January 10, 2017

Can Tillerson still be Secretary of State after Trading with the Enemy?

After the American Century

The Newsletter 538 noted the following about an article that appeared in USA Today.

"Between 2003 and 2005, the oil and gas company Infineum reported $53.2 million in sales to Iran. During that time, Exxon Mobil had a 50 percent stake in Infineum. Also during that time, the U.S. had sanctions on Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Rex Tillerson, a top Exxon executive at the time of the deal and later its CEO, is now President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to run the State Department."

So the nominee for Secretary of State broke the US sanction on Iran during George Bush's presidency. (Exxon Mobile also did business with Sudan through the same proxy company, but it was a much smaller transaction.) Iran was then well-known to sponsor terrorist and dissident groups in various parts of the Middle East, hence the sanctions, so there it is not possible for Tillerson to claim he didn't know. 

After this revelation, here are the problems with making Rex Tillerson Secretary of State:

1. He has broken the law in order to make a profit. The claim made in defense is that Infineum is based in Europe, and that no Americans were employed in making these transactions. To avoid violating US law, under this Secretary of State it would seem, it is just fine so long as you do it through a proxy. 
2. He has taken sides in the Middle East, trading with Iran during the time of sanctions.
3. He will not be trusted by an important American ally, Israel, which fears the Iranian atomic program.
4. He will not be trusted by Saudi Arabia, a second important ally, who is constantly in conflict with Iran over a great many issues.
5. He will be regarded with suspicion by a third ally, Turkey.
6. The worst suspicions of US critics, that its foreign policy is concerned not with principles but profits, specfically oil profits, will be confirmed.

That is rather a large amount of baggage to be carrying into confirmation hearings. Can his fellow Republicans stomach all that?

It seems the Republicans cannot stay away from making deals with the Iranians. That was their problem during the Reagan years, too. The original Irangate was also about trading with the enemy.  Is that the credential needed to be Trump's Secretary of State?