Domestic, global uncertainly engulfs Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
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Rex Tillerson was an unorthodox figure to be appointed secretary of state. Like United States President Donald Trump, who named Tillerson to lead the State Department, Tillerson does not have any background in public office. Until his nomination, Tillerson had been working for the multinational oil and gas company ExxonMobil for more than 40 years.
The appointment of Tillerson, who at the time of his nomination was chairman and CEO of Exxon, comes at a time when the U.S. faces a number of global challenges, from North Korea’s continued development of their aggressive missile program to the terrorism threat posed by the Islamic State.
Speculation that the country’s leadership in world affairs could shrink under Tillerson is growing, as Trump steers the country toward his “America First” principle and makes deep cuts into the State Department budget.
Trump nominated Tillerson for secretary of state in December, impressed by Tillerson’s experience as a business leader that engaged with world leaders. After joining Exxon as a production engineer in 1975, Tillerson climbed up the company’s corporate hierarchy and became president of Exxon Yemen and other subsidiaries abroad in 1995, ExxonMobil in 2004 and then became CEO in 2006.
“His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for Secretary of State,” Trump said in a statement. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both expressed support for Tillerson at the position, according to Politico.
From the beginning of his confirmation hearing, however, Tillerson’s nomination raised concerns — even among some Republicans. Critics pointed out Tillerson’s close ties with Russia, the country at the center of political controversy after being accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Tillerson was president of Exxon Neftegas in Russia in 1998 and received the Order of Friendship, one of the highest awards given to foreign nationals in Russia, by President Vladimir Putin in 2013. CNN reported that Exxon made oil production investments in Siberia, the Arctic Circle and the Black Sea while Tillerson led the company as CEO.
At one point during the confirmation hearing, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pressed Tillerson on whether he would characterize Putin as “a war criminal,” citing Russia’s effort to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Middle Eastern country’s ongoing civil war. Tillerson refused to do so.
Eventually, Rubio joined the rest of Republicans, along with three Democratic and one Independent senators, voting to approve Tillerson’s nomination. The 56-43 Senate confirmation vote had the most opposing votes for any secretary of state nomination in the last 50 years, according to The New York Times.
Tillerson assumes the role as the Trump administration reconsiders the country’s role in foreign affairs. Trump pledged to gravitate U.S. spending toward domestic affairs while lessening foreign aid. Trump recently unveiled his preliminary fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, which showed an increase in spending on defense, homeland security and veterans affairs.
The State Department budget, meanwhile, saw the second largest reduction of any government agency, after the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s proposed budget shaved off the department and USAID spending to $25.6 billion, a 28 percent reduction compared to the previous fiscal year and eliminated numerous programs including the Global Climate Change Initiative and The Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account.
Tillerson supported the budget reduction, saying the department’s current level of spending is “not sustainable,” according to Reuters.
Tillerson, also sharing Trump’s skeptical view on United Nations effectiveness, has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the U.N. Human Rights Council unless substantial reform takes place, as first reported by ForeignPolicy.com. Trump’s proposed budget also suggests a reduction in the country’s contribution to foreign and humanitarian aid efforts, as well as U.N. programs such as peacekeeping operations, to demand other countries pay their fair share.
Critics warn such drastic measures would backfire and pose an even greater danger to the U.S. Rob Nabors, director of policy and government affairs at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a philanthropy organization, told Politico these proposals “would be devastating to work that is ongoing.”
After taking over the position on Feb. 1, Tillerson has so far visited five countries: Germany, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and China. In his first diplomatic tour to Asia, Tillerson rebuked North Korea’s persistent provocation — including its nuclear program and missile launches — and acknowledged U.S. deterrence engagement with the country has failed.
Tillerson said this during his press conference in Seoul, South Korea last week, adding that the U.S. might take pre-emptive military action, according to The New York Times.
“The policy of strategic patience has ended,” he said.
Published on March 20, 2017 at 8:55 pm