Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson shake hands at a signing ceremony.

Mikhail Klimentyev | AP Photo

  • Font Size
  • A
  • A
  • A
Print Images Print

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is America’s next secretary of state nominee. The 64-year-old Texas native has been a lifetime company man since joining the oil giant, and owns about $218 million in Exxon stock plus a pension plan worth about $69.5 million, The Washington Post reported in April. What remains a mystery to most Americans, however, is who exactly the man is.  

Outside of oil and money, who exactly is President-elect Donald Trump’s presumed pick for secretary of state? Also, is it possible for us to determine his personal ideology and beliefs separate from pure business interests and pursuits?

Here are some key issues that could be cause for concern:

Tillerson and Putin

Foremost, we need to find out whether Tillerson’s coziness with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is merely a business interest, or something more. That is especially true since much of his company’s success has been due to its international partnerships. 

In 2011, Tillerson’s ExxonMobil signed a mega-deal with Russia’s Rosneft, boosting the 75 percent state-owned entity significantly as a result. 

In 2013, Tillerson would be awarded the Order of Friendship reward by Russian President Vladimir Putin — one of the highest honors the Kremlin gives to foreign citizens.

In his 2006 book, "Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power," Columbia University’s Steve Coll stated Tillerson was promoted to CEO specifically because of his close ties to Russia. 

Vladimir Putin has created a fiercely anti-American, and anti-West environment in Moscow. 

As secretary of state, will Tillerson support America’s allies in the face of Russian aggression, or will he instead allow for Putin’s ambitions to crack our Western alliances?

Qatar and Saudi Arabia  

In addition to his close ties with the Kremlin, Tillerson has been enthusiastic about his company’s strong relationships with the Saudi Arabia and Qatar monarchies, two countries which also have heavy-handed political interests in the Middle East.  

Both use tremendous natural-resource wealth to keep their respective governments in power. But the two governments also consistently undermine the human rights of their citizens.  

Both governments also have enormous influence over the Middle East region, and have attempted to use its leverage with the United States when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict and America’s reaction to the intermittent flare-ups in the region. 

As secretary of state, would Tillerson stand up for the human rights of every individual, or will he instead allow for the Gulf oil titans to continue using their natural resources to advance so much of their interests?  


When Russia decided to take over Crimea in their conflict with Ukraine, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Moscow to punish its aggression. Exxon estimated it lost up to $1 billion in revenue as a result of the sanctions, and Tillerson continually lobbied for the removal of the U.S.-Russia barriers. 

Is his opposition to economic sanctions simply because of his subservience to ExxonMobil’s bottom line? Or does Rex Tillerson truly believe that sanctions should not be used as an instrument of foreign policy in Washington? 

Climate Change

Before Tillerson became CEO of the oil-giant in 2006, his company took an unapologetic stance on the need to use fossil fuels as part of energy policy. Since then, ExxonMobil has gone as far as to embrace the imposition of a carbon tax. They now claim climate change is such a risk that the government should interfere in the energy industry and impose a "revenue-neutral" tax on greenhouse emissions. 


All indications at present time imply that Tillerson faces a dogfight of a congressional confirmation process. Republican Senators John McCain, R-Ariz. (F, 32%) and Marco Rubio, R-Fl. (C, 74%) have already publicly expressed their objections with the president-elect’s nominee. 

It is now up to Congress to decide whether Tillerson maintains the fortitude to pursue America's strategic interests while also forwarding a foreign policy that reflects our exceptional, moral nature as a country.

Don't Miss: 

Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for CR. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.