Trump Delivers on Promise to Mend Ties
By Finian Cunningham
December 15, 2016
Trump’s pick of oil industry chief Rex
Tillerson as the next Secretary of State is an
encouraging sign that the president-elect is indeed
following through on campaign promises to mend bilateral
ties with Russia.
But the war hawks within the Republican
and Democrat parties could yet throw a spanner in the
works over the nomination.
Immediately, the news of
Tillerson’s nomination drew insinuations that the
outcome was «more evidence» that Russia had interfered
in the US election to sway the result for Trump over
Democrat rival Hillary Clinton.
Sixty-four-old Rex Tillerson has been
head of oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil for the
past 10 years. The US-based multinational firm is rated
as the biggest oil company in the world. Under its
Texas-born CEO, Exxon has developed extensive industrial
partnerships with Russia’s oil sector. In 2011, the
company signed a mammoth deal worth
$500 billion with Russia’s number-one oil firm Rosneft
for drilling projects in the Arctic. It has other
exploration contracts in Russia’s Siberia and Black Sea.
That partnership was crimped in 2014 when
the US government slapped economic and diplomatic
sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Tillerson
is on record expressing his opposition to
the sanctions, although Exxon has so far complied with
the legal order to suspend ties with Russia. It can be
expected that as Secretary of State – the US’s top
diplomatic position – Tillerson will rescind those
sanctions and seek to normalize relations between
Washington and Moscow. His stock-holding interests with
Exxon will no doubt stir controversy as a «conflict of
interest» in his running of US foreign policy.
A normalizing of US-Russia relations
under Tillerson would be fully consonant with Donald
Trump’s own stated position of wanting to improve
bilateral ties, which over the past two years have
deteriorated abysmally to the point of risking an
all-out war between the two nuclear powers.
Trump unabashedly referred to Tillerson’s
extensive links with Russian business and government as
an endorsement for his selection as Secretary of State.
«I have chosen one of the truly great
business leaders of the world, Rex Tillerson, Chairman
and CEO of ExxonMobil, to be Secretary of
State», said Trump.
Of significance, the president-elect
added: «[Mr Tillerson] will be a forceful and clear-eyed
advocate for America’s vital national interests, and
help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and
actions that have weakened America’s security and
standing in the world».
Like billionaire property magnate Trump,
Tillerson has no official political experience. The pair
reportedly only became acquainted since Trump’s shock
election victory on November 8. Tillerson was
recommended to Trump by the former Defense Secretary
Robert Gates, according
to the Washington Post. Over the course of several
recent meetings the two men hit it off, perhaps
recognizing similar traits in each other’s personality
for putting pragmatic business sense before ideological
Other names in the mix for possible
Secretary of State nomination were former Republican
candidate Mitt Romney and ex-CIA chief General David
Petraeus. Both would have taken a hostile policy towards
Russia. So, the fact that Tillerson was in the end
selected by Trump shows that he is determined to follow
through on his aspiration to better relations with
It was a bold decision too. In the days
before the nomination was made official, US political
figures and media pundits were clamoring with concern
about Tillerson’s apparent cordial attitude towards
Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the Russian state.
American media have been flagging past
photos of Tillerson smiling in friendly greetings with
Putin. Much is being made of the Exxon boss having been awarded an
Order of Friendship by the Russian president in 2013,
two years after the oil company signed the mega deal
with Rosneft for Arctic drilling. It was also reported
that Tillerson attended an international business summit
earlier this year in Russia – in defiance of US
government advice not to attend due to its sanctions
policy towards Moscow.
Trump’s announcement also comes amid
heightened claims that Russian-backed hackers intervened
in the US presidential elections to sway his victory
over Clinton. Last week, the Washington Post and New
York Times ran sensational reports that
the CIA had concluded that Russian hackers helped Trump
win the presidency by spreading damaging information on
Clinton’s involvement in corruption and other scandals.
Earlier this week, on the back of those claims, the
Obama White House and US Congress have ordered a
formal investigation to ascertain the CIA allegations of
Trump’s selection of Tillerson has
predictably been invoked as further «evidence» that the
Kremlin hacked into the US electoral process in order to
put him in the White House.
Largely absent from the brouhaha is the
fact that there is no evidence to prove Russia did
indeed carry out the hacking of Clinton’s emails or that
it did so to influence the election. Russia has
repeatedly rejected the claims.
For Trump’s part, he has dismissed the
latest anonymous and unverified CIA allegations as
«ridiculous». Pointedly, the president-elect has also
disclosed that he is rebuffing the intelligence agency’s
customary «daily briefings», implying that that they are
a waste of his time. That, in turn, suggests that the
CIA will dredge up more dirty tricks to discredit Trump
as a «Russian stooge». And large sections of the US
media which openly favored Clinton will be only too
willing to oblige the smearing of Trump.
The nomination of Tillerson to head the
State Department is certainly an unusual choice. The
multi-millionaire oil chief, who will step down from his
Exxon position if officially appointed, does not have
the customary Washington political experience. His
would-be replacement, John Kerry, was previously a
long-time Senator and a consummate political insider.
Many critics would say that background was why Kerry was
so ineffectual as a diplomat and such a willing tool for
Washington’s ideological agenda to antagonize Russia.
But Tillerson’s professional and personal
ties with Russia make him a qualified choice to restore
balanced relations between Washington and Moscow. It
follows that if such an improvement were to prevail then
European governments would follow suit in normalizing
their relations too.
However, the Exxon CEO is far from a
shoo-in for the top diplomatic post. His nomination will
have to be cleared by the US Senate. Already, there has
been strident objections to
Tillerson’s selection from members of the powerful
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations precisely because
of his alleged friendly connections with Russia.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the
committee, deprecated Tillerson’s selection by saying,
«being a friend of Vladimir Putin is not an attribute».
It can be anticipated that the Washington
establishment of Republicans and Democrats, who tend to
harbor Russophobia and Cold War animosity, will
capitalize on CIA claims of Russian «electoral
subversion» to whip up opposition to Trump’s pick of
And it’s not just Tillerson who might end
up being thwarted. Donald Trump does not become the 45th
president until the Electoral College officially passes
all its votes on December 19. He would then be
inaugurated later in January.
The all-decisive Electoral College is
coming under increasing pressure to reverse its earlier
votes favoring Trump for the presidency. The
intervention by the CIA making sensational claims about
Russian interference to help Trump into the White House
is reportedly giving
some members of the Electoral College misgivings about
their erstwhile vote for the Republican candidate.
Such is the level of reality-disconnect
in US politics, the selection of Rex Tillerson may
actually fuel paranoia that Trump is the alleged
Manchurian Candidate that the Clinton campaign and its
establishment backers tried to make so much of during
Nevertheless, whether Trump’s
presidential ambitions eventually become unstuck or not,
one can at least give him credit for now that he is
sticking to his promise of restoring relations with
Russia. Rex Tillerson is the proof of that.
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