War with Russia, Senator Rubio?

Marco Rubio's back in the Senate.  He evidently likes swaggering talk.  On Wednesday, he grabbed headlines.  As of this writing, Rubio's not sure if he'll vote for Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State.  Or maybe he's bluffing...to get headlines. 

Rubio wants Tillerson to brand Vladimir Putin a war criminal.  Tillerson, a smart and sophisticated man, won't take the bait.   

During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tillerson's nomination, Rubio and Tillerson had this exchange, per the New York Times:

Mr. Rubio set off on an aggressive line of questioning, initially posing a simple query: "Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?"

"I would not use that term," Mr. Tillerson said.

Mr. Rubio, outlining a list of grievous Russian offenses in Syria, said he hoped Mr. Tillerson might adjust his answer.

"Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I want to have much more information," Mr. Tillerson said.

Mr. Rubio, saying there was plenty of public information — "the videos and pictures are there," he noted — said that "it should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin's military has conducted war crimes in Aleppo."

Mr. Tillerson did not budge.

"I find it discouraging, your inability to cite that," Mr. Rubio said.

Where Rubio is discouraged by Tillerson's prudence, Americans should be heartened.  Russia is, after all, a nuclear power.  Had Tillerson bent to Rubio's insistence, labeling Putin a war criminal, how would that impact foreign policy?  What would be the consequences of a soon secretary of state leveling war crime charges against the Russian leader? 

Putin claims he wants to open a dialogue with President-Elect Trump.  He claims a desire to cooperate with the U.S. to fight Islamic predation.  Putin may be sincere – or he may not.  He's a slippery sort.  But chaining Trump and Tillerson to an accusation – however substantial – of war crimes against Putin accomplishes what end? 

Slapping a war criminal tag on Putin limits Trump's ability to maneuver in his dealings with Putin.  There's a wide range of issues for the president-elect and Putin to address: Islamic terrorism, the Baltic States, Ukraine, China, North Korea, Syria, and economics, among others.  Trump has a right to explore the possibility of improved relations and cooperation – or at least an easing of tensions – with the Russian strongman without an onerous condition being forced on him.  Lest Senator Rubio forget, the chief aim of U.S. foreign policy is to secure U.S. vital interests and strengthen national security.  It's not to strut about on the world stage, moralizing and saber-rattling. 

Statecraft is about offsets.  A member of Congress – Senator Rubio here – can indulge big talk and bluster.  Sanctimony may reap a P.R. bonanza and kudos from elites but it doesn't help move the needle in advancing U.S. interests. 

Beyond his rhetoric, how does Senator Rubio intend to bring Putin to account for his alleged war crimes?  Have a warrant issued for Putin's arrest from The Hague?  Or perhaps the U.S. should move even more troops and military hardware to Eastern Europe in a show of force?

This from NPR:

The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, from Fort Carson, Colo., has begun moving into Poland as part of the biggest U.S. military deployment in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

It's part of an Obama administration effort to deter perceived growing Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin isn't happy.

What tangible vital American interest is served by upping the U.S. military investment in Eastern Europe?   No chance doing so will ratchet up tensions?  No new flashpoints for conflict?

To be sure, Putin isn't the dog wagging the U.S. tail.  Where U.S. actions to protect and promote its vital interests conflict with Russia, so be it.  But the question needs to be asked again and again: are American vital interests threatened by Putin in Eastern Europe?  Isn't Europe principally Europe's concern?  Isn't it incumbent on Europeans to meet the challenges posed by Russia on their continent?  Europeans lack neither the manpower nor the means to do so.  What they may lack is the will to deal with Putin.      

The clash here is between moralizers and realists.  (There are isolationists on the right and left, too.  But isolationism is a nonstarter.)

The Marco Rubios insist that the U.S. is a global superhero, righting wrongs, smashing injustices, and giving the old Pow! Bang! to thugs like Putin.  The realists – Trump, notably – wear no blinders.  "Bad hombres" are throughout the world.  But the imperative is U.S. interests.  Woodrow Wilson – not the Founders – invented the catchphrase "making the world safe for democracy."  Wilson's words were breezy abstraction verging on adventurism.  "Arsenal of Democracy" was an FDR phrase, aimed at helping the allies in the war against Hitler.  FDR's "arsenal" made sense in time and place.      

Russia is a competitor, but it needn't be an enemy.  Where the two nations can cooperate, cooperation should be welcomed.  The litmus test for cooperating with Russia is about whether or not vital U.S. interests are served.  Likewise, if clashes occur with the Russians, let those center on safeguarding America's critical interests. 

Competing with the Russians, President-Elect Trump grasps that the U.S. can gain real advantages in two key areas: militarily, through a major buildup of forces and means, and via energy independence.  Freeing the U.S. from overseas energy unfetters the nation to pursue its interests with fewer complications.

Trump and Tillerson are apex business leaders, practical and grounded.  Their eyes are on the prize: U.S. advantage and security.  Maybe Marco Rubio will come around. 

