President Trump’s globalist critics in the foreign policy Blob (the Washington, D.C.-centered complex of former diplomats and military officers, genuine academics, think tank hacks, and their Mainstream Media mouthpieces) think they’ve uncovered major new proof that the administration’s America First-type foreign policies and trade policies are failing catastrophically. Actually, the developments they’ve seized upon make clearer than ever the dangerous folly of their own outdated strategies, and the urgent need for a Trump-ian course change.
What’s gotten the globalists excited: Reports that America’s allies the world over are turning their backs on Washington and either moving into China’s orbit or cultivating better relations with the People’s Republic.
In the Asia-Pacific region, fifteen countries, including American treaty allies Australia, Japan, and South Korea, have decided to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – a Chinese spearheaded trade agreement that doesn’t include the United States. Although Washington is apparently free to join, RCEP’s progress is seen as a big defeat for the United States, and for Mr. Trump in particular, because for years Beijing has been pushing it as an alternative to the Asia-Pacific-focused Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal signed by former President Barack Obama but nixed by President Trump on his first full weekday in office.
TPP was touted as a counter to RCEP that was vastly preferable for the United States because its protections of the environment and labor rights, and its curbs on state-owned enterprises, created standards that China could not hope to meet any time soon. Therefore, the agreement allegedly represented both a means of containing Chinese power and a powerful inducement to the kinds of Chinese reform long sought by Washington (and at least nominally sought by the President).
In other words, it supposedly was a globalist masterstroke that was foolishly trashed by Mr. Trump. And he’s now getting his richly deserve comeuppance via the Chinese-developed RCEP, which, it’s said, doesn’t address the above issues nearly as effectively as TPP, but which has nonetheless attracted many other signatories also spurned by the Trump rejection.
As known by RealityChek regulars, the anti-China case for TPP was bogus from the start, along with its claims to promoting the kinds of reforms throughout the Asia-Pacific region that would benefits American exporters. For the agreement contained a wide open backdoor for numerous products with high levels of Chinese content, which would have enabled Beijing to realize many of TPP’s benefits without incurring any of its obligations. Nearly as bad, for all their lofty ambitions, those obligations would have been impossible for Washington to monitor and enforce adequately, as most signatory governments’ bureaucracies, along with their national industrial bases, were too large (and in the case of the governments, secretive) to track.
Moreover, these glaring TPP weaknesses raise questions that hardly strengthen confidence in globalist views both of the agreement and, just as important of U.S. Allies. Specifically, TPP’s China back door and verification shortcomings weren’t exactly secrets. And they surely reveal that the Australias, Japans, and South Koreas of the world were never very interested in containing China or pressuring it to reform in the first place. The decision of these countries to go along with an RCEP that doesn’t even try seriously to achieve these goals casts even deeper doubt on their reliability for any future American efforts to work multilaterally to cope with China.
And as for the inevitable counter-argument that the Trump TPP pullout gave these Asia-Pacific countries little choice but to accept a second-best deal more advantageous to Beijing, it doesn’t withstand scrutiny. After all, all these countries had years to work with the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to develop regional trade arrangements that could realistically hope to achieve their intertwined China and reform objectives. They all (along with those globalist Presidents) completely blew the opportunity.
On the other side of the world, the Associated Press has just reported on a similar shift by the European Union, that huge economic bloc that also contains many countries allied with the United States through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In an article titled “Europeans look to China as global partner, shun Trump’s US,” correspondent Sylvie Corbet wrote that “When France’s president wants to carry European concerns to the world stage to find solutions for climate change, trade tensions or Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he no longer calls Washington. He flies to Beijing.”
She added that on his recent visit to Beijing, Emmanuel Macron “portrayed himself as an envoy for the whole European Union, conveying the message that the bloc has largely given up on Trump, who doesn’t hide his disdain for multilateralism.”
In the process, though, the author made a powerful, if completely unwitting, case for American unilateralism. For according to Corbet, Macron and Chinese dictator Xi Jinping “issued a ‘Beijing call’…for increased global cooperation in fighting climate change and better protecting biodiversity. Both countries have deplored the U.S. withdrawal” from the Paris climate change accord.
Macron apparently stood by as Xi “said the two leaders were sending ‘a strong signal to the world about steadfastly upholding multilateralism and free trade, as well as working together to build open economies.’”
And for good measure, the French president touted China’s record of helping to reduce tensions in the Persian Gulf, and potential contributions to using diplomacy to persuade Iran to return to full compliance with the nuclear proliferation deal rejected by Mr. Trump. In addition, he touted China’s ability to help “develop stable and cooperative trade rules at the international level.”
To which the only serious reply from the American standpoint is, “If Macron and anyone else in Europe really believe this nonsense, and assume that they’re better off aligning with China than with the United States, then America is better off without them.” And this holds not only for trade but for security issues like Iran.
It’s been unconvincing enough for globalists to insist that the United States has no choice but to maintain alliances with countries famous for being defense deadbeats and free-riders, and fence-sitters in the campaign to create a truly open world economy (as opposed to one that winks at all instances of protectionism except America’s). But it’s positively goofy for globalists to claim that these countries would be strong and active supporters of security or economic goals compatible with U.S. and traditional free world interests if only President Trump showed more patience with them.
Of course, it’s possible – and perhaps likely – that these Asian and European moves are ultimately bluffs aimed at curbing Mr. Trump’s perceived worst excesses. But it’s at least as possible that these countries hope to create pressure on the President to accept their longstanding, “Heads we win, tail you lose,” strategy vis-a-vis the United States.
All of which reminds me of episodes when I was little, and blurted out remarks like, “I’m going to run away.” My parents often replied, “Is that a promise or a threat?” That sounds to me like a necessary and indeed long overdue U.S. response to its worrisomely feckless allies.