Oilman Rex Tillerson and Ukraine

“Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was heard, or overheard, to ask at a recent meeting of the Group of Seven foreign ministers. The remark sent the usually astute Anne Applebaum into medium dudgeon.

Writing in the Washington Post, she commented, snidely: “Unlike everyone who has held the job for at least the past century, he has no experience in diplomacy, politics or the military; instead he has spent his life extracting oil and selling it for profit.”

Whoa, Nellie. Extracting oil indeed.

align=”left” Saying Tillerson has spent his life extracting oil without listing his very considerable executive experience is not even like saying Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton spent their lives messing around with girls while omitting to say also that they were U.S. presidents because it’s true that those two did fool around with girls.

Does the description conjure up a vision of a man in overalls digging in the sand? I forget: Do we have it in for people in overalls now? Or people who dig for a living? Or are the overalls meant only to be contrasted with the pinstriped suits diplomats wear—the kind of diplomats who effected the removal of all chemical weapons from Syria and prevented North Korea from getting the bomb?

And what is the problem we are meant to infer from “selling it for a profit”? What should Tillerson have been doing all those years he was at Exxon? Selling oil for a loss?

Saying Tillerson has spent his life extracting oil without listing his very considerable executive experience is not even like saying Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton spent their lives messing around with girls while omitting to say also that they were U.S. presidents because it’s true that those two did fool around with girls. Lots of them, apparently. Whereas there’s no indication in Tillerson’s biography that he himself has ever actually extracted oil. Nor are there any readily available photos of him in overalls.

It is possible, of course, that he was occasionally espied in overalls at the University of Texas at Austin, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1975, but we have no evidence of that. We do know, however, that later that year, at the age of 23, Tillerson joined Exxon as a production engineer.

In subsequent years, Tillerson became (deep breath): general manager of the central production division of Exxon USA; president of Exxon Yemen Inc. and Esso Exploration and Production Khorat Inc. (in Thailand); a vice president of Exxon Ventures (CIS); president of Exxon Neftegas Limited with responsibility for Exxon’s holdings in Russia and the Caspian Sea; executive vice president of ExxonMobil Development Company; president and director of ExxonMobil; and, on January 1, 2006, chairman and chief executive officer of ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil has 83,700 employees and its revenue is $246 billion, making it the world’s seventh-largest company by revenue.

By contrast, the State Department has 69,000 employees and revenue of about $47.4 billion, making it the 192nd largest operation by revenue, just behind FedEx.

Oh, no. Wait a minute. The State Department doesn’t have revenue. The $47.4 billion is the amount it spends. Whew! Anne Applebaum might have accused them of doing something for profit.

Overalls or no overalls, Tillerson’s real skill, of course, is managing. His experience so exceeds the experience of the last two occupants of the office, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, that we (including Applebaum) should assume that he can manage the job at least as well as they did—admittedly, an embarrassingly low bar.

Secretary Tillerson’s remark, “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” was sufficiently provocative to cause the State Department to describe it as a “rhetorical device.”

But Applebaum saw it as a gaffe, prompting her to say that selling (promoting) something intangible, like American values and influence, can’t be achieved using the tactics of selling oil. Are we sure about that?

And just what, actually, is the U.S. taxpayers’ interest in Ukraine? Applebaum’s answer is: the principle of border security. That, she says, is what turned Europe into “a safe and peaceful trading alliance,” which made it rich and, inter alia, made the United States rich as well.

Funny: that sounds like the kind of thing a businessman, even one with less experience than Secretary Tillerson, might understand even better than a seasoned diplomat who had spent a lifetime in think tanks and government. Or a columnist.

It’s a good guess that the gravamen of Applebaum’s complaint is that Tillerson was not as verbally anti-Russian as she would like. But Russia, with its many nuclear weapons, is not Secretary Tillerson’s only problem: he has to deal also with North Korea and Iran—and a shrunken U.S. military that is not currently prepared to fight a three-front war. The U.S. taxpayers’ resources and patience are not unlimited (see: election of Donald Trump), raising, if not answering, the question, Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?

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About Daniel Oliver

Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Email him at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.

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15 responses to “Oilman Rex Tillerson and Ukraine”

  1. I cannot help but point to very revealing quote from this piece:

    “And just what, actually, is the U.S. taxpayers’ interest in Ukraine? Applebaum’s answer is: the principle of border security.”

    Border Security? One cannot help but wonder if the elites imagine that concept peculiar to exclusively non-American borders.

    • Does that mean Applebaum is pro-wall?

      Does she favor eliminating or curtailing the current migration from the middle east to Europe?

      • I think you know exactly what she and her globalist cohorts mean.

  2. Anne Applebaum is dangerously wrong about everything she writes about – Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Rex Tillerson. I cannot remember ever agreeing with her. She completely misunderstands Eastern Europe. Her husband is little better.

    Secretary Tillerson is my favorite cabinet member. A professional, a scientific mind, an engineer, a man who has done great things and led a huge multinational company and yet retains a zest for political life. I admire this man greatly. He embodies many traits I highly idealize.

    I have to admit that much as I like President Trump and Jacksonian populism, I sometimes think I voted for President Trump because I expected him to govern like Rex Tillerson.

    Here’s a great old interview with Tillerson by Charlie Rose from 2013:


    Tillerson would actually make a great President of the United States.

