Why on earth does Trump want Rex Tillerson at the State Department?
The president-elect who loves surprising the media may have a really big project in mind. Bigger, even, than huge.
Many media sources are reporting that Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobil, is to be designated secretary of state, following a long process that included the courting of Mitt Romney for the job. There is a large camp of Trump haters who will leap to conclusions as to why this is a malign choice. For some people, oil = bad, and ExxonMobil = Rockefeller, so we automatically have a nefarious conspiracy planned. Others will stop mumbling about generals and start mumbling about “lack of government experience” as if it is a bad thing to bring a fresh set of ideas to an institution renowned for its glacial pace and inward focus.
For the moment, I want to assume for the sake of analysis that President-Elect Trump has a plan and that he is as intelligent and even visionary as his track record of success indicates. I want to draw some inferences from the pattern of behavior I have observed in him. What follows is speculative.
Trump the Dealmaker
First and foremost, I weigh very heavily the multiple times Trump has spoken of the presidency as if making deals is the heart of the executive function. He wants to make better deals for the American people, or so he says.
Donald Trump also has a characteristic that is one of his defining strengths that very few other analysts seem to credit: he is a visionary. In The Art of the Deal, he wrote about seeing the Grand Central Station area in Midtown Manhattan in danger of becoming blighted when the old Commodore Hotel there closed its doors, shabby and shunned. But Trump had a vision of turning around the area, with a redo of the hotel as one critical piece of the puzzle. He describes in the book how he made his vision happen, and it took a lot of hardball negotiations, among other things. But eventually, everything worked as he foresaw, and Grand Central bounced back strongly, while he made a fortune.
Such a deal!
Now, the scope of the presidency allows for much, much bigger visionary possibilities. If we look at the world today, one striking thing is that Islam is the source of much of the organized violent conflict. All of the great powers – the U.S., Russia, China, and Europe – are afflicted with violent Islamic jihad. Within Islam, the Saudis and Gulf potentates have funded radical jihadists, so much so that the entire ummah has been dragged in the direction of scriptural injunctions to violence against the infidels for various infractions.
Up until this historical moment, the great powers have been unable to act in concert to help Islam find its way back to something resembling peaceful coexistence with the infidels of the world, and with modernity itself. The reason is simple: oil. The Islamic nations have so far controlled so much of it that the West had no choice but to accept their funding of a jihad war for global dominance, as scripturally mandated but only intermittently acted upon by Muslims worldwide.
But now fracking and related technologies have lessened the chokehold, especially of Gulf nations, on the world’s energy supply.
Maybe it is time for a new grand bargain. The Gulf potentates stop supporting fundamentalist clergy, publications, and mosques overseas. In return, they be allowed to continue a very profitable industry, one that their own citizens mostly do not directly manage.
Personnel Is Policy
Now let’s think about what kind of people a president might need in order to open discussions such as this. I suppose people who have a long history of dealings with the key players, and who are trusted both for their own discretion and for having the president’s ear.
People like Terry Branstad and Rex Tillerson, who not only knows the Russians, but has been dealing all over the Arab world and Europe.
The nature of a new grand bargain among the civilizations of the world, in which Islam agrees to stop trying to force the rest of the world to adopt Islam, is such that it has to be unveiled very gradually and employ delicate threats-that-aren’t-explicit, discussing, say, alternative scenarios for world energy supply (who better than Secretary of State Tillerson for this?) that might affect the budgets of various kings and emirs.
I honestly believe that Donald Trump:
1. thinks original thoughts,
2. is not bound by conventional wisdom,
3. thinks very big and very long-term, and
4. is so rich that the only important goal left for him is to make his mark on history as the dealmaker who saved his homeland.
If these are reasonable assumptions, it is at least thinkable that disarming the “clash of civilizations” that Samuel Huntington described as the central conflict of our age may be what Donald Trump has in mind for his legacy.