This is Part 4 of a series of articles examining Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees and to extrapolate evidence alleging that they are “extremists”. Read Part 1: Bannon, Part 2:Sessions and Part 3: Mattis.
The position of Secretary of State – Hillary Clinton’s previous office – was one of the most closely watched transitions for the Donald Trump Cabinet. The country’s top diplomat has influence over American foreign policy, a matter that played a crucial role in the presidential elections.
Several names were floated for the role, including known neocon John Bolton and former Republican candidate Mitt Romney. But neither of those two Republican stalwarts were successful, with the position going instead to outsider Rex Tillerson of ExxonMobil.
As expected, Tillerson’s links with the oil industry was criticized by the anti-Trump media. Alternet argued that his appointment was an “oligarch’s dream“, while the Daily Kos called him a “Christmas gift to the Russian people“.
Both comments alluded to the former ExxonMobil CEO’s dealings with major oil players in the world, particularly in Russia where Tillerson is known among many of the Russian oligarchy.
What this myopic analysis misses out however is that the Secretary of State is defined by their ability to negotiate and advance American interests overseas, skills which Tillerson honed in his tenure at ExxonMobil.
The fact that Tillerson is already familiar with Russian geopolitics, even having close ties to President Vladimir Putin himself, should be welcomed by all who feared of an escalating conflict between the United States and Russia which seemed tangible before the elections.
Those who showed concern included publications critical of Tillerson’s appointment, which is ironic given how his nomination now makes any conflict with the former Soviet Union unlikely.
Further proving that Tillerson is anything but a war-hawk is the fact that the well-known war-hawks in the Republican circles such as Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Lindsay Graham both came out against his appointment.
In Sen. Graham’s case, he outlined a condition wherein his support for Tillerson will only be if the latter meets his proposal of a sanction on Russia. However, the State Secretary-designate has in the past been vocal against sanctions on any country – claiming these are “not effective“.
Outside of diplomacy, criticisms of Tillerson include him being a pawn of oil giants and is therefore against the environment. The Guardian published an article calling his appointment “an epic mistake“, calling such move by President-elect Trump a step towards “a government of, by, and for the oil and gas industry”.
However, as ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was credited with the company’s 180-degree shift in their climate change policy. From being a company that historically stated skepticism towards climate change science, in 2007 Tillerson declared that there was “no question” human activity were to blame for the phenomenon.
During his tenure, the company also took measures that steered it away from climate change denial politics. These included his endorsement of the Paris Agreement, his support for a carbon tax, support for measures to put fees on carbon emissions and the cease in funding for climate change denial groups.
In 2014, Tillerson was part of a lawsuit against a fracking operation happening near his residential place – citing concerns of the harmful effects of the practice. This drew praise from Democratic Party congressman Jared Polis of Colorado, who is an anti-fracking advocate.
In terms of social policy, Tillerson – an Eagle Scout – lobbied the Boy Scouts of America organization to be more inclusive of gay youth. He called for a change in their policy to allow gay men to join the group which was successful. This incident should counter the narrative that Trump’s administration will be antagonistic towards the LGBT.
Rex Tillerson has a rich experience in making deals with foreign governments and a good knowledge of global geopolitics – vital traits to have as the United States’ top diplomat. He has a track record of being environmentally-aware, even if it is against the interests of a fossil fuel company.
He already has a rapport with important heads-of-state all over the world and has expressed opposition against hostile foreign policy interventions such as sanctions.
Putting all this into perspective, Tillerson comes off not as an extremist or a socially-irresponsible choice but rather a competent diplomat who is both non-interventionist and is not afraid to against his personal interests for the common good.