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Our Entry Level Secretary Of State

by David D. Eisenhower (Principles: Military Restraint, Bipartisanship) - 1 year ago

Rex Tillerson certainly has many of the skills needed to be an effective diplomat. He even has experience in a "related field." Is that enough for him to be a "great" Secretary of State?

Much of the 2016 campaign was about whether or not political experience mattered. This was a key question not only because Donald Trump had no political experience but because he promised that when choosing his advisors, political experience would not even be considered. In fact, it might even be a negative.

With Donald Trump’s Cabinet now assembled, I think it’s fair to say that he has honored this campaign promise. However, one aspect which was perhaps overlooked, was that Trump’s distain for politicians also extended to diplomats. It’s not just politicians, who negotiate international agreements like the TPP, Paris Climate, and Iran nuclear deals, it’s also diplomats. Trump proposed, and enough Americans agreed, that it would be far better if rather than career civil servants, we just had “great people” negotiate international agreements.   

No cabinet pick better exemplifies Trump’s dim view of the political and diplomatic “arts” than Rex Tillerson, our future Secretary of State. Tillerson may have no political or diplomatic experience, but as long-time CEO of Exxon, one of the 5 largest company in the world, he has negotiated business deals with the key players in every corner of the globe. As such he clearly meets Trump’s criteria for being a “great person.”    

The question for discussion therefore, is whether the skills and experience of an extremely successful businessman can translate seamlessly into his effectively promoting the interests of America. To Donald Trump, it is a “no-brainer.” A deal is a deal. Whether you’re talking about oil drilling rights or nuclear proliferation, the skills are the same.

I respectfully disagree with our President-elect. When Rex Tillerson sat across the table from his counterpart in Rosneft, Russia’s state-run oil company, they discussed finding ways for both Rosneft and Exxon to make more money. I’m sure the deal had many complex details but it was, essentially, a purely bi-lateral deal in which they decided how to split the expenses, the risks, and the profits.

Compare that to, for example the Iran nuclear deal. That deal, while it involved money, was about something totally different; preventing Iran from building a nuclear arsenal. The negotiations involved not only the 6 countries directly participating but had a profound impact on such diverse countries as Saudi Arabia, Israel and North Korea. Finally, the potential impact on the supply and price of oil, the world’s most important commodity, had to be considered.

Trump has, and will, say that the Iran deal is proof that diplomats should not be trusted. But that is the view of a partisan – it is not yet the view of history. Rex Tillerson, despite all his experience negotiating business deals, has never been involved on any level with a multi-layered international agreement like Iran, TPP, or the Paris Climate Agreement. My concern is that this lack of experience will create unintended adverse side effects as well as misunderstandings that could work against American interests.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s set aside the noise about Tillerson’s friendship with Vladimir Putin and any potential conflicts of interest he may have. I trust John McCain to keep a close watch on this and expose any evidence that Tillerson putting Exxon ahead of America

The question is whether you share my concerns, have other concerns, or believe Trump is right that political and diplomatic experience is unimportant for a Secretary of State. Even more important are your reasons for reaching your conclusion. 

Comments and Responses (2)

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By  Facebook Commenter - 1 year ago
(In response to the question of whether business experience alone sufficient for a Secretary of State: ) "Business experience" is such a broad and vague term that the question might be answered with an equally vague "yes and no". Rex Tillerson is in a class virtually of his own and with a temperament and insight to match. To categorize him simply as a businessman is a great disservice. Hopefully the confirmation committee performs their due diligence sufficiently to realize how perfectly suited and experienced he is for that position. We would be very fortunate to have him serve. Is
Discussion Leader's Response : This comment is relevant to the discussion. (Commenter's rating is increased.)
Discussion Leader's Explanation : Perhaps similar questions were asked before (my hero) Dwight Eisenhower became president. We hadn't had a general as President in nearly 100 years and the last one, U.S. Grant, had been a total failure. In temperament and insight, Eisenhower was in a class by himself and it was a great disservice to classify him simply as a military man. I still feel that Eisenhower's experience in handling all of the complex political aspects both during and after WWII prepared him better for the Presidency than Tillerson's experience making bi-lateral deals at Exxon prepares him for the Secretary of State role. However, I do see your point (and hope you're right) that the qualities of the man can be more important than the preparatory experience.
General Comments
By  Facebook Commenter - 1 year ago
Politicians have PROVEN over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n over n they can't do the job! So , to say this guy can't makes you biased in your opinion.
Discussion Leader's Response : This comment is interesting but not directly relevant. (It might be a good topic for a new discussion)
Discussion Leader's Explanation : You need to prove your point that politicians can't do the job. The United States is the most powerful country in world history and has been led by politicians for the past 228 years ( and if you don't think Washington or Eisenhower were politicians, read their biographies. ) Lincoln was a consummate politician. We won the cold war because politicians made the right decisions at the right times. Yes - politicians have made mistakes but there is zero proof that people with no political experience would do better. I never said Tillerson can't do the job - only that I questioned his credentials. I hope his performance provides you with evidence that political experience is not required.