Rex Tillerson, President and CEO of ExxonMobil is set to be nominated as the next Secretary of State. After the poor performance (IMHO) of the past two Secretaries of State, it would be hard not to nominate a random person and do better, so I have no doubt that Tillerson will be a step up. However, the view from the left is to be expected: As a non-political outsider, they do not deem him capable of doing the job because he’s never been in government service and this is a hell of a place to start. While I understand and appreciate that argument, ultimately, I don’t think that is as much of a problem in this position as in other cabinet positions that require more knowledge of the bureaucracy within Washington D.C. This position is more about serving up the views of the administration and getting deals put together that serve the interests of Washington as well as the nations we deal with. To that end, Tillerson has no shortage of experience and ability. In fact, one might argue that there is no one more suited to this position than he is – leading one of the largest and most complicated Multi-National Corporations on the planet.
My problems with Tillerson are more akin to the problem that people on the left are having with Trump’s outside business interests. I want to be certain that our Secretary of State has the interests of the country first and foremost, and doesn’t have self-serving ulterior-motives (unlike Secretary Clinton did). I’m not sure how you divorce yourself overnight from being a Captain of Industry to being one of many serving under the direction and pleasure of Donald Trump. These guys don’t tend to take orders well – especially if they disagree with you. That’s why I think it is a good thing that Trump has as many ex-military on his staff as he does. They understand and respect the chain of command.
Nominating Tillerson is only the first, easy, step in the process. Up next will be a confirmation process that will see Democrats lining up to take swings at the nominee. Politicians typically don’t like non-pols stepping on their turf, especially if there is a chance that they will succeed…it makes them look bad. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they don’t have the numbers they need in most cases, so they’re going to have to pick and choose which nominees they want to roll the dice with and vigorously oppose. My guess is that although they may not love the pick of Tillerson, ultimately, they will confirm him and save their capital for other, more pressing needs.
As for Tillerson’s ‘close’ relationship with Putin, this only serves to throw more fuel on the conspiracy theories about Russian involvement in the DNC hacks. Whether or not the two are really ‘friends’ remains to be seen and I’m sure will be thoroughly vetted during the confirmation process. At the end of the day, though, I would prefer a Secretary that has good relationships with our adversaries rather than poor ones. Putin’s plans do not change based on who is in the White House. At the end of the day, it may change his strategy or timing, but not his ultimate goals, whatever they are. It’s better that we engage in a meaningful way with Moscow now, rather than make pronouncements later we have no intentions of backing up (line in the sand, recall? ). Toward that end, I think that Rex Tillerson has the contacts and capabilities that will give him the opportunity to be a truly great Secretary of State, if he can put the country first.