Given all the publicity around our trade wars and the North Korean negotiations, it’s worth taking a step back to look at what’s going on. Let’s check each one.
Why have we started the trade wars?
It’s a good question, since
– The steel and aluminum tariffs have nothing to do with the real issue.
– We gave up half our leverage with China by going it alone, and there have been no significant achievements beyond what China was prepared to do anyway.
Given those facts, there is only one conclusion here—it’s reality TV for the mid-term elections. “I’ve fought for you like no one else has ever done.” That way every single news story is a win. Who cares about the details anyway?
That also fits with Wibur Ross’ explanation to the Europeans of the peculiar idea that the best path to negotiation is to declare war:
“China are paying their tariffs …. China hasn’t used that as an excuse not to negotiate… It’s only the EU that is insisting we can’t negotiate if there are tariffs.”
Otherwise stated: why can’t you people be like the Chinese? They let us play boss when we think it looks good. You people just have to learn.
What’s going on with North Korea?
Trump needs a deal, and he’ll get one on Kim’s terms. It will be just like all the other agreements with North Korea—phased (and easily reversed) build-down of nuclear weapons in exchange for benefits. Except this time it will probably include phased withdrawal of US forces from the South—a bigger concession than any other American president has every made.
However, that will be enough for the Trump propaganda machine to get going, and the rest of the press will be so relieved that Trump’s worst impulses were contained that they’ll probably agree. And so, for public consumption, Trump can be peacemaker for the mid-terms!
Back in the real world, though, there are two different questions worth asking:
What do these trade games mean for our future?
If there’s any policy, it’s that we’ve decided it’s no fun winning unless everyone else loses. So we’re not interested in alliances or trade agreements. Prosperity is only achieved at others’ expense, so conflict is good—a philosophy that is historically disastrous and particularly inapt today.
Where is the outcry about “national security”?
Our President’s “national security” trade wars are already a constitutional crisis—arbitrary control of trade is NOT an executive power. And it’s just going to get worse until someone finally does scream. Trump has been increasingly willing to make up a “national security” excuse for almost anything he wants to do. Unless the Supreme Court (or public outcry) stops him, there is no limit to where that leads.