An Unlikely Choice for Secretary of State
I agree with very little that President-Elect Donald Trump says or does. I have to admit though, I am very intrigued by and almost agree with his proposed choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation.
Before anyone can get too excited either way, Tillerson will have to face Senate confirmation, and he will be a tough sell. Already, Democrat as well as Republican Senators are expressing their strong disapproval of the multi-millionaire and “friend” of Vladimir Putin. For many of them, his association with Putin is the first strike against him, followed by his lack of formal foreign policy experience. Of course, Donald Trump is considerably deficient in this area and he managed to win America’s top job, so anything is possible.
With Trump’s consideration of experienced candidates like Mitt Romney, John Bolton and General David Petraeus to fill this top cabinet position, Rex Tillerson is an unlikely choice. It seems more prudent to select someone who has a background in foreign policy to fill the void in Trump. Additionally, rumors of Trump’s affinity for Vladimir Putin have been problematic for him throughout the campaign, so why choose someone who has such close ties to Russia? Almost anyone else he selected would be less controversial and more likely to win Senate confirmation. What is Trump thinking?
During his lifetime career with Exxon, Tillerson has worked very closely with Russia. In fact, before becoming CEO, his position was managing the company’s Russia account. In 2011, as chairman and CEO he negotiated a partnership with Russian Oil Company, Rosneft. Vladimir Putin attended the signing ceremony. In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, one of the highest honors Russia grants to foreign citizens.
What Tillerson lacks in formal experience, he more than makes up for in “on-the-job” training, and because of his long-standing business associations, he has a definite feel for the geopolitics of the region. He is well acquainted with foreign leaders in dozens of countries and no stranger to brokering successful negotiations with them. Having this real-time knowledge and understanding of the area is most likely his appeal to Trump. Russia poses the biggest threat to our national security, and their influence in the Middle East is without question. Our relationship with Russia will be pivotal in most of our foreign relations, especially in defeating ISIS. Having a Secretary of State with an inside track to Vladimir Putin is right in line with, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Tillerson has a firm grasp of the importance of the oil industry to Russia, China and throughout the Middle East. This makes him uniquely qualified to understand their perspective and their economy, and to use that to our advantage at the bargaining table.
Donald Trump is first and foremost a businessman, so he would naturally be comfortable working closely with Tillerson. They would speak the same language and have similar negotiating styles. It is a given that Trump will find bureaucratic Washington a nightmare, and he will be looking for people who are accustomed to cutting through red tape and moving things along. Rex Tillerson is a man that gets things done.
I am encouraged by Tillerson’s support for free trade and minimal government regulation. In view of Trump’s repeated threats of tariffs and other protectionist measures, I think Tillerson will provide a good balance.
Whether or not Rex Tillerson can sway the Senate on his behalf remains to be seen. I wish him luck. One thing is certain; the bar is low when it comes to Secretary of State. After Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, there is nowhere to go but up.