The Straits Times says

Trump Cabinet heralds era of change

With the naming of Mr Rex Tillerson for the vital position of Secretary of State, the contours of United States President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet and key posts are fully in view. They include retired generals handed charge of stewarding the Pentagon, National Security and Homeland Security; a climate-change sceptic to run the Environment Protection Agency; and a critic of Obamacare to run Health. The position of Attorney-General has gone to Mr Jeff Sessions, a man who was once blocked from a judgeship because of his alleged racist comments. Counting the Ambassador to the United Nations, three of the notable nominees are women. There is only one African-American at the moment.

Given Mr Trump's unique personality - "It's just weather," he once said about climate change - the Cabinet line-up should not come as a surprise. Despite his campaign promises that he will not cosy up to special interests, and claims that he does not get along with the rich, it is by no means a poor man's club. By some calculations, the combined net worth of this group is US$14 billion (S$20 billion). It also suggests a hard-edged approach to the world where lofty goals of curbing market excesses and reining in the financial sector, the military-industrial sector and Big Pharma (they prefer to be known as healthcare companies) will be given short shrift in the express need to "make America great again" - Mr Trump's campaign pitchline.

Of the appointments, some of which may have difficulty passing Congress, Mr Tillerson's has been the most controversial because, as head of ExxonMobil, he worked closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other controversial world leaders. This has proved a red rag to many, including the respected Senator John McCain, a war hero in a nation where there is no shortage of Russia-sceptics. President Barack Obama's eagerness - and Mr Trump's steadfast unwillingness - to finger Mr Putin for meddling in the recent presidential election, partly reflects this anxiety. For reasons that will probably become clear as his presidency advances, Mr Trump wants Mr Putin onside. For his part, Mr Tillerson cannot be faulted for having cultivated close ties to world leaders in his previous job.

While the appointments do justifiably raise eyebrows, what will bear watching is the element of unpredictability Mr Trump has introduced into America's ties with both allies and adversaries. In addition to criticising Mr Obama's deal with Iran, he has irked China by accepting an unprecedented telephone call from Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, and seemingly endorsed the Philippine president's violent war on drugs. He also has promised to visit Pakistan. This presidency could be the most disruptive in recent memory. That Mr Trump is intent on bringing about change is clear. What matters is the kind of change it will be.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2016, with the headline 'Trump Cabinet heralds era of change'. Print Edition | Subscribe