Word from Republicans is that the party’s odds-on presidential nominee, Donald Trump, plans to reverse President Biden’s foreign trade policy soon after he is back in office. The crackdown will start with a “universal baseline tariff” on China and other U.S. free trade partners.
This tax will bend others to our will, Trump believes.
History is layered with warnings that blackmail is lousy foreign policy. Trump embraced it and plans to embrace it again. Biden waffles. The whipsaw also hurts Kansas but in Washington, who cares?
In the early 1970s, when Jim Pearson and Bob Dole spoke for us in Washington, a vote was taken to cut off credit to Russia and deny it favored trade status. The idea was to pressure the Soviets into allowing Jews to emigrate freely. Congress had taken its cue from the Arabs, who were cutting our oil supplies until we persuaded Israel to give up Palestine lands it had grabbed in the 1967 war. (See how that worked out.)
But Congress went further than the Arabs. It meddled in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union. Pearson, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there was much about the Kremlin that we don’t like. In fact, many nations conduct their affairs contrary to our ideals. By the same token, he noted, many nations are unhappy with the way we run our show.
When we use trade blackmail to tell other folks what to do, we invite trouble, or war. This has been the inevitable result of our Puritan complex in foreign policy, our passion for running the lives of other people.
We got those wars with decades of provoking conflict across the Middle East after the 1958 Suez crisis with Egypt that involved the French and British. The warring continues yet, three years after we left Afghanistan to the Taliban and three months since Hamas provoked Israel to destroy Gaza.
We especially hurt ourselves in lives lost or wrecked, a treasury drained and business burned. Before Ukraine, America abandoned the Russian markets and now risks losing the Chinese and other profitable outlets, including Kansas farm products and industrial techniques. Last year Kansas international trade topped $15 billion, most of it in aircraft (and parts), meat, grains and seeds. Our prime customers are Mexico, Canada, Japan and China.
More trouble looms. Republican free-market champions are on edge with reports of Trump’s plan for a ten percent universal tariff on all imports. The prime targets are China and two dozen nations that have free trade agreements with the U.S. The idea, apparently, is to remove the U.S. from the global economy and steer us toward “self-sufficiency,” producing more of what we consume and moving to singular trade agreements with other countries.
Such raw extortion would likely bring higher prices for everyday goods, massive job losses and leave U.S. trade and diplomacy in ruins.
Carried to an absurd end, trade blackmail might reduce America to a provincial backwater with neither exports nor imports, spinning along without critical raw materials, or with supplies that bring a usurious invoice. China has provided the lesson before; Brexit is an example today, Israel and perhaps the Arabs, tomorrow.
We endorse by imitation the trade techniques of those we say we oppose, and we gain nothing but the distrust of former allies and the possibility of more war.
How can we be so recklessly and dangerously stupid after all these years of folly and bloodshed, all those lessons in history?