China • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • military • Post • Russia

A New Era for the China-Russia-U.S. Triangle

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Nearly a half-century ago, President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, established a successful U.S. strategy for dealing with America’s two most dangerous rivals. He sought closer ties to both the Soviet Union, with its more than 7,000 nuclear weapons, and Communist China, with the world’s largest population.

Kissinger’s approach was sometimes called “triangulation.” But distilled down to its essence, the phrase meant ensuring that China and Russia were not friendlier to each other than each was to the United States

Given that the Soviet Union was much stronger than China at the time, Kissinger especially courted Beijing.

The idea was similar to British and French policy in the mid-1930s of discouraging Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich from becoming the partner of Josef Stalin’s equally powerful and dangerous Soviet Union. Unfortunately, that effort failed, and Nazi-Soviet cooperation led to their joint invasion of Poland in 1939 and the outbreak of World War II.

We forgot Kissinger’s wisdom during the Obama administration’s coddling of China and the schizophrenic Russian “reset.”

The reset was initially a disastrous appeasement of Russian conventional and cyber aggressions. Its failure soon led to an about-face demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin as an anti-democratic authoritarian—as if he had been, or would ever be, anything other than a tyrant.

Russia systematically reabsorbed Crimea, leveraged Eastern Europe, caused turmoil in Ukraine, terrified Western Europe, returned to the Middle East after a 40-year hiatus, and hacked into U.S. electoral and political institutions.

From 2009 to 2017, U.S. leadership rationalized that China would soon not just be an Asian and Pacific superpower, but eventually would eclipse America itself—as if its eventual supremacy was destiny rather than being due to U.S. indifference.

What followed was systematic and unchecked Chinese commercial and intellectual-property cheating. Beijing stole U.S. technology, ran up huge trade surpluses and warped the entire world trading system. Such one-sided Chinese mercantilism was excused as “free trade.”

China’s military aggression in the South China Sea was also winked at by Washington. So the Chinese built artificial bases in the Spratly Islands to bully their neighbors and to manipulate Pacific trade routes.

The Obama administration again offered little pushback. As a result, Chinese President Xi Jinping openly bragged that by 2025, China would dominate the global high-tech industry, 10 years later would dominate the Pacific, and by mid-century would run the world.

For years, Putin and Xi have shared a contempt for the U.S. They have sought to use Syria, Iran and North Korea to check U.S. influence while waging cyberwar against U.S. companies and institutions.

America may be the strongest economic and military power in the world, but it had violated every one of Kissinger’s principles. Russia and China both agreed that the willpower of the U.S. was weak, and despite their own existential differences, they found it mutually profitable to collude in reducing American stature.

Our allies noticed. From Scandinavia to the Middle East to Asia, they assumed that America either could not or would not regain its global prestige.

The Trump administration has sought to reverse that descent.

For all the specious charges of Russian “collusion,” Trump has boxed in Putin with economic sanctions and military aid to Ukraine. He has beefed up defense spending, demanded greater NATO readiness and accelerated U.S. oil production—but doing so while also reaching out rhetorically to Putin.

Being friendly with a big stick is far wiser than being obnoxious with a twig.

Now, the U.S is slapping China with tariffs to force it to reduce its nearly $400 billion trade surplus with the U.S., while also sending U.S. warships deeper into the South China Sea to let our allies know that China will no longer bully them.

Trump sought to negotiate directly with North Korea on denuclearization, and to forge new defense partnerships with Australia and Japan. He is also cutting bilateral trade deals with South Korea, Mexico and Canada that will exclude China.

China is worried. Trump’s domestic opponents may write him off as a crude buffoon, but Beijing fears that he is a crafty Machiavelli or Sun Tzu, already downsizing Chinese power.

China’s stock market is way down. Its economy is slowing and its currency declining. Average Chinese citizens wonder why, in tough times, their leaders are lavishing foreign aid on African countries and other Asian nations while China is mired in a trade war with the U.S.

Because Russia is far weaker than China, the U.S. should be reaching out to Moscow to find common interests in checking Chinese power. Russia could be useful in occasionally siding with an emerging common resistance to China that includes Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan.

Russia certainly has no interest in seeing in its neighborhood a nuclear Iran or an unhinged nuclear North Korea—or having disputes with a Chinese colossus along its 2,600-mile shared border.

American appeasement, trade concessions and extraordinary Chinese wealth did not make China a better global citizen. Perhaps stronger U.S. pushback, supported by an array of Asian allies and a conniving Russia, might.

