Rex Tillerson

Tillerson Confirms He is the Most Likely Nominee to Fail

If successful, Rex Tillerson would be the first United States Secretary of State with no government or foreign policy experience. That, however, may be the lowest of the hurdles he has to clear. More troubling is his history of working actively against U.S. foreign policy as head of Exxon Mobile and his close ties to Vladimir Putin.

Not only was Tillerson involved with Russia as CEO of Exxon Mobile, but he has had a personal relationship with Putin. Tillerson is the only American to receive the Order of Friendship from Russia. It is the highest honor Putin can give a foreigner, other than President of the United States. When Tillerson received his, it was awarded to him at Putin’s home, while the two drank champagne. This may not have been a significant factor under normal circumstances, but even Rubio and McCain have said do not see his friendship with Putin as an asset for a Secretary of State.

More serious is Tillerson’s conflict of interests regard Russia through his business dealings.  Tillerson and Exxon Mobile reached a $500 billion oil deal with Russia in 2011. That deal is currently blocked by U.S. sanctions. If the sanctions were lifted, Tillerson, Exxon and Putin stand to gain substantial financial benefit.

As a nominee for the position of  Secretary of State, Tillerson’s disregard for U.S. foreign policy is the most disturbing. He has a history as CEO of Exxon Mobile of putting profit before country. On numerous occasions, Exxon Mobile worked to circumvent U.S. foreign policy and interests, and violate sanctions.

In 2011, Exxon Mobile signed an oil deal with the Kurdish region of northern Iraq in 2011, brushing aside opposition from Iraq’s central government and the Obama administration. In Chad, they agreed to pay the African nation more than $500 million in an oil deal. The deal allowed the Chad government opt out of a deal with UN and US that guaranteed the oil revenue be spent on education and infrastructure, but not arms. The deal with Tillerson supplied the Chad government with the financial backing they needed, and freed them to go on weapons buying spree. With Tillerson in leadership, Exxon also skirted U.S. Sanctions and did business with Iran.

Senate Nomination Hearings

On the first day of senate hearings to consider his nomination as Secretary of State reinforced Tillerson’s vulnerabilities. At times it was difficult to tell if Tillerson was trying to get nominated as Russia’s Foreign Minister of US Secretary of State. Under questioning from Marco Rubio, Tillerson refused to label Putin a war criminal, even when  Rubio pointed out publicly available information on the bombing of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo in schools and markets. Tillerson again refused to criticize Putin when Rubio described his killing of journalists and political opponents. His insistence he needed classified information to make a determination, prompting Rubio to respond that the information was public and “they are dead.”

When confronted with details on Exxon Mobile lobbying efforts against U.S. sanctions on Russia after their invasion of Ukraine, Tillerson became even more evasive. At first he denied it, “I never lobbied against the sanctions,” he said. “To my knowledge, Exxon Mobil has not lobbied against the sanctions.” At one point chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) had to intervene, telling Tillerson, “I think you called me at the time.” When shown paperwork that proved that was a lie, he tried to suggest that the paperwork did not indicate which side of the issue they were lobbying on. When asked their there was any conceivable scenario where they could have been in support of sanction he had no answer. Tillerson’s efforts to deny Exxon Mobile had lobbied against sanctions were laughable. He had already told an earlier questioner that he believed sanctions were disruptive to US businesses.

Most republicans are in favor of imposing stronger sanctions on Russia, and Trump appears to be in favor of removing the existing sanctions. It was clear that Tillerson was well aware of that, and the need for him to try to avoid openly opposing the sanctions, and even try to rewrite Exxon’s position under his leadership. Once nominated, Tillerson would quickly revert to his previous position and realign with Trump. Since the sanctions were put in place through executive orders, they can be undone with the stroke of a pen by Trump.

Tillerson was evasive and defensive throughout the questioning, on a variety of topics. In response to questions from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tillerson claimed he had never discussed Russia thoroughly with President-elect Donald Trump. He also would not specifically affirm that the Russian cyberwarfare in the election definitely happened. Tillerson also refused to condemn Duterte over his drug war that has killed 6200 Philippines citizens. His response was the same on Saudi Arabia’s civil rights abuses, which he put it down to cultural differences.

At this point, Rubio seems to be the republican most hostile to Tillerson’s confirmation. If joined by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in opposing the confirmation, his nomination would fail on the Senate floor.

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