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Assessing Rex Tillerson: The Case for Cautious Optimism on Trump's State Department Pick

Now that the news is official that President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as Secretary of State, the Washington media is licking its chops over what may prove to be a rocky and bruising confirmation road ahead. Tillerson will likely face a hostile Democratic Party, in addition to skepticism from a number of Republicans.  For instance, here is Sen. Marco Rubio firing a few (measured and appropriate, in my view) shots across the bow of this high-profile nomination:


On Fox News this morning, I said that Senators of both parties should approach Trump's pick with genuinely open minds, but also be prepared to pursue serious-minded lines of inquiry about Tillerson's ties to the Russian government, his potential conflicts of interest, and his qualifications to perform a job of this importance and magnitude:

As I mentioned at the end of that clip, while Tillerson may seem like an out-of-left-field novice to many Americans, he has won the enthusiastic backing of some impressive and credible figures in the center and center-right foreign policy establishment, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has earned bipartisan respect. Indeed, Gates is reportedly the person who first brought Tillerson to the president-elect's attention during a private meeting:

America's would-be top diplomat has also enjoyed favorable reviews from former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- who posted this glowing endorsement on Facebook this morning:


Rex Tillerson is an excellent choice for Secretary of State. He will bring to the post remarkable and broad international experience; a deep understanding of the global economy; and a belief in America's special role in the world. I know Rex as a successful business man and a patriot. He will represent the interests and the values of the United States with resolve and commitment. And he will lead the exceptional men and women of the State Department with respect and dedication. I look forward to supporting Rex through the confirmation process and then welcoming him to the family of Secretaries of State.

Some critics have pointed out that Rice and Gates have some business ties to Tillerson, and these facts are certainly worth noting, but I do not question the integrity, priorities, or patriotism of either of those individuals. At the tail end of today's segment -- the full version of which I'll add as an update when its available -- I mentioned a note I received over the weekend from a friend and longtime Exxon/Mobil veteran who worked under Tillerson. He observed that the oil giant does business in more than 150 countries, and that its CEO consequentially has vast and personal knowledge of key international players and geopolitical dynamics. Assuming that he's under-qualified in this realm could be a mistake. My correspondent also tamped down (valid) worries that Tillerson is too close to Russia, explaining that being on good terms with Putin's government was just good business for Exxon/Mobil, whose interests he was serving and representing at the time -- and doing so quite ably.  If and when Tillerson swears an oath to represent the interests of the United States, his mentality will necessarily shift, even as he applies and exploits the negotiating acumen and personal relationships he's developed over a long and impressive career.  So that's the positive line on Tillerson. There are red flags flying, too, which is why the Senators who cross-examine him during the confirmation process have an duty to ask sober and probing questions. How satisfying Tillerson's answers are to these challenges is up to him.  I'll leave you with Ben Shapiro's decidedly negative take on this nomination.


UPDATE - Full video, via Right Sightings:

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