2016 election, Asia, bubbles, China, Council of Economic Advisers, Donald Trump, Federal Reserve, Financial Crisis, foreign policy, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Im-Politic, Iraq war, national security, Paul M. Wolfowitz, Republicans, The Wall Street Journal, Trade
Lately, the Mainstream Media has been full of reports that major and minor American policymakers, especially including many Republicans, are flocking to the Never Trump camp. Too bad they invariably miss a crucial detail: Practically all these opponents of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have failed miserably when they’ve held policy jobs – as these three examples should make embarrassingly clear.
The most recent example was the widely trumpeted news that a former Deputy Secretary of Defense (the Pentagon’s number two job) named Paul M. Wolfowitz has said that “I might have to vote for Hillary Clinton” because he’s “uncomfortable” with Trump’s foreign policy positions. At first glance, this looks like trouble for Trump, since readers of these reports will quickly learn that Wolfowitz has held a number of senior national security-related jobs under Republican presidents (as well as serving as president of the World Bank). The obvious implication – this policy veteran is so alarmed by Trump that he is actively considering turning his back on his own party and supporting a Democratic candidate about which he claims serious misgivings, too.
What takes much more work to uncover is Wolfowitz’ role as a lead architect of former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Now I’m someone who supported that Iraq war, too, and still thinks military action at that time was needed. But I’m in a very small minority. Most of the rest of the country – liberals and conservatives alike – now seem firmly convinced that the second Iraq war was both an unmitigated and unnecessary disaster in its own right, and a blunder that’s largely responsible for the bloody chaos that’s spread throughout the Middle East in recent year.
In other words, Wolfowitz’ record supposedly has been so catastrophic that you’d think Secretary Clinton would be rushing to reject his near-endorsement. (This Reuters report was an admirable exception, and laid out Wolfowitz’ Iraq record.)
The same argument can easily be used in connection with The Wall Street Journal‘s report this week that “no former members of the White House Council of Economic Advisers—spanning eight presidents—openly support Mr. Trump.”
Again, on the surface, this news looks devastating for Trump. After all, so many economists who have risen to the top of their profession oppose him! And they’ve served under so many presidents of both major parties! What thinking person therefore could even consider voting for Trump based on his views of the economy.
How about a thinking person who looks at the U.S. economy in recent decades and reasonably concludes “What a mess!” Bonus points if you recognize that even the last heralded period of prosperity – the 1990s – was underpinned by an interlocking technology and stock market bubble that was so unsustainable that a recession came when it burst by 2001.
Do you know how many of these anti-Trump White House economists warned of this downturn? Or more important, of the much worse 2008 financial crisis that largely resulted from a failure to correct the kinds of economic imbalances that began building in the 1990s? None. You don’t have to object to the very idea of “expertise” to realize that for all their credentials, in the most crucial respects, these folks don’t qualify.
And here’s something even weirder about this Journal piece: The very next day, the paper ran a long article with the following headline and subhead: “Years of Fed Missteps Fueled Disillusion with the Economy and Washington; Once-revered central bank failed to foresee the crisis and has struggled in its aftermath, fostering the rise of populism and distrust of institutions.” As the piece polling the big shot economists noted, the White House Council of Economic Advisers on which they served has often been “a stepping stone to senior policy-making positions. Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen all chaired the council and later led the Federal Reserve.” Further, both Greenspan and Bernanke were both totally blindsided by the financial crisis in their years as central bank head, and deserve major blame for inflating the credit bubble that produced it.
Finally, in the middle of this month, eight (eight!) “foreign and security policy appointees in previous Republican administrations,” and whose work focused on Asia, penned an open letter declaring their own support for Clinton out of fears “that Trump’s combative, ignorant views can (and will, if he’s elected) inflict great damage on our country’s global position and on its economy.”
These former officials state that they “especially fear a Trump presidency’s impact on America’s future in Asia, where China’s influence in the region, now the global economy’s center of gravity, grows apace with the country’s power. Beijing’s worldview offers less liberty and more state and military control — attitudes which, coupled to an assertive chauvinism, directly challenges an open, rules-based order.”
And they praise their former boss, George W. Bush, for “reemphasizing Asia, setting out an American-led path for the region’s future” and President Obama (including his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton) for having “persisted with, and expanded, this important policy pivot.”
Of course, as I’ve repeatedly shown, the Asia approach praised by this octet (and others like them) has directly and greatly strengthened China’s economic and technological prowess, and therefore its military power. Just as important, all of these Asia specialists who are now so concerned with China’s backsliding on every conceivable front were among the folks who assured Americans that greatly expanding U.S. trade and other forms of economic engagement with the PRC would turn it into a “responsible stakeholder” in world affairs.
Their open letter amounts to an admission that their hopes were completely misplaced. And we should trust their judgment now?
Of course, not every former American diplomat or leading economist who supports Clinton or simply opposes Trump is a flaming incompetent. And even if they were, that wouldn’t logically lead to the conclusion that Trump and his backers and advisers have all, or any of, the answers.
But the media really needs to stop equating public service, even at or near the very top, with respect-worthy knowledge or ability. As suggested by that Wall Street Journal investigation of the Fed’s actual record, nothing is likelier to fuel even more public distrust of America’s leading institutions – including the Mainstream Media.