(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Evidence that Business Views on the Trump Tariffs Aren’t What You Think

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You don’t have to have much faith in public opinion results to recognize the following findings as absolute stunners when it comes to U.S. trade policy and President Trump’s efforts at fundamental overhaul: Although numerous surveys recently purport to show that Mr. Trump’s tariff-heavy approach is unpopular overall (see here and here for recent examples), two other polls have just found that the nation’s business community generally approves.

The first comes from UBS, the Swiss-owned investment bank that of course does a great deal of business in the United States. As Axios reported in early August, UBS found that strong majorities of the 300 business owners from twenty industries they questioned (each one was in charge of a company with at least $250,000 in annual revenue) favored tariffs on all of the countries targeted by the Trump administration.

The numbers broke down as follows: China, 71 percent; Mexico; 66 percent; Europe, 64 percent; and Canada, 60 percent.

UBS also asked 501 high net worth investors their tariff views, and most favored tariffs on China – but this share of the sample was smaller (59 percent). And even though trade curbs on Mexico, Canada, and Europe all generated minority support, the levels were impressive nonetheless (45 percent, 33 percent, and 43 percent, respectively).

On Wednesday, Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance reported that that company’s polling on the Trump tariffs produced similar results. The Yahoo Finance findings came from a group of 1,098 “business operators.” Asked to “describe the effect of President Trump’s trade policy” on their company, 49 percent of respondents expressed the “positive” view and 36 percent expected negative consequences.

And here’s the lowdown on the makeup of the Yahoo Finance sample:

Nearly three-quarters…described themselves as business owners, with 17% saying they’re executives and 4% identifying themselves as board members.

About 38% of respondents described their companies as small businesses earning less than $1 million in annual revenue. Thirteen percent of their companies earn more than $100 million. Respondents covered every major industry sector, with manufacturing accounting for 19% of responses, followed by retail or wholesale trade (17%), finance (12%), and technology (11%).”

Also worthy of attention is a poll released yesterday by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), a steel industry-centered group that favors the Trump tariffs. Its survey of 1,200 likely voters found Mr . Trump’s China tariffs winning public support by a 63 percent to 29 percent margin. No data was provided for U.S. policies toward other major economies, but backing for a stricter global approach was strongly indicated by the following description of respondents’ views:

Three-quarters (75%) agree that ‘free trade is a goal, but in the real world we cannot get there unless we are also willing to use tough measures at the same time,’ including 50% who feel that way strongly. In comparison, only a third (32%) strongly agrees that ‘Free trade agreements have always benefited the U.S. and we should sign more of them.’”

This AAM poll so far does seem to be an outlier, although its questions also look more detailed and pointed than those in surveys reporting more favorable public views of trade and more public opposition to the Trump tariffs. But none of the major polls predicted a Trump electoral college victory in the 2016 presidential elections. It’s entirely possible that their readings on current trade issues are just as off base.

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Making News: Podcast of National Radio Interview on U.S.-China Trade Wars Now On-Line!

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I’m pleased to announce that the podcast is now on-line of my interview last night on John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show. Click here for a timely update on the current U.S.-China trade conflict – which crossed into trade war territory when President Trump announced tariffs on $200 billion worth of imports from the People’s Republic. Co-host Gordon G. Chang’s views are featured, too.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

 

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Will Trump Fall for an Old Chinese Trade Trick?

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Three cheers for Reuters! In a September 7 report that I somehow missed, the news agency provided a valuable reminder about a protectionist trick that China has trotted out once again to offset the impact of new U.S. tariffs. In fact, this ploy can be so important that failing to address it could negate many of the benefits created either by the American levies or by any potential agreement by Beijing to curb or eliminate its predatory economic practices. Worse, this stratagem has created loopholes capable of undermining the impact of other recent Trump trade initiatives, like the effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The trick in question entails China increasing the value-added tax (VAT) rebates it provides for exports of literally hundreds of products. VATs, of course, are imposed by countries on any goods and services consumed within their borders (including imports), but rebates (refunds) are typically provided to companies for domestically produced goods that are exported. As a result, VATs act as a tariffs and as export subsidies.