(C) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/Pool/Sipa USA. FILENAME: 20181011msvdh-a.jpg. SLUG: KISSINGER.

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China • Donald Trump • Economy • Foreign Policy • Infrastructure • Post • Technology

How Trump’s Tariffs Will Make Goods Cheaper

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U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC last week that President Trump’s tariffs wouldn’t hurt American consumers, noting that because the price increase would be “spread over thousands and thousands of products, nobody’s going to actually notice it at the end of the day.”

Needless to say,  poor Ross was summarily tarred-and-feathered by “experts.” What doesn’t this kook understand? Tariffs are a tax, and taxes are always bad.

The logic seems straightforward enough: tariffs increase costs and these costs invariably get passed on to consumers. Thus, tariffs won’t punish China—they’ll punish American consumers. We will pay the price for Trump’s ignorant bravado.

But, as always, the “experts” are wrong. Tariffs will not hurt American consumers, they’ll actually make America richer in the long run.

The Brave Little Toaster
The main reason why so many Americans oppose tariffs is that they don’t understand them. They think tariffs are just another sales tax, and assume that imposing a 10 percent tariff on a product will increase that product’s price by 10 percent. That’s not how it works.

Unlike sales taxes, American tariffs are not applied to a product’s retail price, nor are they applied to the wholesale price. In fact, they’re often not even levied on the entire import price. Instead, tariffs are levied on the first sale price—the price paid to foreign vendors by American companies or their middlemen.

This method of calculation reduces the tax burden on American consumers, but preserves the tariff’s punitive effect on foreign producers.

For example, suppose President Trump were to impose a 10 percent tariff on all Chinese toasters.

Black & Decker makes toasters in China. These toasters sell for $60 in American stores. That’s the retail price. Are tariffs imposed on retail prices? No. This means that the price of toasters will not rise by 10 percent—$66 toasters are a media-concocted boogeyman.

So just how much would this hypothetical tariff increase the price of toasters?

American stores buy their toasters from Chinese manufacturers. But because of China’s (intentionally) convoluted regulatory framework, they often buy them via middlemen located in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan. These middlemen charge somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 per toaster.

And of course these middlemen don’t work for free: they buy the toasters directly from Chinese factories for $7 per toaster. This is the first sale price, and tariffs are calculated on this figure. Thus the tariff charged on a Black & Decker toaster that retails for $60 works out to just 70 cents.

American consumers don’t pay 10 percent more for toasters—they pay just 1.15 percent more. And that’s assuming Black & Decker doesn’t simply source its toasters from one of China’s competitors, in which case consumers may not see any prices increase whatsoever.

This same rule applies to component pieces, meaning that toasters assembled elsewhere using Chinese parts would only increase in price relative to their proportion of Chinese origin. For example, if a Taiwanese factory assembles $7 toasters using foreign parts, half of which are from China, then tariffs would apply only to half of the value. The final retail price of this hypothetical Taiwanese toaster would increase by just over one-half of 1 percent

Americans consumers may not notice the tariffs, but Chinese producers will. After all, the only reason Americans manufacture in China is because they’re cheap. If Trump’s tariffs change this fact then American companies will do business elsewhere—ideally in America. China is vulnerable and Trump knows it.

In this way tariffs give America leverage over China—leverage we can use to achieve important goals. For example, China steals up to $600 billion in American intellectual property every year. Tariffs could coerce the Chinese into enforcing American IP law (which they pledged to do when they joined the World Trade Organization), thereby generating astronomical amounts of cash and upholding the rule of law.

Innovation Expands Economies and Tariffs Push Innovation
Tariffs will also enrich America because they help expand the economy. Here’s how:

America’s economy grows when we make more or better stuff—more cars or more luxurious cars, more software or faster software.

Great minds from Plato to Adam Smith to Henry Ford recognized that one way to make more stuff is to divide our labor more efficiently. When people specialize in making only what they’re best at, and trade for what they’re not, they can make and consume more stuff overall. Henry Ford took this principle to its logical conclusion by perfecting the assembly line, and unlocked enormous prosperity as a result.

But there’s a problem: we can only divide labor so efficiently. Once we reach the limit, growth will stop.

Thankfully there is another way to make more stuff: increase productivity, make more stuff in the same amount of time. How? Invent and adopt better technology.

Technology is also the key to making better stuff—it’s why today’s iPhones are more powerful than computers that filled buildings in the 1970s. Or why a trip from London to New York takes six hours by airplane, as opposed to three-and-a-half days by steamer.

