Donald Trump is drawing praise and criticism for his out-of-the-box choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
As the CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, Tillerson has had to make deals with some of the world’s most notorious leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Some of Tillerson’s fiercest critics are Senate Republicans, such as Marco Rubio, who will question Tillerson during his confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee.
Tillerson has his supporters, too. Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Robert Gates called him a man of “great integrity” with “vast knowledge, experience and success in dealing with dozens of governments and leaders.”
An Eagle Scout who is still involved in the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, Tillerson worked his way from bottom to top at ExxonMobile. He’s known no other employer and will be the first to jump from corporate America to top U.S. diplomat with no prior political or government experience.
If he’s confirmed by the Senate.
The United States of Exxon
Adam Chandler – The Atlantic
Regardless of whether Tillerson manages to get confirmed, his nomination reflects the sometimes unfathomable extent of American power—American corporate power, that is. In 2014, Exxon earned $32 billion in profit, more than the GDPs of more than half of the countries in the world. At times, Exxon has exerted its influence in ways that supplant foreign policy.
It’s not exactly groundbreaking to suggest that the interests of U.S. corporate power don’t always line up with the goals of American foreign policy. In Tillerson’s case, this has manifested itself in lobbying against the American sanctions against Russia, sanctions that have interrupted billions of dollars of Exxon projects in Siberia and sanctions that were coordinated in part by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry following Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and its annexation of Crimea. (Meanwhile, shortly after Russia’s encroachment, Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was named to the board of one of Ukraine’s largest gas companies, showing there’s also profit to be made by going along with American policy.)
Trump’s Secretary of State Pick Is the Best of Bad Lot
Jeet Heer – The New Republic
Someone like Trump, so prone to pick fights he doesn’t necessarily understand, needs a calming voice to advise him on foreign policy. Tillerson could be that voice, since his major foreign policy goal is to make business deals….
Of all Trump’s candidates for secretary of state, Tillerson seems like the least likely to lead America into armed conflict. He might be too pro-Russia, but that’s a small price to pay for someone who is also likely to be much more willing to sit down and talk with the governments of Iran, Venezuela, or China….
There remains the issue of climate change, since the secretary of state leads climate negotiations for the U.S. Here, too, Tillerson among the best of a bad lot. Exxon has long fostered climate change denial, but he has acknowledged that climate change is real and in 2009 came out in favor of a carbon tax.
Being a “friend of Vladimir” is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState – MR
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 11, 2016
Tillerson’s the Right Choice
Andrew Bowen – American Enterprise Institute
Tillerson has been a successful commercial statesman: Serving as ExxonMobil’s CEO requires adept skills in negotiating and managing a number of relationships across the world with numerous countries, organizations, and actors….
Tillerson’s ability to manage a relationship with Putin amidst deepening global tensions between the U.S. and Russia is more of a sign that he can successfully advance and manage complex relationships even when the geopolitical headwinds are against him….
With Exxon’s extensive operations in the U.S., Tillerson has had to navigate Congress, the White House, and the domestic regulatory environment. A successful Secretary of State such as James Baker had a keen sense of both global affairs and U.S. politics….Tillerson arguably has had more domestic and international experience than any other Secretary of State since Baker.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the President-elect’s pick to lead the State Department: pic.twitter.com/MXHlA8beWX
— Transition 2017 (@transition2017) December 13, 2016
Flawed Choices for the State Department
Editorial Board – The New York Times
The Trump administration will have to be able to evaluate objectively Mr. Putin’s agenda and lead NATO in standing up against his aggression, while allowing for cooperation where possible. In naming Mr. Tillerson to lead the State Department and having Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, Mr. Trump will have filled two top national security posts with pro-Russia apologists….
Having someone come in to the State Department with fresh eyes is not necessarily a disqualifier. But inexperience is especially risky when the president-elect is ignorant of national security issues. Such inexperience could also enhance the clout of the deputy secretary of state, the department’s No. 2 official, a position that reportedly could go to John Bolton…
Mr. Bolton is a conservative ideologue who has spent his career pushing dangerous policies, like the 2003 invasion of Iraq…Last year, he wrote in The Times about bombing Iranian nuclear facilities…
How Rex Tillerson Exposes the Secret Chasm Between Capitalism and Conservatism
Jeff Spross – The Week
Tillerson himself flew to Russia in 2011 to forge a deal with Rosneft to jointly drill in the Arctic Ocean. ExxonMobil remains the rare American company willing to put money and expertise into developing shale oil in western Siberia. Putin even gave Tillerson Russia’s Order of Friendship award in 2013….
[T]he deeper point here is that Tillerson forged these ties with Russia and Putin, and sometimes thumbed his nose at U.S. foreign policy, precisely because he was pursuing ExxonMobil’s self-interest as a capitalist enterprise. The irony is that conservatives like McCain, Rubio, and Graham are supposed to be all about free-market principles: Businesses pursue their self-interest in the name of efficiency, profits, and market share, free of the sclerosis and empty posturing that come with politics. That’s what ExxonMobil was doing in Russia. The glitch is that mainstream conservatives in America — and certainly the Republican Party proper — want the U.S. to remain the globe’s pre-eminent superpower, promoting and defending not only its raw interests around the globe, but its particular political ideology and system of governance as well.
By pursuing the first set of goals, Tillerson ran afoul of the second.
Rex Tillerson is an excellent choice for Secretary of State. Read my full statement here: https://t.co/Q6v9F9NXM7
— Condoleezza Rice (@CondoleezzaRice) December 13, 2016
WATCH: Columnist Charles Krauthammer on how Rex Tillerson’s ties to Russia are a liability because of Trump’s stated views on Putin and Russia.
What Rex Tillerson’s Nomination Means for Russia Policy
Tom Switzer – The National Interest
Henry Kissinger has long argued that the key to success in diplomacy is to put yourself in your adversary’s shoes and see the world from that perspective….
From this standpoint, Russia’s conduct has largely been reactive to misguided western policy. For example, its March 2014 military incursion into Crimea, home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, was in response to the western-backed coup to topple a democratically elected, pro-Russian regime in Kiev a month earlier. It may have been a miscalculation on Putin’s part, but it was nonetheless a rational calculation.
All this happens to be the view of Trump and his advisers. Which is why the president-elect’s nomination of Tillerson suggests U.S. foreign policy could enter a period of major reappraisal.