Donald Trump recently announced his pick for Secretary of State, and his choice is less than ideal (like, waaay less). I can’t honestly say that I was surprised at Trump’s pick, because at this point I don’t think anything he could do would surprise me, but I did lose some of the already minimal hope I had for his presidency.
First, let’s discuss what the Secretary of State does. He is essentially the president’s right-hand man when it comes to foreign policy. The Secretary of State negotiates for the United States, personally participates in international conferences, ensures the protection of the government to Americans and interests in other countries, informs the people of foreign relations, administers the Department of State, and much more. The Secretary of State is one of the most important people on a president’s cabinet, so making a great selection for the multifaceted job is crucial for any president. This is why the selection of Rex Tillerson is so troubling.
Next, let’s focus on who Rex Tillerson is. He is the CEO and chairman of ExxonMobil, a billion-dollar oil company. He earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and began his Exxon career in 1975 as a production engineer. Eventually, he moved up the ranks within the company to become the CEO that he is today.
Since Tillerson is the company’s top man, he has led many of Exxon’s international deals. He has met with leaders across the world to discuss oil and the expansion of his company’s reach. This is the only type of foreign policy “experience” he has - meeting with leaders to make deals for oil. He has no background in traditional foreign affairs, no formal education on how to interact with other countries, and no real experience in negotiations with other countries outside of business. Some of his past dealings are rather controversial now, because he has been known to be amicable with nations that are not on good terms with the United States, such as Russia.
Tillerson’s relationship with Russia is one of the main reasons for skepticism about his selection for the position of Secretary of State. The relationship started when Exxon made a deal with a Russian oil company - Rosneft - in 1999. Since then, Exxon has made many deals in Russia and has continued interactions with Rosneft, giving the Russian company stakes in many of Exxon’s projects based in the United States. What is most troubling about these deals is that throughout the United States’ shaky relationship with Russia, Tillerson has stayed close to Putin. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Tillerson even condemned the U.S.’s sanctions on Russia, because his own business deal was cancelled. Finally, Tillerson was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship medal in 2013. In the context of this current election and all of the issues surrounding it, this close of a relationship between Tillerson and Putin is troubling.
Everyone and their mother knows that the legitimacy of this past election has been called into question due to the possible intervention of Russia. Seventeen intelligence agencies in the United States have said that Russia was behind hacks into U.S. systems during the election. Therefore, Trump’s selection of someone so close to Putin himself is not a good sign for his own innocence in this situation. If the Russian government is trying to gain access to the inner-workings of the United States government, having Tillerson chosen as the Secretary of State would be a good start. Tillerson’s conflicted interests are troubling to many, since he would hold both the balance of his company and the balance of our foreign relations in his hands. For example, a decision to lift sanctions against Russia would make him richer and affect the United States’ reputation as a foreign policing force. It would remove the United States from the group effort that is in place to warn Russia about taking foreign policy actions that are not condoned by the West.
Tillerson’s relationship with Russia isn’t the only issue, though. Since he is the CEO of a major oil company, the potential danger to the environment is clear. His interests in his company would affect his judgment on the United States’ climate policies with other nations. To summarize the situation in a sentence: the selection of Tillerson as Secretary of State does not have good implications for the future of the fight against climate change. Sorry, Mother Nature.Rex Tillerson is definitely not the best choice Trump could have made for Secretary of State. When Trump said he would “drain the swamp,” I did not think that meant he would put big oil companies so obviously in charge of the country. Big business has been running the country through politicians for a long time, and now it is becoming painfully obvious. Only now, we don’t get to pretend that we have the control. Trump is pulling out all the stops to show us that we don’t.