Thursday, December 15, 2016


In the post-World War Two period, we've never had a Secretary of State whose entire career has been spent in the private sector without any prior government or public service.

Unlike his predecessors -- among them generals, a national security adviser, a secretary of the Treasury, a White House Chief of staff, a Senator -- Tillerson's lack of public service doesn't mean he can't do the job; indeed Exxon operates internationally on five continents and 50 countries.

While Tillerson is no Metternich or Kissinger, he knows his way around the world, many of its leaders, and certainly the political and economic oil world in Asia, the Middle East -- and of course, Russia.

Whether Tillerson has the skills and intuitive instinct to be a successful negotiator is an open question. Clearly he has very successfully closed oil leases, contracts and various negotiations in the energy sector all over the world. But dealing with international crises isn't quite the same thing as negotiating leasing arrangements or extraction rights in country A or B, or in the case of 45, real estate deals.

National identity, deep existential fears, historical trauma, and religion often interact in conflicts between nations and efforts to accommodate them in ways that just aren't present in business transactions.

First, success abroad for a Secretary of State and a President too depends on whether the world cooperates and offers up crises that can be defused and agreements that are possible to negotiate.

Second, no secretary of state can succeed unless he or she remains close to the president and the president watches his back in Washington and abroad; there are no successful lone rangers at Foggy Bottom.