Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, won confirmation to be secretary of state, becoming the chief US diplomat at a time the Trump administration has opened battles with nations across the world, and within the State Department itself.
Just an hour before the US Senate vote on Tillerson, Mike Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, told reporters that the US is putting Iran “on notice” after Iran test-fired a ballistic missile.
That was just the administration’s latest salvo: Trump’s senior trade adviser, Peter Navarro, on Jan. 31 accused Germany of manipulating the value of the euro to suit its own economy. In his confirmation hearings, Tillerson said the US would deny China access to the islands it had built up in the South China Sea. And on Jan. 27, Trump himself got into a row with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto over who would pay for a wall on the US-Mexican border.
On top of all this, an uprising has broken out within the State Department itself over Trump’s ban on visitors from seven majority Muslim countries. Some 1,000 diplomats and other State Department employees posted around the world signed a letter dissenting from the administration policy. In response, Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, said that any State Department employees who will not enforce the ban should resign.
Hence, Tillerson—who is reported to have been baffled that he was not consulted about the visa ban—now is clear on what had been only conjecture before: much of his job appears likely to be putting out fires set by a chaotic and shoot-from-the-hip White House.
It is why, after Tillerson has spent 41 years in a by-the-book, wholly methodical and conservative oil company, some wonder whether he will long have the patience to serve in an unpredictable and perhaps dangerous political position.