Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State?

13 December 2016   
Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State?

Trump’s process for selecting his Cabinet secretaries has felt akin to an episode of cheesy reality television. There are several contestants for each spot, the media and public comment on each of them, then Trump announces that he has reduced the list to a single contestant who will be appointed to a Cabinet position for Senate approval next year. Trump has even, at one point, tweeted that the media was wrong about his decisions for a particular position, stating that he was the only one who knew who the finalists would be. If that is not reminiscent enough of an Apprentice episode, you might then be hoping for him to tell the other highly qualified individuals in the running for the position that they are ‘fired’ on live television.

The selection process for Secretary of State has maintained, even exacerbated, Trump’s reality-television-esque tendencies. There was originally discussion that Trump would hand the position to his most loyal supporter, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, which reeked of Jacksonian spoils, as loyalty was being rewarded with a political appointment. Then, Giuliani dropped out. There was also discussion over whether Mitt Romney would receive the position, which angered Trump loyalists. Romney had been a fierce critic of Trump throughout the primary election process, and those closest to Trump wanted to keep his closest circle free of dissidence. Trump and Mitt went out for an expensive dinner to discuss the matter, which contributed to the saga which felt a lot like a television series. Amongst the other individuals being considered for the position, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has emerged as the final contestant, Trump’s ultimate pick for Secretary of State.

Tillerson certainly comes with a fair amount of political baggage. He has been at the helm of ExxonMobil for ten years now and has spent his entire professional career within the major oil corporation. Some reports find that Tillerson has made upwards of $240 million as CEO of the firm, which has sparked controversy among those who fear Trump’s cabinet is filled with corporate magnates with little concern for the middle and lower classes. Furthermore, Trump’s personal hesitation over climate change and his decision to appoint Scott Pruitt, a vocal climate change denier, to lead the EPA have contributed to concerns that Tillerson’s appointment means business and energy interests will be placed above environmental concerns. His very status as an oil magnate has already brought about concerns in the political community, as Marco Rubio issued a statement expressing his hesitation over Tillerson’s potential conflicts of interest. “The next Secretary of State must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage,” he said.

As it pertains to climate change, however, Tillerson is not your traditional oil magnate. He has brought ExxonMobil in a far more progressive direction on the matter, shifting the company’s direction away from actively rejecting climate change evidence and toward responsible policy for addressing global warming qualms. "While there are a range of possible outcomes, the risk posed by rising greenhouse gas emissions could prove to be significant," said Tillerson back in 2007. This should come as a slight relief for those worried about Tillerson’s appointment, as we know that he is not as adamantly opposed to climate change legislation and policy as some had originally predicted according to his title.

The concern over Tillerson that has received the most media attention, however, pertains to his involvement with the Russian Kremlin. In the past few days, a team of bipartisan senators has called for a formal investigation into findings that the Russians had hacked U.S. political and election operations in order to give Trump an advantage over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. As such, this has created a substantial divide between those who believe Putin presents a direct opposition to U.S. interests at home and abroad and those who believe he is on our side. Donald Trump falls in the latter camp, claiming that he would like to strengthen U.S. relations with Russia.

His pick in Tillerson affirms his stance. According to a report from CNN, “Exxon inked a deal with Russian oil giant Rosneft to provide access to lucrative oil resources in the Arctic. The agreement could be a point of contention if Tillerson is appointed, especially since Democrats and national security experts have accused the Trump camp of cozying up to Russia. The Russian government is Rosneft's largest shareholder, and Putin attended the Exxon signing ceremony. In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the country's Order of Friendship.” Clearly, Tillerson is close to the Russians and Putin, and this could present serious problems for his confirmation process.

Trump’s team has defended Tillerson as a strong negotiator with countless international relationships that will behoove U.S. interests.

What do you think about Trump selecting Tillerson?