China has long used this system for promoting exports, and according to Reuters has just decided to tweak the policy in order to offset the impact of new and impending American tariffs by increasing the rebates that will be received by exporters of 397 categories of goods. As a result, Chinese entities relying on sales of these products to the United States will be relieved of at least some of the new costs these products will ultimately carry. And the export flows could survive relatively intact.

At this point, you might be wondering why the World Trade Organization (WTO) hasn’t been used to combat this subterfuge. Two related reasons: First, nearly all its member states (along with those of its predecessor organization, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) use it. And second, no doubt as a result, the contemporary global trading regime has always viewed VATs as purely domestic taxes that lie beyond its purview.

China, incidentally, has successfully employed VATs to keep prospering at other economies’ expense and escape any global opprobrium in one major instance two decades ago. When much of East Asia fell into financial crisis, and export-reliant economies throughout the region were devaluing their currencies in a frantic effort to stay afloat, fears emerged that financially healthier but just as export-dependent China would follow suit to preserve its global market share. After all, Beijing’s dramatic weakening of its yuan several years earlier played a big role in triggering the crisis to begin with.

In 1997 and 1998, however, the peak crisis years, China held the line – and actually received copious praise for good global citizenship. What almost no one noticed was that the Chinese maintained their newly grabbed export competitiveness by boosting VAT rebates.

Today, this move could not only benefit Chinese trade flows, but enable Beijing to realize many of the gains of further currency devaluation without incurring any of the costs – e.g., triggering major new capital flight; increasing the costs of imported inputs still needed by the Chinese manufacturing base to turn out finished goods; and risking a defeat in the global propaganda wars.

Failure to deal adequately with VATs moreover, could endanger President Trump’s objective of improving NAFTA from a U.S. standpoint. For both Mexico and Canada use this system, too, and there’s no public record of American negotiators even raising the subject.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, goes an old adage. It will apply in spades to the Trump administration if it allows its needed efforts to overhaul U.S. trade policy to be weakened by a continued failure to face up to foreign VATs.

Making News: Back on National Radio Tonight Talking U.S.-China Trade War

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I’m pleased to announce my second scheduled turn this week on John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show.  The segment, slated to start tonight at 9:45 PM EST, will look at the latest developments in the U.S.-China trade conflict that has definitely reached war-like scale this week.

To listen live on-line to what’s sure to be a timely update from John, co-host Gordon G. Chang, and me, click on this link.  If you can’t tune in, as usual, I’ll post a link to the podcast as soon as one’s available.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

 

Im-Politic: Why the Kavanaugh Solution – at This Point – Needs to be Political

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If you’re not completely depressed by the Brett Kavanaugh mess, you must be a hopeless partisan – either Democratic, because you’re exhilirated by the improved odds of derailing a Supreme Court nomination you opposed from the start, or Republican, because your main reaction is rage that Kavanaugh’s confirmation is now endangered by a shameful smear. Yet here’s a surprise: Despite the torrent of strident partisanship that’s still gushing, the often (rightly) besmirched process of “politics” looks like by far the best solution available, at least at this point in the story.

What’s most depressing, of course, is the likelihood that now each likely outcome of this nomination battle could result in a major injustice – either rewarding a sexual criminal with a lifetime post on the highest court in the land, with all the power that entails, or trashing the reputation of an innocent and possibly destroying his current family life.

Moreover, it’s entirely possible to be legitimately depressed about this situation even if you believe, as I do, that victims of sex crimes often fail to report them right away, or even for many years, for reasons that anyone with any sense of compassion should understand and accept; that for equally valid reasons, their memories of the these incidents can be flawed; that denial is a standard initial response even of the guilty; that the trauma induced by such actions is so powerful that even offenses by the relatively young can’t be soft-pedaled, much less excused; that even one-time assaulters need to be punished; and that in the court of public opinion (as opposed to the legal system), a blanket assumption of innocence shouldn’t always be made.

It’s entirely possible to be legitimately depressed despite these observations because, however compelling they are in general, it’s always less certain whether they apply to an individual case.

