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Trump, Tillerson and Putin

Soric Miodrag Kommentarbild App
Miodrag Soric
December 13, 2016

Political newcomer Donald Trump has chosen a fellow political neophyte, Rex Tillerson, to be his secretary of state. Is the Exxon boss the right man for the job? Foreign policy is not only a business, says Miodrag Soric.

Rex Tillerson CEO ExxonMobil
Image: Getty Images/AFP/N. Balout

He's not even on the job yet, and Rex Tillerson is already facing a stiff headwind: The 64-year-old has no government experience; as the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation he cut business deals with autocrats, even allowing them to pin medals on his chest. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that he doesn't want a friend of Putin's in the State Department. Senator John McCain of Arizona, also a Republican, criticized Tillerson's close ties to the Kremlin as well. New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez called the decision "absurd." Others will join the chorus of critics. None of this bodes well for the Senate confirmation hearing that the future secretary of state will face. Majority approval seems anything but certain.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump has chosen him, and thus chosen to pick yet another fight with his own party. Why?

Recommended by former secretaries of state

The two men barely knew one another before the presidential election, if at all. Tillerson, a Texan, is a conservative and a Republican, yet he supported other candidates during the primaries - also financially. Suggestions that Trump should consider him more closely came from outsiders. Former secretaries of state, such as James Baker, Condoleezza Rice and others, were strongly supportive of Tillerson. Those close to Trump say that the chemistry between the president-elect and the CEO of the oil giant was good from the outset.

Miodrag Soric
Miodrag Soric is the DW Washington bureau chiefImage: privat

Both men see foreign policy as a business endeavor. And, to a certain degree it is - especially in the USA. But it is also something more. What about areas in which the USA has nothing to gain financially; for instance, when it comes to defending human rights? Those who are engaged in defending human dignity around the globe generally don't make a lot of friends - especially among dictators. For decades, American secretaries of state have done just that alongside their colleagues in Western Europe. And they have been successful if one considers the growing number of democracies throughout the world.

Will this change with the appointment of Rex Tillerson? Will the exploitation of natural resources and advantages in trade agreements now be more important than human rights? Will America's commitment to NATO, or the protection of international trade routes be thrown overboard because they are too costly? Will America retreat? Will the current world order collapse?

The end of what has characterized the West?

That would indeed be the beginning of the end of the Western character we currently know: Of an order that has not only brought security and prosperity to the transatlantic community, but rather to many countries on every continent; but especially the USA.

It is too soon to start spreading end of the world scenarios, which Europeans have a predilection to indulge in. As America's largest trading partner, Europe must continue to exude confidence. America is only truly a world power when it works in concert with its European allies.

For all of the concerns that Trump's cabinet of generals and billionaires has raised with the Europeans: Even secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson deserves a fair chance.  

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