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I wish I could say that, in the process of ringing out the old year, America is ringing out incompetent or willfully ignorant journalism about U.S. trade policy. But a looooong article just published by The Atlantic on U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer makes painfully clear that that point remains as far away as ever.

The article, by Atlantic Senior Editor Matt Peterson, would deserve quick dismissal simply due to one of its major themes: that Lighthizer, President Trump’s chief trade negotiator, takes a hard line on the issue in general, and on China in particular, because he’s long been in the pocket of the domestic steel industry as one of its principal trade lawyers.

This smear is especially rich because a trade policymaker lionized by Peterson as a strong opponent of such conflicts of interest and consequent paragon of policy virtue – another American trade lawyer named Merit Janow – followed her stint as a senior magistrate at the World Trade Organization (WTO) – by accepting a position as “a charter member of the International Advisory Council of China’s sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corporation or CIC.” That is, she jumped onto the payroll of the Chinese government.

But more fundamentally troubling about Peterson’s piece is its – sadly, standard – description of the WTO as an institution that defends and promotes the interests of the entire American economy. How so? By creating a U.S.-style court of law that would impartially mete out commercial justice but that could be used especially effectively by American diplomats highly skilled in working with such systems. One genuine contribution made by Peterson is reporting evidence that Lighthizer himself once apparently bought into this argument.

These views, however, completely ignore two related, alternative interpretations of the WTO’s creation that at deserve consideration at least because one of them is so regularly repeated by journalists and WTO supporters. That interpretation portrays the WTO as an arrangement that aimed primarily at restraining America’s ability to combat predatory foreign trade practices by enmeshing the United States in a simple majoritarian legal system in which all countries – including the vast majority of members who relied heavily on such mercantilism for their growth.

Chad Bown of the (pro-WTO) Peterson Institute for International Economics, one of the American media’s “go to” trade policy commentators made this point abundantly clear when he told The New York Times that the main foreign impetus for establishing the WTO was a determination to find ways of resisting America’s (successful) 1980s unilateral efforts to frustrate their trade predation and pry open their markets to U.S.-made goods.

Former WTO official (and U.S. Member of Congress) James Bacchus made a similar point earlier this year when he criticized Lighthizer (and other American economic nationalists) for their belief that the United States was better off under the pre-WTO world trade system.  Why?  Because it left the (democratically elected) U.S. government “free to go on the offence aggressively in trade by taking unilateral trade actions without any international legal constraint.”

The second, related alternative interpretation of the WTO’s creation focuses on the U.S. multinational corporations that dominated U.S. trade policymaking under Mr. Trump’s immediate predecessors: They strongly favored subjecting unilateral American power in trade diplomacy because their overseas operations – especially those geared toward supplying the American market – benefited immensely, often at the expense of domestic competitors, from many of the predatory foreign practices targeted by many American leaders who don’t shill for these offshoring interests. China’s longstanding beggar-its-neighbors currency policies have been only one example.

The Atlantic is rightly proud of its long history of publishing “iconic thinkers” and “covering ideas that matter.” Many more articles like Peterson’s, and it will also be known for hatchet jobs.