As a result, perhaps most frustrating and dispiriting of all, it’s entirely possible that the truth may never be known. There’s a view out there that, given enough time, resources, and energy by journalist or law enforcement officials, the full story will eventually come out. This is what we’ve just been told, for example, by former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. But with only one other person in the room at the time, according to alleged victim Christine Blasey Ford, and her apparent failure to share her story contemporaneously (and No, that’s not a criticism), this optimism seems excessive.

At the same time, the case for confirming Kavanaugh has merit as well. For example, there’s some evidence that a large percentage of sex offenders are repeat offenders, but no evidence has yet surfaced of a pattern of abusive behavior toward women by Kavanaugh at any stage of his life. (Some researchers, however, have found that most sex offenders are not repeaters.)

Less convincing, but not entirely out of bounds, is the “horseplay” argument – i.e., that the force of Kavanaugh’s alleged advances was not nearly as strong as Ford has indicated. On the one hand, I strongly agree that whenever anyone signals reluctance, an immediate stop in the activity in question is mandatory – even when teens are involved. On the other hand, as observed by Washington Post columnist David von Drehle (who wants Kavanaugh to withdraw his nomination), “adolescent boys and girls often address their awkwardness with alcohol, and sexual inexperience plus inebriation is a time-tested recipe for regrets and misunderstandings.”

So there’s plenty of powerful ammunition available to both sides in the Kavanaugh fight, and possibly towering stakes. What to do? Here’s where politics comes in. The Constitution vests the Senate with the authority to approve or disapprove a President’s Supreme Court (and many other) nominees. Although the Founders were looking for a check on presidential power from a body that they wanted largely shielded from popular pressures (by stipulating Senators’ election by state legislatures), since the advent of direct elections in 1913 (via the 17th Amendment) these pressures (i.e., standard politics) are now the paramount standard. Here’s the essential background.

As a result, with this set of circumstances, the most legitimate way for the nation to solve this problem is to hold a Senate vote on Kavanaugh (unless he withdraws or President Trump pulls the nomination), and therefore discover what the popular will is. This vote could certainly be preceded by a new investigation that would add to what is already known about Kavanaugh from the several background checks he has gone through during his career in public life. But I would hope that the investigation is short – because of my aforementioned doubt that new evidence can be found.

Senate approval of Kavanaugh would be a clear sign that at least a plurality of Americans is comfortable with him serving on the Court – for whatever reason they choose – and vice versa. Moreover, there’s a useful recent precedent in this regard: President Trump’s election.

As many no doubt remember, shortly before the November, 2016 vote came the surfacing of the “Access Hollywood” tape, which contained a boast from candidate Trump about behavior that could well qualify as sexual assault. In addition, throughout the campaign, numerous women accused Mr. Trump of just such behavior. These charges, along with the tape, were widely reported. The public had ample opportunity to consider them. Voters ultimately deemed him fit for the highest office in the land nonetheless.

Voters have a chance to tell their Senators what they think of the Kavanaugh nomination, too, and lawmakers can also consult the polls. Is it reasonable to contend that, because Ford’s charges became public so recently, voters need more time to contact their Senators, or that Senators need more time to seek their opinions? Sure. But the resulting delay in the vote, again, should be short.

Skeptics could argue that, since Republicans hold the Senate, this exercise would be a sham. But the GOP members might run significant risk for blowing off their constituents’ opinions, especially given that the party’s ratings from women have been pretty dodgy lately. Moreover, if after any confirmation, important evidence against Kavanaugh came out, he could be impeached.

A reasonably prompt Kavanaugh vote certainly wouldn’t disburse all the clouds currently hanging over his nomination. But it would stamp it with a democratic (small “D”!) seal of approval. What more could the nation reasonably hope for?

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Now That It’s a Real China Trade War….

