Michael G. Roskin: America the Isolated
Wednesday, February 08, 2017 5:46 PM
Imagine in the not-too-distant future the president of Mexico stands on his northern border calling out: “Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!” Further, imagine next to him, grinning, is China’s president.
President Trump’s Mexico wall and his insistence that Mexico pay for it could lead to a trade war that pushes an aggrieved Mexico toward China. Trump launched his campaign denouncing Mexico and still fumes against “bad hombres.” His proposed 20-percent “border adjustment tax” on Mexican imports could collapse the Mexican economy, push millions northward and persuade an enraged Mexican president to seek a new leader of global commerce.
As the U.S. abandons decades of leadership in world trade, China moves into the gap. In Davos last month — where no U.S. leader attended — President Xi Jinping virtually proclaimed China the hub of a new emerging world-trade order. At the same time, Trump withdrew America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact completed in 2016 after years of negotiations and supported by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and congressional Republicans. It was never ratified.
Trump denounced the TPP for allegedly exporting American jobs (not true), and Hillary and the Republicans quickly abandoned one of the few policies Obama and the GOP agreed on. Trump claims to be for trade but would shred big regional trade structures in favor of simple bilateral deals, presumably because we can better dominate them. For Trump, free trade is not win-win; it’s always zero-sum: what one side wins the other loses.
TPP involved 12 countries on both sides of the Pacific but not, initially, China. To counter TPP, China has been building a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. If I were Mexico, I would get interested in RCEP to make it trans-Pacific but without the U.S.: Hey, Trump, here’s our return insult. Nothing in NAFTA, which Trump vows to renegotiate, would prevent Mexico from joining RCEP. Tokyo and Canberra worry that the infanticide of TPP leaves their export-oriented industries with no regional trade pact besides RCEP.
In terms of transportation, China literally delivers the goods. China is stitching Eurasia together with railroads, pipelines, highways and sea routes while the U.S. watches, almost as if we wish to withdraw from world trade. The first freight train recently arrived in London from China, a journey that took 15 days, faster than ship but much cheaper than air freight. The Middle Kingdom is preparing to resume its ancient hegemony of “all under heaven” (tianxia).
Trump seems intent on driving friendly nations — in some cases, by angry personal phone calls — away from us. Vietnam, the Philippines and even Australia have all turned markedly friendlier to China as they have lost confidence in the U.S. Are inflexible U.S. demands promoting formation of an anti-U.S. bloc? Trumpists have been flexible only toward Russia, but Putin continues his drive to restore East Europe as a Russian sphere of influence, chiefly by economic penetration.
Europeans now fear “America First” means abandoning Europe. Trump supported Brexit and called NATO “obsolete.” At the opening of his Scottish golf course, he suggested he wouldn’t mind Scotland leaving Britain. Trump hates allies “taking advantage of us” and tells them to pay their own way. Germany’s Spiegel weekly just called Trump “Nero.”
The growth of anti-EU parties highlights the reversal of Europe’s long drive to unity. Moscow gives these parties money and defames their opponents. France’s conservative presidential candidate, François Fillon, is trapped in scandal, boosting the National Front’s Marine Le Pen for victory in the May 7 runoff. Young independent Emmanuel Macron could top her, if he can edge Fillon in the first round (plausible). And the Alternative for Germany will likely clear the 5-percent threshold to enter the Bundestag in September, the first far-right party to do so. Last week, Putin triumphantly visited Hungary, whose proto-fascist regime admires him.
New global grudges come with U.S. treatment of Muslim refugees. Washington’s temporary ban on all refugees, even those elaborately vetted with visas in hand, plays badly in the Islamic world. And how will 1.6 billion Muslims react if we move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? (My current hunch: Trump, on Tillerson’s advice, won’t move it.)
Hostile disdain can push other countries together into a coalition of adversaries. In Rapallo, Italy, in 1922, two ostracized losers from World War I, Weimar Germany and Soviet Russia, met to drop all claims against each other and to cooperate for mutual benefit. Soviet oil and grain flowed to Germany until Hitler’s 1941 invasion. Diplomat-historian George F. Kennan called Rapallo a tragedy for peace and Western interests and argued it could have been prevented by diplomacy that pulled the two back from outcast status.
Decades ago, a political scientist proposed a “law of conservation of enemies”: don’t make more enemies than you can handle at once. Trump ignores this and intemperately withdraws the U.S. from world leadership. China will gladly take our place.