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Donald Trump

Trump’s picks for top posts leaves rest of the world guessing

US president-elect’s cabinet line-up including the inexperienced Rex Tillerson as secretary of state has deepened uncertainty about America’s policies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 1:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 1:21am

If a vote for Donald Trump was a vote for real change, he has delivered it with controversial cabinet nominations even before his inauguration. Secretary of state was the last to be announced in his top team. A cabinet line-up including bankers, dealmakers and generals with little government experience has already deepened uncertainty about his policies. Secretary of state remained the most anticipated pick at home and abroad. The choice of a global oil chief, Exxon Mobil’s Rex Tillerson, has done nothing to ease world concern over the naming of climate-change sceptic Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency – quite the opposite, given Exxon’s funding of attempts to undermine climate science.

But reaction has focused on Tillerson’s Russian connections, including personally negotiating an oil deal with Vladimir Putin in the past and vocal opposition to American sanctions placed on Russia. Such concern is only to be expected after the CIA concluded that Russian hackers had tried to influence the US presidential election, and given Trump’s expressions of admiration for Putin and his own Russian business interests. Tillerson does bring to the office extensive experience working with foreign leaders. It would be unusual if it did not include close contacts with Russia. He remains entitled to be judged on his performance in office. Politically the nomination invites trouble from anti-Russian hawks among leading Republicans during the Senate confirmation process. That said, if energy and oil go to the heart of Trump’s economic plan to create jobs for Americans and bringing back those that have been lost overseas, his supporters would argue that the choice of the head of a global oil group with Russian connections makes sense. Trump has enlisted former secretaries of state and defence secretaries to endorse his choice.

Trump and US Senate may clash over secretary of state nominee Tillerson’s close ties with Russia

Trump has assembled his top team as if he were running a company, choosing key people with little if any background as a government official, adviser or representative, and inexperienced in the country’s foreign policy philosophy. Count among them, as well as Tillerson, retired generals to run defence and homeland security, and a general to be national security adviser. We know what to expect domestically in core Republican agendas like corporate regulatory and tax reform, and the fears for international cooperation on climate change.

A month before Trump takes office, allies and adversaries alike still ponder the future direction of foreign and defence policy. That may reflect his style but it is unsettling, and should not remain the new normal for the world’s No 1 power.