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Now it’s a “trade war.” By slapping tariffs on $200 billion worth of imports from China, President Trump has now placed in harm’s way roughly half of all last year’s American purchases of goods from the PRC. So I’ll stop using quotes around the phrase, at least when it comes to China developments. And here are some points that deserve special emphasis:

>For many of the same reasons that the new tariffs on China or on steel haven’t shown any sign of increasing prices for the intermediate (or producer) goods that businesses buy (the focus of previous tranches, and of the Trump metals tariffs), this larger set of tariffs on consumer goods are unlikely to cause much pain for American shoppers.

As I’ve written, if businesses don’t believe that their markets can currently bear price increases, what it is about the tariffs that will change their assessment – especially in the next few weeks and even months? Put differently, if they’re likely to raise prices then, why haven’t they done so already? Are they really in the habit of giving their customers unsolicited and unnecessary price breaks at the expense of their revenues and profits?

In this vein, President Trump’s decision to exempt some prominent Apple products from the new levies suggests he’s been snookered by the tech giant – for fear of spoiling too many Americans’ Christmases. In fact, here’s an article that makes clear that Apple’s pricing policies have virtually nothing to do with the cost of the components it uses.

Of course, it seems logical to suppose that if consumer products companies won’t be raising their prices much because of the tariffs, then the supplier of those products – China – won’t be harmed either, because sales levels will remain generally unchanged. But actually, the tariffs will accomplish a somewhat related but highly worthwhile goal (that is, if you believe that China’s predatory trade practices pose a major problem for the American economy): They’ll make China a higher cost, and therefore less competitive supplier of these products.

As a result, the American companies they depend on will have further incentives to shift supply chains outside China. For most consumer goods, which are labor intensive, nearly all of the beneficiaries won’t be domestic U.S. competitors and their workers. Instead, they’ll be other very low-cost countries with natural comparative advantages in these industries.

But this result will definitely weaken employment in China and possibly the PRC’s politics – whose stability has long depended on the ability of China’s leaders to deliver rising living standards for a critical mass of China’s population. Both developments would unmistakably serve U.S. interests.

Electronics – both consumer and “higher tech” – look like a conspicuous exception, due to the sheer size of China’s industrial complex in these sectors and the scale advantages alone that they create. Few acceptable alternative production sites will be available for many years. Nonetheless, there’s much more potential for production and job shifts back to the United States for the large number of non-electronics advanced manufacturing industries where domestic American producers would boast considerable competitive advantage – especially if they didn’t need to worry about predatory Chinese competition.

>The President’s decision to limit the tariff on the new group of targeted Chinese products to ten percent (at least initially) strongly indicates his awareness that his trade policies could well provoke even greater opposition than has been expressed already. In other words, despite his professed confidence, trade wars aren’t always “easy to win.” But he needs to do much more to generate and even preserve needed public support. Specifically, Mr. Trump needs to make an address – or even a series of addresses – from the Oval Office, with all its trappings, explaining why the stakes of America’s economic conflict with China are so high, and therefore why some domestic sacrifice will be absolutely essential.

The President has spoken about the need for tariffs at numerous rallies and brief sessions with reporters. But his main points – that the Chinese have been ripping Americans off for decades, that basic fairness must be restored, and even that success will mean investment and jobs flooding back to U.S. shores – are sadly inadequate to the task. As widely observed, at risk from continued China policy failures are the nation’s security and future as global technology leader – which will undercut future U.S. prosperity in ways that dwarf even the employment and production damage suffered so far.

That such an address hasn’t been made – and by such an effective communicator – could be a sign that an overarching China strategy still hasn’t been developed. And although Mr. Trump’s initiatives so far show every sign of throwing Beijing off balance, they’ll fall way short of their (needed) potential unless carried out as part of an integrated strategy.

>My own candidate for such a strategy – economic disengagement from China. The main reasons?

First, the clearest lesson from decades of generally unfettered U.S.-China trade and investment is that the two countries’ economic systems are simply too incompatible to permit mutually beneficial commerce.

Second, as I’ve written, even full Chinese agreement to most American demands can’t be adequately verified by Washington. China’s manufacturing complex is too vast, and its government operates too secretively. In this vein, in particular, subsidies are way too fungible for outsiders to track.

