On Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, former CEO with ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, won approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next Secretary of State, signaling that the State Department is moving forward with a new leader. The committee’s vote resulted in an 11-10 vote reflecting a split down party lines.
Tillerson is an interesting choice by President Trump for heading State, and he brings to the position a unique set of skills. In recent years Tillerson has worked with The American Petroleum Institute, the Boy Scouts of America, the United Negro College Fund, Business Roundtable and Ford’s Theater. However, his primary strength may be his international ties and skills as a seasoned negotiator.
Amidst, what some are calling, an “exodus” of employees from the Department of State, Tillerson will be able to restructure the organization to his liking as it moves forward. Mixed reports suggest those leaving are doing so, both because of internal tensions, and because Trump has asked those holding certain diplomatic posts abroad to step down. In either case, it appears that Tillerson will be composing a new roster for the new presidency.
It has been reported that Tillerson lacks government experience, but he does have a reputation for being a tough negotiator of foreign policy. About twenty years ago Tillerson was tasked with negotiating with the government of Yemen on constructing a new natural gas export plant. It is said that these negotiations became “bogged down” over contractual provisions allowing Yemen to retain veto power over certain aspects of the business. In protest of these setbacks, Tillerson is said to have thrown a “five-inch-thick book across the room and [to have stormed] out.” Yemen eventually got some of their demands, but Tillerson apparently did not make it easy for them.
Tillerson does not seem to fear to negotiate in difficult situations either. For the past ten years or so he has negotiated with leaders of foreign nations as head of Exxon. Specifically, Tillerson was involved with Exxon’s development in Iraq that led to an expansion into Kurdistan, which eventually resulted in a relationship with Turkey as a power broker. This process has not been without challenges. When Tillerson “green-lighted” negotiations with the “autonomous” Kurdistan government, after establishing a relationship with the Iraqi government, it placed Exxon between two conflicting demographics; the Arab majority, and the Kurdish minority.
Another point of interest for those monitoring the direction of the State Department is Tillerson’s relationship with Russia. During his Exxon career, he conducted much business with Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin. In fact, he was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin in 2011. However, during his confirmation hearing, he criticized Russia’s activity in Ukraine as being “illegal action” in support of NATO and that he looks forward to working with the Senate, “particularly on the construct of new sanctions…”
As the State Department moves forward into a new presidency, Tillerson will probably be at the helm. Aside from Tillerson’s experience as Exxon CEO, he does engage in domestic activities as well with organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Ford’s Theater.
While attending an event celebrating the bicentennial of Ford’s Theater in Washington DC, Tillerson commented that the funds generated for the renovation will enable Ford’s Theater Society to continue to “enlist people here and around the world to live and celebrate [Abraham Lincoln’s] legacy of leadership, learning, education and love of the performing arts.”
By Joel Wickwire
Edited by Cathy Milne
BBC News: Top Diplomats Leave State Department
Business Insider: There’s an ‘ongoing Mass Exodus’ at the State Department of People Who Don’t Want to Work for Trump
Iraqi Oil Report: Analysis: What Iraq Reveals About Rex Tillerson
Playbill: DC’s Ford’s Theatre Will Be Renovated, Expanded Into a “Campus,” Re-Opening 2009
PRI: How Rex Tillerson Oil Deal Nearly Sparked an Iraqi-Kurdish War
The Economist: What Donald Trump’s Appointments Reveal About His Incoming Administration
The New York Times: Rex Tillerson, an Aggressive Dealmaker Whose Ties with Russia May Prompt Scrutiny
USA Today: Senate Panel Approves Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State
Top and Featured Image Courtesy of NCinDC’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image by premier.gov.ru Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License