Technology makes us richer. Economic growth is a predicate of technological progress, it is a footnote to the story of mankind’s creativity.

Everyone I speak with understands this point intuitively. But let me flesh it out with an example.

There are two islands. One island is home to the Flintstone culture: a technologically primitive, yet industrious people. The Flintstones worship their deity, Adam Smith, by dividing their labor and trading as much as possible. In return, Adam Smith blesses them with prosperity. He is a generous god.

The second island is home to the Jetson culture. Unlike the Flintstones, their technology is highly sophisticated—far more advanced than our own. For example, their crops are drought, disease, and pest-resistant, highly nutritious, and whole fields can be harvested in an hour, by a single man riding a floating tractor.

Who’s richer? The Flintstones or the Jetsons?

Obviously the Jetsons. No matter how efficiently the Flintstones divide their labor, no matter how freely they trade, they will always produce less than the Jetsons. Stone tools cannot compete with hover-tractors (or the parochial diesel-powered ones Americans use).

America Must Retain Our Advanced Industries
If we want to grow the economy we need to improve our technology. How?

We cannot simply force people to invent “the next big thing” any more than we can force them to compose like Beethoven or perform like Daniel Day Lewis. Instead, we must create an economic climate that maximizes our exposure to technological discoveries. Doing this requires tariffs.

Most discoveries are generated by America’s technologically advanced industries—sophisticated manufacturers, information technologies, pharmaceuticals. The Brookings Institute focused on the economic impact of “advanced industries” in a recent report. The study found that although such industries employ just 9 percent of America’s workforce, they file 85 percent of all patents, provide 90 percent of private sector research funding, and employ 80 percent of America’s engineers.

Advanced industries are the engine of growth—and we’re losing them.

Not only is it cheaper to make bobble heads in China, it’s also cheaper to make automobile components, computer processors—everything. It’s also cheaper to perform basic research and product design abroad now that many developing countries are training large numbers of (relatively) competent engineers and scientists.

Without tariffs to equalize cost differences, America’s advanced industries will continue to leave, taking with them our jobs, our prosperity, and our economic future. President Trump’s tariffs on China are a good start, but they’re not enough.

The problem isn’t that our industries are leaving for China, it’s that they’re leaving to begin with. Where they end up isn’t all that important. For this reason President Trump should protect America’s industry from asymmetrical foreign competition wherever it lurks. And he needs to do it quickly, while there’s still something to protect.

Photo Credit:  Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

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Asia • China • Economy • Post

Trump’s Chinese Tariffs Are a Necessary ‘Evil’

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President Trump announced this week he would levy 10 percent tariffs on some $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. The tariff is scheduled to take effect on September 24, and is slated to increase to 25 percent by year’s end. Of course, China pledged to retaliate with tariffs of “equal scale and equal strength.”

This has some American exporters worried. After all, China is the fourth-largest buyer of American goods. Even more important to these exporters, the Middle Kingdom is the world’s largest untapped consumer market. China is El Dorado—were it only open for business.

GOP bigwigs agree, and are willing to fight the president tooth-and-nail in the name of “free trade” with China’s authoritarian dictatorship—an oxymoron if ever there was one. But what they fail to understand is that China will not embrace free trade because it conflicts with their modus operandi.

Instead of pursuing this Chimaera, Congress should focus on rebuilding America’s hollow industrial base and maintaining our tenuous technological lead.

The Birds and the Bees—also Bats
By 1970, Chinese civilization was near collapse. The “Middle Kingdom” was a peripheral backwater—a warzone populated by peasants who scratched out their living with tools of bone and rock. Mao’s cult demanded they melt down their metal implements to build forges to boost steel production. Steel production was a sign of progress, after all. Never mind if actual citizens were deprived of its use. Some 35 million Chinese died of starvation during the “Great Leap Forward” and millions more disappeared in the night. China lay in ruins.

Today, China is the land of 1,000 cities. In the last decade, China has poured more concrete than America poured in the last century. Their industrial production is triple that of America’s—their population over quadruple. Additionally, China’s computing power is nearing parity and their scientific output is gaining fast. No wonder economists describe China’s rise as an “economic miracle.”

How did they do it?

The standard explanation for China’s rise runs like this: in the 1970s China shied away from hard-nosed communism and began to liberalize. China in 1985 opened coastal cities like Dalian, Guangzhou, and Shanghai to development. As predicted, cheap Chinese labor attracted investors, who built innumerable, factories, roads, and ports. China industrialized because of its (economic) liberal reforms and freer trade with America. China’s rise is liberalism’s triumph.