Marco Rubio's back in the Senate.  He evidently likes swaggering talk.  On Wednesday, he grabbed headlines.  As of this writing, Rubio's not sure if he'll vote for Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State.  Or maybe he's bluffing...to get headlines. 

Rubio wants Tillerson to brand Vladimir Putin a war criminal.  Tillerson, a smart and sophisticated man, won't take the bait.   

During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tillerson's nomination, Rubio and Tillerson had this exchange, per the New York Times:

Mr. Rubio set off on an aggressive line of questioning, initially posing a simple query: "Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?"

"I would not use that term," Mr. Tillerson said.

Mr. Rubio, outlining a list of grievous Russian offenses in Syria, said he hoped Mr. Tillerson might adjust his answer.

"Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I want to have much more information," Mr. Tillerson said.

Mr. Rubio, saying there was plenty of public information — "the videos and pictures are there," he noted — said that "it should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin's military has conducted war crimes in Aleppo."

Mr. Tillerson did not budge.

"I find it discouraging, your inability to cite that," Mr. Rubio said.

Where Rubio is discouraged by Tillerson's prudence, Americans should be heartened.  Russia is, after all, a nuclear power.  Had Tillerson bent to Rubio's insistence, labeling Putin a war criminal, how would that impact foreign policy?  What would be the consequences of a soon secretary of state leveling war crime charges against the Russian leader? 

Putin claims he wants to open a dialogue with President-Elect Trump.  He claims a desire to cooperate with the U.S. to fight Islamic predation.  Putin may be sincere – or he may not.  He's a slippery sort.  But chaining Trump and Tillerson to an accusation – however substantial – of war crimes against Putin accomplishes what end? 

Slapping a war criminal tag on Putin limits Trump's ability to maneuver in his dealings with Putin.  There's a wide range of issues for the president-elect and Putin to address: Islamic terrorism, the Baltic States, Ukraine, China, North Korea, Syria, and economics, among others.  Trump has a right to explore the possibility of improved relations and cooperation – or at least an easing of tensions – with the Russian strongman without an onerous condition being forced on him.  Lest Senator Rubio forget, the chief aim of U.S. foreign policy is to secure U.S. vital interests and strengthen national security.  It's not to strut about on the world stage, moralizing and saber-rattling. 

Statecraft is about offsets.  A member of Congress – Senator Rubio here – can indulge big talk and bluster.  Sanctimony may reap a P.R. bonanza and kudos from elites but it doesn't help move the needle in advancing U.S. interests. 

Beyond his rhetoric, how does Senator Rubio intend to bring Putin to account for his alleged war crimes?  Have a warrant issued for Putin's arrest from The Hague?  Or perhaps the U.S. should move even more troops and military hardware to Eastern Europe in a show of force?

This from NPR:

The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, from Fort Carson, Colo., has begun moving into Poland as part of the biggest U.S. military deployment in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

It's part of an Obama administration effort to deter perceived growing Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin isn't happy.

What tangible vital American interest is served by upping the U.S. military investment in Eastern Europe?   No chance doing so will ratchet up tensions?  No new flashpoints for conflict?

To be sure, Putin isn't the dog wagging the U.S. tail.  Where U.S. actions to protect and promote its vital interests conflict with Russia, so be it.  But the question needs to be asked again and again: are American vital interests threatened by Putin in Eastern Europe?  Isn't Europe principally Europe's concern?  Isn't it incumbent on Europeans to meet the challenges posed by Russia on their continent?  Europeans lack neither the manpower nor the means to do so.  What they may lack is the will to deal with Putin.      

The clash here is between moralizers and realists.  (There are isolationists on the right and left, too.  But isolationism is a nonstarter.)

The Marco Rubios insist that the U.S. is a global superhero, righting wrongs, smashing injustices, and giving the old Pow! Bang! to thugs like Putin.  The realists – Trump, notably – wear no blinders.  "Bad hombres" are throughout the world.  But the imperative is U.S. interests.  Woodrow Wilson – not the Founders – invented the catchphrase "making the world safe for democracy."  Wilson's words were breezy abstraction verging on adventurism.  "Arsenal of Democracy" was an FDR phrase, aimed at helping the allies in the war against Hitler.  FDR's "arsenal" made sense in time and place.      

Russia is a competitor, but it needn't be an enemy.  Where the two nations can cooperate, cooperation should be welcomed.  The litmus test for cooperating with Russia is about whether or not vital U.S. interests are served.  Likewise, if clashes occur with the Russians, let those center on safeguarding America's critical interests. 

Competing with the Russians, President-Elect Trump grasps that the U.S. can gain real advantages in two key areas: militarily, through a major buildup of forces and means, and via energy independence.  Freeing the U.S. from overseas energy unfetters the nation to pursue its interests with fewer complications.

Trump and Tillerson are apex business leaders, practical and grounded.  Their eyes are on the prize: U.S. advantage and security.  Maybe Marco Rubio will come around.