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Trump’s pick of Tillerson evokes Cheney precedent

Trump’s pick  of Tillerson evokes Cheney precedent

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s pick of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state on Tuesday mirrors the case of Dick Cheney, another oil industry executive tapped for a top Republican administration post.

When former president George W Bush selected Cheney as his choice for running mate in 2000, the future vice president had spent five years as chairman and CEO of Halliburton, the world’s second-largest oilfield services and infrastructure company.

Cheney’s role raised serious questions about conflicts of interest after the US-led invasion of Iraq, where the government granted Halliburton contracts worth billions of dollars, and there are fears Tillerson’s four decades at ExxonMobil could cast a long shadow over his actions as top diplomat.

Critics of Tillerson — whose nomination requires the Senate approval — argue he may face trouble disassociating from his role as chief executive of the world’s largest publicly traded oil company with significant business around the world, not least in Russia, which many in Washington see as an adversary.

The 64-year-old CEO had been scheduled to retire from ExxonMobil — where he spent his entire career — next March with a large portfolio of company stock and a hefty pension.

Unlike Tillerson, Cheney had previously served as US secretary of defence from 1989 to 1993, a period that included the first Gulf war in 1991.

Bush first picked Cheney to head his search for a running mate in early 2000, and Cheney’s recommendation of himself as best suited for the role raised criticism because he had stayed on as Halliburton chief during the process.

After his nomination, Cheney announced that he would sell his stock options from Halliburton to avoid a conflict of interest. He sold the last of them in 2005 and used the profit to create an institute for cardiovascular disease, from which he personally suffered.

Cheney, Halliburton collusion?

But the launch of the war in Iraq in 2003 revived accusations of collusion between Cheney and Halliburton.

John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate running against the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004, said at the time that “Dick Cheney’s old company Halliburton has profited from the mess in Iraq at the expense of American troops and taxpayers”.

“While Halliburton has been engaging in massive overcharging and wasteful practices under this no-bid contract, Dick Cheney has continued to receive compensation from his former company.”

A Halliburton subsidiary, the construction and services company KBR, received large Pentagon contracts to provide supplies to the military operations in Iraq, including a no-bid contract to rebuild the country’s oil infrastructure.

KBR was the main supplier to the US Army, with more than $16 billion in government contracts between 2004 and 2006 in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report published in 2007 by The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based non-profit investigative news organisation.

The number-two supplier, DynCorp International, had only $1.8bn in contracts during the same period, it said.

Halliburton sold KBR in 2007, after which the former subsidiary was accused of overcharging for fuel supplied to American troops deployed in Iraq, and of providing them unclean drinking water. Several lawsuits were filed against KBR in the United States.

Cheney steadfastly refused opposition Democrats’ demands to provide a report about his communications with Halliburton while he was vice president.

Iraq wasn’t the only controversy for Halliburton.

In 2010, Nigeria abandoned bribery claims against the company over the construction of a natural liquefied gas plant while Cheney was still CEO, after Halliburton agreed to pay a settlement of $35 million.

Cheney’s reaction to Trump’s pick of Tillerson on Tuesday will do nothing to mollify critics.

The former vice president hailed the nomination, calling Tillerson a personal friend and saying he would do a “super job” heading the State Department.—AFP

Published in Dawn December 15th, 2016

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