Third, most forms of continued economic engagement with China will inevitably continue to strengthen directly or indirectly China’s ability to challenge U.S. national security interests. In macroeconomic terms, continuing huge Chinese trade surpluses with the United States will keep ensuring that Beijing will have the resources needed to continue its rapid military buildup while satisfying civilian needs satisfactorily. In more sector-specific terms, continued American manufacturing investment will continue bolstering China’s ability to turn out the advanced weapons and other defense-related goods to enable Beijing to narrow further America’s remaining military and underlying technology edges. (That’s one reason why the administration’s stated objective of making China an easier environment for American business is so dubious.)

The Trump administration has made good disengagement progress on the inbound foreign direct investment front. But even here, much more can and should be done. For how can any acquisitions of American businesses or other assets by a non-market economy like China reinforce the free market basis of the U.S. economy? Indeed, how can such transactions help but distort and ultimately weaken American capitalism?

But let’s end on an optimistic note: Assuming Fear, Bob Woodward’s new tell-all book about the Trump administration, is accurate, there’s no more Gary Cohn running around the White House taking advantage of his position as head of the National Economic Council to snatch needed proposals like these from the President’s desk.

Making News: Two New China Trade Podcasts On-Line…& More!

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I’m pleased to announce the posting on-line of the podcasts of two radio interviews from last night on President Trump’s new tariffs on imports from China.

The first, which I had the chance to preview yesterday, was on John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show, and featured the views of co-host Gordon G. Chang and former Michigan Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter as well. You can listen at this link.

The second, an opportunity that came my way too late for previewing, was on Breitbart News Tonight. Click on this link and scroll down till you see the listing for my segment among the September 17 broadcasts.

In addition, it was great to have my views on China trade issues quoted in Gordon’s latest column for FoxNews.com.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

Making News: Back on National Radio to Talk About Trump’s Likely New China Tariffs

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President Trump is slated this afternoon to make a big announcement on U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports and as a result, I’m especially pleased to be returning to John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show to examine the biggest short- and long-term implications. The segment is scheduled to begin at 9:45 PM EST, and you can listen live at this link to what’s sure to be a timely and informative discussion among John, co-host Gordon G. Chang, and me.

As always, if you can’t listen live, I’ll post a link to the podcast as soon as one’s available.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

 

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Where China Trade Retaliation Could Really Hurt

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According to a Wall Street Journal news report this weekend, China is considering an escalation in its trade conflict with the United States that could cause real problems for the American economy: restricting its “sales of materials, equipment and other parts key to U.S. manufacturers’ supply chain.”

There’s no significant statistical evidence that the U.S. tariffs imposed on Chinese-made steel under the Obama administration have harmed domestic American manufacturing, and as I’ve shown in several posts (e.g., here, here, and here) as of now, there’s no such evidence either that the Trump administration’s more sweeping, worldwide tariffs on aluminum as well as steel have inflicted any harm on those American industries that are significant users of these metals.

But Chinese limits on exports of the parts and components that go into a wide variety of goods manufactured in the United States could produce a very different story. The U.S. government hasn’t officially tracked this development. Indeed, the share of various American manufacturing markets captured by imports from anywhere, or the global total, hasn’t been monitored since 1995, when the Commerce Department’s annual U.S. Industrial Outlook report was discontinued.

So for more than twenty years, there’s been none of the kind of government-generated information that President Trump and his aides can consult in order to assess the possible damage to domestic industry. This information vacuum – which of course predates the current administration – speaks volumes about how cavalierly Washington has taken the responsibility of safeguarding crucial American economic interests against predatory foreign competition

Yet unofficial data is available, in the form of China import penetration rates for dozens of advanced manufacturing sectors that I calculated for several years through 2011. (Here’s the latest.) I haven’t published any follow-ups since 2013’s edition (which presented the 2011 data – the latest then available) because each year, more and more of the raw output or trade figures I needed to perform the calculations seemed unreliable. Specifically, they would produce results that were mathematically impossible (e.g., imports accounting for more than 100 percent of the entire U.S. market for various sectors, or results that exhibited wildly excessive swings year-to-year).

