President-elect Donald Trump has announced Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his pick for Secretary of State, marking an end to the four-week search for someone to fill the high-profile position. Tillerson, 64, has spent his entire career with Exxon Mobil, starting out as a production engineer in 1975 and holding a number of prominent positions with the oil giant before being elected as Chairman and CEO in 2006. Tillerson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, has no background in politics or foreign affairs. As a Republican party donor, Rex Tillerson has made financial contributions to Mitt Romney and Mitch McConnell. He also contributed to Jeb Bush’s election campaign.
Donald Trump’s nomination of Tillerson for Secretary of State ends weeks of speculation as to who will fill the role of America’s top diplomat. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and former CIA chief General David Petraeus had been early contenders, and given the breadth of experience possessed by these men, Trump’s pick of Tillerson, a political novice, for one of the top cabinet jobs will come as a surprise.
The news of Tillerson’s nomination comes one day after a CIA assessment came to light in which they conclude that Russian hackers intervened in the presidential election with the purpose of seeing Donald Trump elected.
“Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman,” writes the Washington Post.
As Secretary of State, it will be Rex Tillerson’s responsibility to manage relations between the U.S. and Russia in the wake of these revelations. However, critics will point to Tillerson’s close connections to the Russian government as further evidence that the incoming Trump administration is too cozy with Vladimir Putin. In 2011, Tillerson met with Putin to cement a $500 billion partnership between Exxon and the Russian national oil company, Rosneft, to develop oil reserves in the Russian arctic and the Black Sea. Exxon was forced to back out of the deal after sanctions were imposed on Russia due to its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Speaking about the sanctions at Exxon’s annual shareholder meeting that year, Tillerson said the following.
“We don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensively, and that’s a very hard thing to do. So we always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming with sanctions and what are their objectives and whether sanctions are really effective or not.”
In 2013, Tillerson was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship, the highest honor accorded by the Russian state to foreign nationals whose work is deemed to strengthen peace and cooperation between Russia and other countries.
Tillerson’s nomination to Secretary of State will be cheered in Moscow, where hopes will be high that with Putin sympathizers in both the White House and at the head of the State Department, the sanctions which have crippled Russia’s economy over the past two years will soon be lifted.
While Trump and Tillerson may be in agreement when it comes to Russia, they hold diverging opinions on the matter of global trade. Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies — raising tariffs on cheap Chinese imports, as well as on U.S. companies that outsource labor abroad — is at odds with statements that Tillerson has made about trade policy. During the campaign, Trump promised that, under his presidency, the U.S. would block Saudi oil imports and strive for “complete American energy independence.” In contrast, speaking at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in 2007, Tillerson had the following to say.
“Should the United States seek so-called energy independence in an elusive effort to insulate this country from the impact of world events on the economy, or should Americans pursue the path of international engagement, seeking ways to better compete within the global market for energy? Like the Council’s founders, I believe we must choose the course of greater international engagement.”
As of the time of writing, the Donald Trump transition team has yet to make a formal statement about the nomination of Rex Tiller as Secretary of State.
[Featured Image by Jon Gambrell/AP Images]