America’s Cycles of Change

Why Trump Chose Tillerson as Secretary of State

Mon, 09 January 2017

Trump’s selection of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state is highly significant for many reasons. Not the least of them is that Tillerson, in his career as one of the world’s most successful and powerful oil executives, has had an unrivalled experience of successful deal-making and cooperation with the Russian government and the country’s main energy companies.

Also, Tillerson marks a reversion to the traditional classic pattern of US secretaries of state going back to Hamilton Fish, Ulysses S. Grant’s outstanding chief diplomat after the US Civil war 150 years ago.

Tillerson is a throwback to pragmatic, business-oriented and practical secretaries of state who either have been powerful business executives or high powered lawyers.

The most recent examples of secretaries from these backgrounds were George W. Schultz, who had run the gigantic Bechtel (privately held) engineering and construction corporation and his successor, James A. Baker III in the 1980s.

Tillerson fits into the Schultz-Baker mold: In 2011, he negotiated an agreement with the Russian state oil company Rosneft for drilling rights in the Russian Arctic long with projects in the Black Sea valued up to $300 billion. A year later, in 2012, he was decorated with the Order of Friendship, an honor awarded to foreign nationals for efforts to improve relations with Russia.

Former Clinton-era deputy defense secretary John Hamre has said Tillerson has had more interactive time with Russian President Vladimir Putin than probably any other American except Henry Kissinger. This should be seen as a qualification for the job, not an impediment to holding it.