Donald Trump’s anticipated choice of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State already has people riled up. What could a dirty oil man–especially one who has “relations” with the Russians–do for this country’s foreign affairs?
The first thing Donald Trump has doubtless found out is something this blog has said for a long time: you can be a great American or you can be good at foreign affairs, but you can’t be both. We are simply too self-contained and provincial. That’s one reason our foreign policy veers from cave to conquer, with disastrous results following.
But the oil industry provides an interesting exception to this. As I pointed out a long time ago, from the perspective of a participant:
Liberal pseudo-sophisticates may sneer at the idea of “dirty” oil men (those of us in the business, like Barack Obama, do take regular baths in places where the plumbing permits) doing anything but going to Mickey Gilley’s after a day in the oil patch, but the truth is that the oil industry has been one of the most internationalised businesses out there, forwarding globalisation long before upstarts like computer technology related businesses were even in the game. Although most people think of the major oil companies in this effort—and they certainly took an interest in China when opportunity became apparent—another vanguard is the oilfield supply and service business. This includes everything from drill bits to disaster response such as Red Adair to construction services for platforms and refineries.
(The business about Barack Obama and baths comes from Joe Biden’s inept comment about him being a “clean” black guy; I am amazed that he ever became Vice President after that.)
Oil is a very international business. It was made up of people from Third World countries long before the left thought to import them to change the electorate. But oil is also the American left’s chief bête noire because oil brought prosperity, fuelled cars and made suburbia possible, and they’ve hated it ever since for that. (That’s another reason they don’t like Ben Carson as HUD Secretary, but that’s another post…)
That hatred antedates the climate change debate. They have used every environmental misstep the industry has done to attempt to drive it from our shores, as if such problems are better if they’re somewhere else. (The oil industry, to its credit, has made many advances in “cleaning up its act.”)
That puts oil people in a unique position. On the one hand, they’ve been dealing with different nations, cultures and religions (not the least of which is Islam) for many years. On the other hand, they’ve done it “beyond the pale,” i.e., beyond the usual diplomatic circles, and often with people not formally trained in such things. Thus they also have the natural enmity of the diplomatic corps.
That puts those of us who have participated in the industry in a unique spot. That has miffed frequent commenters such as David Lloyd Jones, aware of my international experience, who then don’t understand my conservative politics.
When I went to China in 1981, I was well aware that the élite leftists didn’t like what I did because of what it was, i.e., furnishing equipment to the oil field. I was also aware that the “cold warriors” of the day didn’t like the idea of us doing business with the Communist Chinese. But we went anyway and helped the balance of payments–which badly needed some help–in the bargain.
As for the Russians, it was either them or the neocons.
I hope the Senate sees as much wisdom in this choice as I do. My wish for Tillerson is that he puts the country he’s representing first priority. But first we have to keep the team together in the Senate, and that may not be easy.