The 2011 results, however, are worrisome because they revealed that products from China had grabbed noteworthy shares of American markets for large numbers of high value industrial parts and components, as well as industrial machinery categories (including much of the equipment used by U.S. industry to produce a wide range of intermediate and final goods). Further, in many instances, Chinese market shares had increased at jaw-dropping rates.

Even more important, in the seven intervening years, most of these Chinese import penetration rates have surely risen to greater heights still.

China’s capture of these markets and the leverage it undoubtedly creates reflects one of the most crucial failures of America’s trade policies in recent decades. The very magnitude of China’s success might prevent Beijing from pulling the trigger on the proposal reported by The Journal – i.e., that the domestic U.S. industry has simply become too big a market for China to exit. Satisfactory substitutes from other countries, or from domestic sources, might also be available. But it’s also possible that in many key manufacturing sectors, Beijing has the U.S. economy over a barrel.

What is certain is that knowledge is power, and that if the United States doesn’t study more carefully its vulnerabilities to foreign retaliation to more assertive trade policies such as the Trump administration seems determined to pursue, its chances of prevailing in the ensuring showdowns won’t look promising. And voters’ ability to judge campaign promises to this effect will be almost nil.

Following Up: Woodward’s Globalist Bias

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I’m a long-time admirer of Bob Woodward, and so it’s disappointing to say the least that he’s just provided more evidence that his sensational (literally) new book Fear is as much of a Hail Mary to restore the (deservedly) shredded reputation of the nation’s bipartisan globalist policy establishment as an effort to portray “the real inside” story of the President Trump’s White House.

At this point, I should confess that I still haven’t read the book. But enough of it had come out through about a week ago that I felt justified in analyzing Woodward’s treatment of Korea-related trade and security issues and arriving at the above conclusion. The new evidence comes from the long-time Washington Post reporter’s interview this past Friday night on PBS’ Washington Week talk show, so it seems as an equally sound basis for judging Woodward’s thinking.

Korea issues again come into play, but so does the President’s recent decision to impose tariffs on most of the foreign steel attempting to enter the U.S. Market. Let’s look at Woodward’s assessment of the steel situation first.

The author’s first problem with the levies is his belief that they represent an instance of Mr. Trump’s alleged habit of “just [doing] what he wants; and he’ll listen up to a point, then he will dismiss….” This disquiet is easily dismissed itself, as it sounds like the President seeks advice from his advisers and then, after a finite period of time, decides what course he’ll take. What does Woodward think Mr. Trump is supposed to do? Listen indefinitely? Or until he’s convinced he’s wrong?

But the Woodward’s second problem with the steel tariffs is much more revealing of his own blinders – and therefore much more disturbing. Here it is:

Now, if you took a thousand economists and say do steel tariffs make sense – and I quote a document in the book where experts on the left, the right, the economists, Nobel Prize winners, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, leading Democratic and Republican economists, send him a letter saying don’t do this; this will not work.  And, of course, he does it….

But now we are in the world of these trade wars, which he says he thinks he can win.  Wow.  Danger, danger.”

In other words, Mr. Trump’s great crime is failing to listen to the supposed experts. I say “supposed” because the two he mentioned specifically – former Federal Reserve Chairs Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke – have little enough claim to minimal competence in their own economic specialty, monetary affairs. The former spearheaded the disastrous monetary and regulatory policies that helped trigger the world’s worst financial crisis and depression in decades. The latter was caught with his pants below his ankles when the crisis struck, and “solved” it by flooding the economy with so much new credit that it was bound to stay afloat. You needed a Ph.D. to pretend that money “does grow on trees”?

But according to Woodward, the President should have followed their recommendations on trade policy, about which they have no special credentials? For good measure, Greenspan knows about as much about manufacturing industries like steel as Hillary Clinton knows about winning presidential elections. After all, he’s the genius who once referred to manufacturing as “something we were terrific at fifty years ago,” and “essentially a nineteenth- and twentieth-century technology.” So please, Mr. Woodward, spare us the experts worship.

