reset relations between the two countries, aka Hillary Clinton in her photo op at the Kremlin with astonished and amused Russian dignitaries looking on.
Meanwhile, back at the White House as this no-nonsense administration awaits Tillerson’s arrival, the Russians can clearly see the direction of a Trump administration. With Tillerson’s confirmation, the U.S. has been “officially putting Iran on notice” one day before he begins his tenure. The veiled threat introduces harsh language the Iranians have avoided with the former Obama administration more interested in producing a legacy for its president with the controversial nuclear agreement two-years-ago.
Flynn’s tough language is the harshest from the Trump administration yet. It signals a major shift in how Washington will deal with Tehran. Trump has been adamant since his run for the presidency about his discontent with the 2015 deal with Iran to curb its nuclear weapons program.
The deal has provoked many hawks on Iran, including former General Flynn, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who strongly believe much more, was given away to the Iranians than received. They are strongly backed by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has the strong backing of Trump. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE will softly applaud the new leadership now apparent.
Flynn’s briefing to the media set Trump to Tweeting. On Thursday morning, Trump Tweeted, “Iran has been formally put on notice for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!” and “Iran was on its last legs and ready to collapse until the U.S. came along and gave it a life-line in the form of the Iran Deal: $150 billion.”
The tough language was used as Trump is obviously cognizant of the close relationship Iran has with Putin and the Russians. All this happening as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stalled the confirmation of Tillerson, which was a slam dunk from the beginning and he knew it.
The Iranians have been escalating their provocations with the West. Last Sunday Iran launched a medium-range Khorramshahr missile, which flew about 600 miles before exploding in the air. The launch didn’t violate the nuclear deal, but there’s plenty of debate over whether it violated U.N. resolution 2231, which solidified the international community’s acceptance of the pact. There is an urgent need for the U.S. and Iran’s “parent” to have a long chat before this sort of “spit-in-the-eye” brinksmanship goes too far.
Trump isn’t waiting for some catastrophe to explode. He is invoking American leadership in a region that has sadly lacked any direction from a failed Obama foreign policy. It is long overdue with a small country like Iran flexing muscles that in reality come from a paper tiger.
Sen. Schumer should realize this is no time to be playing political games with this country’s security. There will be plenty of time for obstructionist actions from the left, but slowing down the process of Trump creating his foreign policy team is both ill-advised and dangerous.