Nationally syndicated Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson intended this week’s essay to show how foolish, and possibly disastrous, President Trump’s emerging new trade policy will be – including for the national security goals the administration has set. That’s why it’s so ironic that his column instead unwittingly revealed how thin a reed the nation’s long-time security strategy has been, and nowhere more so than in the importance it’s assigned to its long-time security alliances in Europe and Asia.
Samuelson’s piece conveys a warning that the administration’s trade policy moves so far are on course to undermine national security in two related ways: by ignoring the alleged imperative of enlisting its major allies in a multilateral campaign to discipline predatory Chinese intellectual property and related trade and industrial policies that need curbing; and by actually antagonizing these countries and thereby jeopardizing the very existence of those alliances.
This argument conveniently overlooks several big trade and security fundamentals. First, globalist pre-Trump American leaders themselves have insisted that they’ve long tried to create multilateral pressure on China’s rogue economic behavior for years before Mr. Trump became president – though it’s unclear how serious these efforts were. For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal largely touted by the Obama administration for its potential to curb China’s influence contained a back door for numerous imports with major levels of Chinese content.
Second, it’s anything but obvious that U.S. alliances strengthen American security on net. As I’ve pointed out frequently (including this past week), they continue to expose the American homeland to the risk of nuclear attack even though the Soviet-style kinds of global threats their nuclear guarantees were intended to counter have been (literally) gone for nearly three decades. Moreover, as has been widely reported, the militaries of many of these allies have deteriorated so markedly that their potential as force multipliers for the United States is open to serious doubt.
But Samuelson’s analysis makes no sense even if these considerations are put aside. The key is in his own portrayal of leading U.S. allies – which he describes as livid about recent American steel tariffs, and sure to become even angrier is levies are imposed on their motor vehicle exports to the United States. Indeed, he worries, major auto-exporting countries like Germany, Japan, and South Korea could well become so upset with the United States that they not only retaliate in kind, but unhesitatingly move to supply China with whatever high tech goods and services Washington embargoes or restricts.
In other words, these allies would redouble their efforts to feed the Chinese beast even though all of them face China trade, technology, and/or national security threats of their own, and even though the United States continues to provide them with crucial military protection – including, in the case of Japan and South Korea, from Chinese designs. But these same allies were supposed to be amenable to cooperating with Washington to deal with China? Even more revealing, the allies would choose to intensify confrontation with the United States instead of (finally) proposing concrete steps to deal with the China problem over which they profess concern.
And they would display no interest whatever in meaningfully removing the formidable obstacles they have created to block American automotive exports. (The recently reported German auto-makers’ proposal to eliminate all tariffs in the sector on both sides of the Atlantic would leave in place towering European value-added taxes – e.g., 19 percent in Germany – on motor vehicles and most other imports. No such U.S. equivalent exists either for autos or for light trucks and sport utility vehicles.)
No one can fault these European and East Asian countries from acting in their own perceived interests – or even for trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Indeed, for decades, globalist American foreign policies have encouraged and actively enabled precisely this kind of free-riding. What these countries should be faulted for is posing as allies (let alone allies with justifiably hurt feelings), and worse, as paragons of sobriety and free market values nobly resisting a wrecking ball of an American President. As for any Americans and U.S. leaders who keep fooled by this act for so long and, more important, failing to take the policy hints – shame on them.