By contrast, Woodward’s latest Korea example warrants more concern about the President’s competence on the job and knowledge of the issues – but unwittingly exposes the status quo as just as worrisome. Woodward had reported that last December, Mr. Trump wanted to tweet that the dependents of the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea would be evacuated. The problem with this tweet? In th author’s words:

“[J]ust at the time, the top North Korean leader had sent a message through intermediaries to H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, on December 4th of last year saying if you start withdrawing dependents, we will take that as a signal that war is imminent.  Now, you have a volatile leader, Kim Jong-un.  He’s got these nuclear weapons and there’s no predictable path for understanding how he might respond.  And the Pentagon leadership went nuts about this and just said, you – and the tweet never went out, but had it, you know, God knows.”

If you actually start thinking about the Korea crisis, however, you recognize that the current situation is even more dangerous. For as I’ve repeatedly written, these U.S. forces are deployed to South Korea not to help South Korean forces repel a North Korean attack. They’re deployed to South Korea to serve as a tripwire whose impending defeat will create overwhelming political pressure on an American president to save the day by using nuclear weapons. And the presence of these soldiers spouses and children is being counted on to make this pressure completely irresistible.

As I’ve also written, when North Korea was unable to strike American territory with nuclear weapons of its own, this strategy arguably made sense. For the nuclear threat was likely to succeed in preventing that North Korean attack in the first place because carrying it out pose no risk to America’s core security.

Now, with the rapid recent (and apparently continuing) development of North Korean nuclear forces capable of reaching North America, those days of U.S. invulnerability are unmistakably nearly over, and the American troops’ presence in South Korea are putting U.S. cities in the line of nuclear fire. Worse, they are the only recognizable source of this danger – unless you believe that North Korea has a reason to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack on the United States, and sign its literal nuclear death warrant.

In other words, because the Korean peninsula remains such a powderkeg, and because the North’s leaders are so little known and unpredictable, the danger that Woodward’s Pentagon sources allegedly are so terrified President Trump might have created exist right now, have existed ever since North Korea’s progress toward producing nuclear weapons platforms with intercontinental capabilities became known, and will continue to exist as long as Mr. Trump keeps following the Pentagon’s advice and keeps any American military presence on the peninsula.

Ironically, moreover, the best guarantee of preventing a North Korean nuclear warhead from landing on American city or two is for the President to follow his instincts, pull the troops and their dependents out, and let the local countries take the lead in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Something else disturbing about the Woodward Washington Week interview: Anchor the clear reverence for the globalist Washington establishment demonstrated also by the show’s moderator, Robert Costa, who, like Woodward, works for the Washington Post. It came through when Costa told Woodward that what most surprised him about the book was “the effort that’s being made by so many people around him to bring him back into the mainstream, back towards certain norms.” It came through in his reference to “keeping President Trump in line” and “keep Trump moving toward the center.” And it came through in his question to Woodward,

Do the people around [Trump] who are taking documents off of his desk, different trade agreements the president’s trying to rip up, do they see themselves, when you talk to them, as heroes?  Or do they know they are, in a sense, mounting, as you call it, an administrative coup d’etat?”

What Costa, Woodward – and so many other Mainstream Media journalists – need to understand is that the “norms” reportedly being protected in Woodward’s book aren’t the Ten Commandments or any other code of decency, justice, or democracy. The administration officials reportedly defying the President’s wishes aren’t some modern collective embodiment of Moses. And the center isn’t ipso facto the location of policy wisdom, or even sanity.

Instead, the norms are positions developed by flawed and often self-interested human beings. More specifically, the administration’s Never Trump-ers could also be motivated by simple desires to protect and restore the positions of power, privilege, and wealth their kind enjoyed almost unchallenged until the Trump Revolution. And fetishizing the center amounts to judging these positions only by their relationship to other alternatives that may be widely voiced but also equally off-base, not by their relationship to realities on the ground.

That is, Woodward’s globalist sources for Fear need to be scrutinized just as thoroughly as the President they oppose – especially since their often catastrophic failures did much to put Mr. Trump in power. You could even write a book.