Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, began his career in 1975 at ExxonMobil. He became their CEO in 2006. According to Forbes, “the Texas oilman has close ties to the most powerful person on FORBES’ list, Vladimir Putin, whom Tillerson knew in the 1990s, when he led Exxon’s interests in Russia.” He received the Order of Friendship medal from Putin in 2013.
In his first weeks on the job, Tillerson kept a very low profile. He did not go out and meet with diplomats or employees, but rather kept mostly to himself. He used several hours reading each morning, then spent the remainder of his day with his small, tight circle of inexperienced political aides.
This lack of leadership, along with his initial silence, then advocation for, the Trump administration’s proposed thirty percent cut to his department’s budget, led many to feel uncomfortable and even distrust him. He is avoiding expert advice from career employees, choosing to run the diplomatic arm of the government as a business – like Exxon. He also came under fire for refusing to travel with reporters or give press conferences with U.S. media.
“It’s not that he’s a weak secretary of state or a strong one — he’s in a different category,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is writing the second volume of his history of American foreign policy. “I have a hard time thinking of one who has come in with little foreign policy experience and has less interest in surrounding himself with the people who know something about the regions and issues that he has to deal with.” (NYT)
More recently, Tillerson defended Trump’s blunt threats towards North Korea at the UN General Assembly last week, when he threatened to “totally destroy” them if the United States is “forced to defend itself or its allies.” When asked if there would be military action, Tillerson reposponded that would be the president’s decision, guided by the National Security Council.
He also addressed criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this month Putin joked the former ExxonMobil CEO “fell into the wrong crowd” by joining the Trump administration, and was “moving to a slightly different direction.”
“I’ve said to Vladimir Putin I’m still the same man. I’m wearing a different hat now and I represent the American people,” Tillerson said Friday. “Obviously the relationship is very strained today but it is important that the two greatest nuclear powers in the world find a way, find areas of common interest we can work together.”
At the same time he said social media sites like Facebook need to be tougher after reports Russia bought a trove of ads on the network in a bid to influence last year’s election.
“We see it not just in this arena, interfering with democratic processes, we see it in advancing the face of terrorism around the world,” he said. “But they also have responsibilities. And I think they’re going to have to think carefully about their responsibilities in this regard.”
He also dispelled longstanding rumors he’s looking to leave the State Department, along with new ones that UN Ambassador Nikki Haley could take his place.
“I think we have a secretary of state currently and I think he’s planning to hang around,” he said. (NY Daily)
Rex Tillerson is an inexperienced diplomat who is off to a rocky start at the State Department. He is attempting to slash the place by a third. Hopefully he will not do too much long-term damage, and what he does can be fixed by his successor, who with any luck will be a little less friendly with Russia.