January 11, 2017

Corker Opening Statement at Nomination Hearing for Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State

United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Nomination Hearing: Mr. Rex Wayne Tillerson of Texas, to be Secretary Of State

January 11, 2017

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman

Opening Statement

We have some new members of the committee today. I was thinking prior to this hearing that 10 years ago, I came on this committee as a new senator. In many ways to broaden my ability to serve our nation and to serve our state, having been mostly a business person.

When I came here, the first order of business was to deal with the surge in Iraq. Pretty monumental time. We had an under resourced effort that was taking place in Iraq. And at a time when, really, in many ways, the United States had unleashed forces in the region that had not been seen, not unlike taking, in some ways, a big stick and hitting a hornet's nest and changing dramatically the dynamic in the region. And so, we had the choice of whether we surge and try to be successful at what we began or take another course.

Afghanistan also had been under resourced. And all of a sudden we began discussing nation building things that had not been part of our vocabulary for many years.

We had the Arab Spring that took place in 2011, again, some of which was built off of some of the activities that I mentioned earlier. And we had all kinds of incoherent things that took place: the quick throwing aside of a leader in Egypt that we had known for years, an undertaking in Libya that I still have never understood what the goal was but left a large vacuum in the region with arms spreading throughout Northern Africa and other places.

We had the conflict in Syria that began, if you remember, with us cheering on the people who wanted human rights and more of a democracy. And then we had the [president’s] red line that our country did not follow-up on.

After that, we had the taking of Crimea and destabilizing of Eastern Ukraine, some of which I think was driven by observing U.S. leadership in the world.

We had China redrawing a map that had been around for thousands of years in the South China Sea and claiming islands and properties and building runways and doing things that, again, until that time had not occurred.

We've had the whole destabilization of Europe where I think confidence levels are probably the lowest they've been in our lifetimes, driven by concerns about, in many cases, what our role is, but also the role of Russia in what it's been doing in the region, the role of immigrants that are flowing in, [and] the whole challenging of the European model.

And then we've had a campaign, let's face it, that has been somewhat unorthodox - one that is also given concern to our allies in the world and to many around the world as to just where America is going to be.

With all of this chaos that has exhibited through multiple administrations and will continue for a period of time, we've had chaos where the United States has been withdrawing in its leadership role. And to me, that's a recipe for further chaos.

So this is a very important hearing. I had the ability the other day to sit down with General Flynn who will be the National Security Adviser, and I spent time with people around him for quite some time. And I know that, rightly so, his focus is also on our country doing well economically. Every military leader we've had before us and certainly Secretary Gates have told us that if our nation is not strong economically, if we're not doing the things fiscally to keep ourselves strong, then our nation will be weak and our leadership around the world will be diminished. And so I'm thankful that that is the case.

A lot of people here realize that it's not only important for us to be economically successful, but we understand that autocrats in other places when they are not successful end up creating havoc around the world for nationalistic reasons to build support within their countries. And therefore we don't wish the other major countries in the world harm as it relates to economic growth; we want them to do well. Countries like China, and even Russia, [which] no doubt has conducted very nefarious activities here in our country.

Many of us have seen in the Middle East the fact that poverty, not unlike what happens in our own country, where people who live in cities and neighborhoods have no hope, crime permeates, things occur. And we've seen the same thing happen in the Middle East where young people with no hope are attracted to ideologies that end up threatening our own nation. So, I appreciate the fact that at the national security office, you're not only connected to those who will be dealing with our issues of foreign policy and our role in the world but also focus on those economic issues, which brings me to trade.

Our country has shown great leadership around the world. Rob Portman served as our trade representative in previous administrations, and there's been a great deal of talk about what our role will be in that regard.

I think most of us believe that a world that continues to focus on free enterprise, a world that continues to have democratic principles more and more permeated, is a world that's a better place for us. While we should always focus on trade as it relates to improving the standard of living of Americans, an ancillary benefit is that people within those countries begin to adopt the values that we hold so dear here in our country.

