Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has never really seemed comfortable with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leading foreign affairs. During the confirmation hearings, Rubio pressed Tillerson about his past Russian ties. He was concerned by Tillerson’s inability to answer yes or no on whether Vladimir Putin was a war criminal. He had also made clear he did not want our top diplomat to be Putin’s “friend.”
Being a "friend of Vladimir" is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState - MR— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 11, 2016
Despite Rubio’s misgivings, Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of state in February.
Five months later, Rubio still has his hesitations. In an op-ed, Rubio urged Tillerson to label ISIS’s crusade against Christians, particularly in Iraq, as genocide. He explained how Christians are being forced to convert, kidnapped and killed for their beliefs, before noting that Tillerson has not done enough to stand with these persecuted communities.
Unfortunately, it is unclear whether the current administration maintains this determination. It is important for Secretary Tillerson to publicly address this issue and clarify the administration’s stance, which my colleagues and I have asked him to do. Even then, words without action will not change the reality on the ground. The Trump Administration must take decisive steps to counter the gravity of the situation: ISIS is seeking to erase thousands of years of history and the people who represent it.
Until the administration actually uses the word “genocide,” the U.S. will perhaps not feel the same moral obligation to protect these Christians.
Additionally, Rubio implored the State Department to not defer the tragedy to the UN, but take matters into its own hands by appointing a special coordinator in northern Iraq who can lead U.S. assistance.
In March 2016, the Obama administration finally used the term genocide to describe Christian massacre in Iraq and Syria. It is obvious that Rubio wants the current White House to be even bolder in its declaration.
The State Department, however, has spoken up for itself. Press Secretary Heather Nauert has pushed back against reports that officials removed references to genocide from documents.
"We have looked through documents ourselves—the word genocide is in there—that has not been removed," she said.
She added that Tillerson "firmly believes" that Christians and Yazidis are victims of genocide.