As every American should, I respect former U.S. Pacific military commander and intelligence chief Dennis C. Blair for his service to the nation. I respect him a lot less for shilling for a Japanese influence-peddling group on behalf of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. As for the New York Times op-ed page staff that has just published an article from the retired admiral on the deal, I wonder what they were thinking in publishing a piece that literally was fact- and logic-free.
According to Blair, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would bring broad economic benefits for a vast majority of citizens in the 12 countries that would be signatories to the deal….” Was this claim fact-checked? It’s hard to see how. In fact, Washington’s record of negotiating trade agreements with highly protectionist manufacturing countries like prospective TPP signatories Japan, Vietnam, and Malaysia clearly shows that all the benefits flow to multinational company offshoring interests and economies outside the United States. Most of America simply gets fewer jobs and production, lower wages, and higher trade deficits and debts.
Like the Obama administration, Blair promises that the TPP would establish “a rules-based regional economic system based on free-market principles.” His reasoning? But he evidently wasn’t asked to explain by Times editors why this will happen, given that many of the main TPP governments – notably the Asians – actively reject Western views of the rule of law at home and pursue economic strategies that use free-market principles at best selectively and strategically. In fact, it seems that neither Blair nor the Times staff is aware that one of the TPP countries – Vietnam – is a Communist dictatorship. Another – Brunei – thinks rule of law means sharia law.
Even more curious is Blair’s belief that “Many of the areas in which weak World Trade Organization rules have failed to level the playing field for foreign companies in China would be strengthened under the T.P.P., making China a better place to do business.” Why on earth would this aim be achieved? Those WTO rules scorned by Blair were hailed a decade-and-a-half ago as virtual guarantees of broad and deep Chinese reform – by the same types of officials and offshoring lobby mainstays pushing for the TPP. Why should anyone take them seriously today? Especially since many of countries that Blair criticizes as pursuing “mercantilist, government-directed economic policies” will be part of TPP. Why will they suddenly be converted to laissez faire?
Weirdest of all, despite Blair’s military background, he seems oblivious to the realities of economic power. He warns that failure to conclude TPP – and conclude it quickly – would enable those Asian mercantilists to “set the terms of trade in the Asia-Pacific region,” which he calls “the world’s center of economic power.” When Asian countries can grow mainly by selling to their own populations, Blair’s fears might be justified. But still-low incomes throughout the area reveal how far off that day is. Until it arrives, America retains more than ample leverage to shape trans-pacific trade flows and especially the terms of access to its own crucial market.
An old saying holds that war is too important to be left to the generals (and presumably admirals). I’ll stay agnostic on that issue for now. But if Blair’s TPP op-ed is any indication, their grasp of trade policy certainly is shaky.