Giving Credit Where Credit (Might Be) Due

Last week, it was reported that, after months of considering the issue, President Trump was preparing to initiate a Section 301 investigation into accusation of Chinese violations of US intellectual property rights. Getting “tough on trade” and renegotiating all of the US’s “unfair” trade deals were some of the clearest policy promises of the Trump candidacy, and it seemed that the president was making ready to deliver on his promises. Interestingly, the issue was, perhaps, one where the president might have actually been able to deliver a “win” of sorts, as getting tough with China was one of the few issues on which Democrats see eye to eye with the president. An event to announce the investigation was scheduled for Friday, August 4.

The event was, however, cancelled and the White House has not provided any information as to when it might be rescheduled or even if the administration plans on opening the investigation at all. What could explain this delay of an issue that plays both to Trump’s base and offers the promise of Democratic cooperation?

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The Structure and Stupidity of Protectionist Trade Policy

Any day now, the Trump administration is poised to make a major decision on US trade policy: whether to impose punitive measures to protect the US steel industry from foreign competition. Such measures–sought by domestic steel producers to protect them from foreign competition–could include tariffs, import quotas, or a combination of both. As the Washington Post notes: “The move could provide relief for a domestic steel industry that says it badly needs it, but it could also raise steel costs at every step of the supply chain — increasing expenses on consumers and on many of the manufacturing industries Trump promised to protect. Additionally, the move has the potential to upset some of the country’s closest international allies, and it could spark a set of retaliatory trade moves against U.S. companies trying to sell their products abroad.”

If anything, the Post is understating the likely effect. First, the direct impact of protectionist policies are always–ALWAYS–a net negative. Even if some jobs are saved, the cost of doing so massively outweighs the benefits of the job saved (unless it’s your job saved…more on this later). Take US sugar import quotas, for example:

U.S. import quotas limit the amount of sugar the United States imports. As a result, U.S. sugar prices are 350 percent higher than world market prices. Although this policy has preserved a few thousand sugar-producing jobs, it has also cost an estimated 7,500 and 10,000 jobs, as candy makers relocated production to countries with lower sugar prices.

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The “Intellectual” Foundations of a Trumpian Foreign Policy, Part I

There’s been a lot of confusion over what, exactly, President Trump’s foreign policy is or will be. He’s talked tough about trade and alliances, suggested that the US should play a more restrained role in the world, and requested a massive military build-up. But there seems to be little rhyme or reason behind these pieces, as if each were separate from the other and not bound together by what foreign policy analysts would describe as a “grand strategy.” Why would China help the US deal with the problem of North Korean proliferation if the US is threatening to undo the One China policy? Why should the US increase the size of the navy if America will be asking allies to do more of the work and playing a reduced role in the world? How does the president understand the source of conflict and state behavior in the world? What are the factors that most contribute to global peace? These are the questions at the theoretical and policy level that must be answered–or at least engaged–in order to craft a coherent foreign policy.

Understanding the logic behind Trump’s foreign policy requires a look behind the curtain, because the president himself is so devoid of thought, at the people shaping Trump’s policies from the wings. One such person is Michael Anton, currently serving as Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications on the National Security Council. Anton has been referred to as the primary intellectual behind Trump’s foreign policy, with Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, referring to Anton as “America’s leading authoritarian intellectual” and comparing Anton to Carl Schmitt. Anton is perhaps best known as the person behind the pseudonymously-penned “The Flight 93 Election” in which he argued that conservatives needed to rally behind Trump regardless of policy differences or face destruction as a viable party.

Anton has recently published a piece (written before he joined the administration) in which he gives, perhaps, the clearest explanation of how he–and perhaps by extension, the Trump administration (or at least the political side of his administration)–thinks about the world. In the new policy journal American Affairs, being hailed as the intellectual defense of Trumpism, Anton has an article entitled “America and The Liberal Order” in which lays out his understanding of the role the US should play in the world. It is a bold piece, long on pronouncements but short on international relations theory or serious scholarship (there seems to be a trend of national security “experts” in the Trump White House who have little actual experience in either academia or policy work: See Gorka, Sebastian). So…what’s his argument? In this post, I will examine and dismantle his argument. In a subsequent post, I will present my rebuttal.

Continue reading “The “Intellectual” Foundations of a Trumpian Foreign Policy, Part I”