One of the things that many of us on the committee, and so many in the audience have been able to do, is also to see the importance of American values around the world. It's an amazing thing to be in Afghanistan, for instance, and to see women at 4:30 in the morning - who by the way do all of the hard work in Afghanistan - up and ready to vote in the first election that they've voted in or to see young girls going to schools that they never have the opportunity to go to. To be in refugee camps where truly every eye is on the American that's there with hope. To be in Venezuela and to see families whose loved ones are in prison for political reasons and looking to us to change that. To be in villages in Africa where for the first time because of American ingenuity, 600 million people without power now have hope with very little in the way of U.S. resources [being used], but [with] our leadership and setting a vision and working with others.

The elimination, almost, of HIV, the dealing with Malaria, the dealing with other diseases like Ebola.

Many of us, all of us, I think, have been in situations where young people just want to touch us. They just want to see us. They want to hug Americans because they, like the people who founded our country, believe in the American ideal. It's not just a country, but it's their hope, it's their vision of what their life might be with American leadership.

I believe the world's at its best when America leads. I think most people at this dias believe the same thing. And we understand the importance of diplomacy and that all of us know with the one percent of the U.S. budget that we spend on efforts like Mr. Tillerson may lead, with that one percent, if we're successful, the likelihood of the men and women that we cherish so much in our military are much less likely to be in harm's way

Which brings me to you. This is a person, Mr. Tillerson, who by the way had never met Mr. Trump, as I understand, until a month ago. I believe, like Senator Cornyn said that it's very, very possible that you are, in fact, an inspired choice.

We look at the president to, if you think about it, [who] approaches everything almost from an economic standpoint. That's been the world that he has lived in. And the fact that you've led a global enterprise with 70,000 employees around the world, have been there for 41 and a half years, have met world leaders, know them up close and personally, [and] to me that is going to give our new president much greater confidence in your ability to offer advice. And I think [that] is going to give the State Department, possibly, the ability to have the appropriate balance with other forces as it relates within the White House and other places, as it relates to developing a vision for our country. If you think about it, not only does the world not really understand where America is today - and all of us have had leaders in our offices wondering what is next - but if you think about the body politic here in our own country doesn't understand.

You look at the election. We had the Bush presidency and then we had the Obama presidency, which was not the Bush presidency, and then we've had this election where many things have been said and sometimes in unorthodox ways. And so, not just do world leaders not know where we are, citizens who watch us on television and other places [and] our body politic here does not know.

So, Mr. Tillerson, this is a momentous time. This to me is the most important nomination that the president has made. The world paying attention to this hearing I think denotes that. You have the ability, no doubt, to draw a crowd. But it's going to be your responsibility to define clearly what America's role in the world is going to be. I know Secretary Gates has spoken to this many times as he talks about the way the world was when it was us and the Soviet Union, but now it's very different. And the American people, even, don't fully understand what the future holds.

You've got to restore our credibility, secondly. Look, the NATO alliance is shaken. Europe is shaken. Our Arab friends because of negotiations that have taken place are concerned about the future. I could go on and on, but I want to be respectful with other people's time. But one of your first goals will be to restore U.S. credibility around the world. You're going to need to prioritize. One of the things I've witnessed over the entire 10 years I've been here is there's a lot of activity that takes place, but it's hard to discern where it's taking us. And so I think as a person who's led an organization, who’s risen from the bottom, [and] who's been the CEO of a global enterprise, may in fact be an inspired choice to prioritize, to restore credibility, which is what a company like yours has had to do, [and] to have those relationships based on trust, based on people knowing that we're going to do what we say.

And then, lastly, you are "the" person that is charged with being "the" principle adviser to the president on foreign policy. And I think the question that people on both sides of the aisle will raise most here today is: We know that the president-elect's foreign policy is evolving as he takes office, as he talks to people. And there's no way that you can speak on his behalf today. That cannot happen. So what people here today are going to want to know is: How are you going to advise him? You're going to be one of the last people to talk to him. You're going to be up under the hood sharing with him what you think ought to happen. We know that at the end of the day you will carry out his policy. And all of us have watched as other secretaries of state have tried to carry out their own policy and not the president's. And we know that does not work.

So, we thank you for being here. My sense is that you are going to rise to the occasion, that you are going to demonstrate that you are, in fact, an inspired choice, that you're going to be able to take the years of accomplishment in relationships and transfer that and translate it into a foreign policy that benefits U.S. national interests. Thank you again for being willing to put yourself before our country and the world in this manner. And with that, let me turn to our distinguished ranking member and my friend, Ben Cardin.