Tillerson

Rich Galen
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Posted: Oct 12, 2017 9:50 AM
Tillerson

Let's put aside, for the purposes of this discussion, whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Donald Trump a "moron," or whether said Donald Trump would win the IQ test to which Trump challenged Tillerson.

Rex Tillerson was the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil from 2006 - 2016 when he resigned to become Secretary of State. According to Wikipedia, XOM (its stock ticker symbol): 

- Is the world's seventh-largest company by revenue.

- Is the seventh largest publicly traded company by market capitalization, ranked ninth globally in the Forbes Global 2000 list in 2016.

- And was the second most profitable company in the Fortune 500 in 2014 (behind Apple).

Not only that, but Exxon Mobil, according to its own web page, "operates facilities or markets products in most of the world's countries and explores for oil and natural gas on six continents" and employs 83,700 people.

Rex Tillerson was a very successful oil-and-gas man and a very successful executive of a very large company.

What he is not, however, is a very successful Secretary of State.

The NY Times' Tom Friedman said of Tillerson on MSNBC's "Morning Joe": "I think he's the weakest secretary of state we've had in the post-war area. He's working for the worst foreign policy president in the post-war era, and in fairness to both of them, at the worst time to conduct foreign policy in the post-war era."

It is easy to blame Tillerson's lack of success on the quirks and vagaries of his boss, Donald Trump. If that doesn't suit, you can throw in the adolescent approach to foreign affairs brought to the White House by First-Son-In-Law, Jared Kushner.

Those are true, but it is also true that Rex Tillerson's job is promoting America's diplomatic goals and objectives. One of the definitions of diplomacy is: "The art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way."

Since he started, Tillerson has quite literally walled himself off from the foreign service staff at the State Department. He does not deal with his people in a "sensitive and effective way."

That is a problem even though, according to a May article in The Hill newspaper, "There are roughly 200 positions at the State Department that require Senate confirmation, including key ambassadorships, the vast majority of which remain unfilled."

Maybe Tillerson doesn't need all those government employees. He knows there are XOM people in every corner of the world. Many probably have better contacts than the political and/or economic attachés at the U.S. Embassies.

And every one of them will take a call from Rex Tillerson. And tell him what they believe is going on in their area of responsibility.

On his first trip overseas, Tillerson decided he would take no press with him. I think, he believed that other Secretaries (Hillary Clinton and John Kerry come to mind) wanted their own press corps to proclaim their brilliance and diplomatic dexterity.

He ended up taking one reporter, but he didn't understand that Secretaries of State, who normally are the on-the-ground face of American foreign policy, need to let the home folks know how that policy is being received.

On paper, Tillerson looked like a natural and a great fit for Trump who likes and respects hyper-successful people. At the time of his tenure at XOM, according to Forbes, his net worth was about $300 million.

That doesn't put him among the top three in Trump's Cabinet. Wilber Ross (Commerce) clocks in at $2.5 billion, Betsy DeVos (Education) at $1 billion, and the adorable Stephen Mnuchin (Treasury) $385 million are all wealthier than Tillerson.

With all that, Tillerson is generally seen as one of the Three Grownups who keeps Trump from pressing all the buttons to see which one blows up North Korea.

Friedman, concluding that earlier statement, said, "God, I hope he doesn't leave."

Me, too.