ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson faces test to translate business acumen to diplomacy

Washington: Propelled to the position of the Secretary of State to “undo” years of American foreign policy “blunders and disasters”, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson now faces the biggest challenge of his life to translate his business acumen to international diplomacy.

From making yet another attempt at resolving Israel-Palestine conflict, on which Secretary John Kerry, has spent considerable time; to engaging the world in the quest to defeat Islamic State, building new relationship with Russia, addressing the concerns of countries in the Asia Pacific region against an aggressive and assertive China; and negotiating fresh trade deals with the mandate of bringing jobs back to the country, Tillerson has a tough task ahead of him.

This is for the first time after the Regan Administration that the position of Secretary of State, which has been traditionally held by individuals, including three women (Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton), with foreign policy and national security experience, that Trump has nominated a businessman to be America’s top diplomat. “A key test of Mr Tillerson’s skill set will be how well he can translate his business acumen to international diplomacy,” The Wall Street Journal said. Hours after nominating 64-year-old Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump told a audience in Wisconsin said that his nominee would “undo” years of foreign policy blunders and disasters.

Nominated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Reuters

Nominated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Reuters

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Nominated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Reuters

The Washington Post described this as “unexpected decision, nominating as the country’s top diplomat a multinational corporate chief executive who had previously been on nobodys short list for the job”.

The Wall Street Journal said while Tillerson is unusual for his lack of prior government experience, other business leaders have moved into cabinet posts and other high-ranking government positions. It cited the example of George Shultz who served for seven years as secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan after rising to president of international engineering firm Bechtel. The Washington Post said with his nomination, Tillerson has been “thrust into the long-standing US foreign policy divide separating those who value pragmatism and deal-making from those who attach greater importance to principles, human rights and democracy. “This is a divide that cuts across both parties,” the daily said.

“To fans of Tillerson, his relationship with Putin is a sign of his pragmatism, seeking advantage for his company with a blunt, straightforward style that has won respect abroad. Speaking to students from the Texas Tech business school last year, Tillerson said the reason ‘why Ive been able to gain Vladimir Putin’s trust’ is “because throughout my career I’ve wanted people to view me as an honest person’,” the daily said.

His nomination also raised concerns over his potential conflict of interests, given that billions of dollars in deals for the oil giant can go forward only if the US lifts sanctions against Russia. A report in the The New York Times said Tillerson has earned a friendship award from Russia and voiced skepticism about American sanctions that have stopped some of Exxon Mobil’s biggest projects in the country.

Tillerson’s stake in Russia’s energy industry could create a “very blurry line” between his interests as an oilman and his role as America’s leading diplomat. Several top Republican leaders including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defence Secretary, Robert Gates and former Vice President Dick Cheney welcomed Tillerson’s nomination as the Secretary of State.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 13:03 IST

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