    • Your praise of Tillerson is interesting and works with the gist of the article. But regarding Applebaum, you make an ignorant, categorical, and Golden Rule-violating statement. Here’s a place to begin appreciating her scholarly work, and why conservatives in particular have reason to appreciate it, regardless of certain disagreements they will likely have with her regarding contemporary policy. http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2011/01/028212.php

      • Thank you for the link. I read it and I stand by my view and repeat, Anne Applebaum is dangerously wrong about everything she writes; Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Rex Tillerson.

        I will add that conservatives have very little to learn from her scholarly work. She has a very shallow understanding of Eastern Europe and Russia – past and present. There are numerous far better writers and thinkers on these subjects.

      • I think oil is the currency of the world and Rex Tillerson’s life experience gives him great insight into all the main players on the world stage. The middle east, Russia, South America, he knows them all and what makes them tick

    • It’s shocking Tillerson took such a demotion, frankly. Incompetent buffoons such as Clinton, Kerry, Rice and Powell are the types Applebaum and similar types can manipulate into sacrificing young American lives for questionable reasons. Never again.

  3. This ‘resistance’ theme of “no prior WH or political experience is the death rattle of the Blob of credentialed experts whose credentials make them experts. Their terror is that Team Trump is proving them as superfluous as the miners and factory workers deemed deplorable for wanting the dignity of work without all the PC condescension.

    Applebaum should know that Ukraine’s borders were drawn by Khrushchev in 1954, including the Crimean Oblast, which had never been ‘Ukrainian’. Whatever. Sec Tillerson knows. TeamTrump knows how to read maps.

    POTUS spoke to Merkel on April 24: “… The President also reaffirmed our support for German- and French-led efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Ukraine on the basis of the Minsk agreements.”


    That was smart diplomacy.

    Next up: tomorrow is President Macri of Argentina, who is in Houston, Texas today, seeking investment to develop the Vaca Muerta shale deposit in Patagonia. Roughly the size of Belgium, Vaca Muerta has the second-largest reserve of shale gas in the world. My bet is Macri is happy to have Sec Tillerson, and SecEnergy Perry, on Team Trump.

  4. SoS Rex Tillerson’s comment was true. United States citizens have no interest whatsoever in the Ukraine, and will not allow use of American troops in any shape, fashion or form to uphold interests not their own in that irrelevant country. The days of Applebaum and the like murdering young American troops to serve interests other than their nation’s own are over, and she had better get used to it quickly.

  5. The reality of it is that the situation in the Ukraine is misunderstood. Historically the Ukraine WAS Russia and Kiev was the first great Russian city. The Ukraine has been under Russian influence for centuries.
    To understand the actual situation consider an analogy – If the Chinese sponsored a coup in Toronto, overthrew the elected US-friendly Canadian PM and installed a Coup government that favored China, joined an economic union with China, and invited millions of Chinese troops into their country to nest along the US border, the US government would be completely appropriate in resisting this and would certainly send US troops in to reverse the situation and return Canada to being a US-allied country.
    So what happened in the Ukraine. It was led by an elected pro-Russian PM. The Ukrainian Prime Minister was overthrown by an EU-US sponsored coup and replaced with a leader who wanted to move the Ukraine into an economic alliance with the EU with the eventual intention of joining NATO and putting NATO troops on the Russian border a few hours from Moscow. The Russians, having survived FOUR invasions from Europe in the last two centuries solely because the large depth it took the Western Armies (defense in depth) allowed them to survive, Napoleon, the Kaiser, the White Russians allied with western troops and Hitler, absolutely understandable found the prospect of having NATO armies on their border hours from their capital cities to be unacceptable and used military force to start to push the coup government away from depth penetration of their border.

    As a pro-American my thinking is that had the coup worked it would have been great for the West because it would have eliminated Russia from any possibility of being a significant world power by rendering them defenseless against invasion. But it failed for obvious reasons – the Russians understood that a successful coup rendered them defenseless against invasion, acted to stop it and will not back off just as the US would not back off from a Chinese led coup in Canada.

    The US is just throwing good money after bad using sanctions to punish the Russians for doing something we would have done had the situation been reversed. Worse, we have driven the Russians into the arms of China, stupidly reversing Nixon’s great accomplishment of separating Russia from China. Strategically the US needs Russia as part of a containment alliance to limit Chinese expansion and Russia needs the US and the containment alliance since the obvious place for China to expand into is Siberia. (Chinese expansion to Siberia would be a bad thing for America since it would put Chinese forces close to Alaska and allow Chinese Air bases to control the arctic and north Pacific.

    Time to have adults back in Charge of US foreign policy.

  6. As the article intimates, Annie Applebaum is one of those cloistered types who tell the world it’s going about something wrongly, and then gives eye-rolling advice about how to fix it. Like a book reviewer telling a dentist how to fix a tooth.

  7. Apparently, “Border Security” is, by Applebaum’s thinking, only good for political tricks and play things. It means nothing to them when applied to her own country.

    Tillerson, like most successful big business people, understands the world from a pragmatist’s view. That is to say – Reality. Anne Applebaum, not so much. She works from a much more fantasy view. There is a huge difference between “How the world is” and “How the world should be”. Anne does not understand that concept what-so-ever.