There’s only one problem: this narrative is false. Remember, homologous structures don’t necessitate shared origins—just because bats, birds, and bugs all have wings doesn’t mean they evolved from a (recent) common ancestor. Likewise, although China’s economic reforms look “liberal” to western eyes, they stem from a different ideological substrate.

Modern Chinese capitalism is not rooted in Adam Smith or David Ricardo; instead, its progenitors are the Qing Dynasty’s nameless mandarins.

Pangu’s Corpse
The oldest definitive evidence of trade between China and the West dates from 1070 B.C.—a Chinese silk found in Pharaonic Egypt. Although we do not know the scale of this commerce, we do know that by 800 B.C. Chinese craftsmen created jewelry with imported gold, and decorated said jewelry with Scythian motifs. This implies that intercontinental trade was regular-enough to facilitate the diffusion of aesthetic tastes and artistic techniques.

Trade eventually coalesced along the Silk Road, an overland trade route crisscrossing Eurasia’s deserts and mountains. Because of the vast distances and physical limitations of pack animals, merchants only transported luxury items. For example, China exported silk and porcelain in exchange for amber, glass, and gold. This was the extent of East-West trade until 1522 A.D., when Portuguese ships reached China.

Direct shipping greatly reduced prices and increased European demand for Chinese goods. But there was a problem: China didn’t want anything made in Europe. They only wanted silver. There are two reasons for this: first, many Chinese elites held “barbarian” merchandise in contempt; second, the Middle Kingdom’s most able mandarins saw European goods as a threat to Chinese industry. Thus, silver was the preferred—and eventually only—medium of exchange.

Nevertheless, trade grew rapidly. In the latter half of the 1500s Europeans exported 50 tons of silver to China annually. By 1650 silver-outflows increased to 115 tons annually. This trade enriched China by increasing demand for Chinese production and increasing monetary liquidity (silver was currency). The gains in Europe were ephemeral, however. On the one hand, they enjoyed luxurious Chinese silk. On the other, they only had so much silver.

Hungry for Chinese goods but low on silver, Britain started smuggling opium and cotton into the Middle Kingdom during the early nineteenth century. China cracked down and tensions boiled over in a conflict known as the First Opium War (1839-42). The British won, gaining Hong Kong and the right to export their manufacturing to China—they finally entered El Dorado.

Fearing that British imports would outcompete their domestic manufacturers, China soon rescinded the deal and banned British imports. This precipitated the Second Opium War (1856-60), wherein a British-led European coalition again defeated China, and opened the Empire to European merchants. Additionally, British goods were entirely exempt from taxes.

The flood of European industrial production choked-out Chinese competitors, and aborted all prospects of domestic industrialization. Slowly but surely, China was reduced to a state of mercantile dependency.

The Second Resurrection of Lazarus
For over a century China lay in economic ruin. Things began to change in 1971 when President Nixon lifted America’s embargo on China, which had been in place since Mao’s takeover. But trade remained insignificant until 1980 when President Carter conferred “most favored nation” status on China, thereby exempting them from the additional tariffs imposed on “hostile” states—apparently this communist dictatorship was no longer hostile.

Once China opened its coastal regions to foreign investors, the rest was history. American investors relocated innumerable factories to China and exported production for “bargain basement” prices. Between 1985 and 2017, Americans bought a net $5.2 trillion worth of Chinese production—enough to capitalize the industrialization of earth’s largest nation.

Not only did China industrialize, it also modernized. American technology and science flowed into the Middle Kingdom after President Reagan reclassified China as an allied state, removing the usual restrictions imposed on technological exports. This benefited a number of America’s technology exporters, but it also gave China the keys to the Ferrari: not only was labor cheaper in China, but Chinese factories could be outfitted with the latest technology. We created a new competitor.

One of the main reasons that America’s leaders, from Reagan to Obama, have dealt with China so incompetently is that they misread the signals: they think China is emulating America, and thus they will eventually open their markets and trade freely. Every American concession is underpinned by this assumption. Like so many of our assumptions about China, this assumption is also false.

China isn’t emulating America, it’s emulating itself—an historical version of itself.

In 1985, Chinese opened its doors specifically to export-oriented industries. That is, companies that built factories in China with the express purpose of exporting the production were given generous subsidies and access to artificially cheap labor. From the beginning of its resurgence China’s goal was to be the seller, not the buyer—swap semiconductors for silk, or plastic for porcelain and you’ll see the similarity between the “Communist” and Qing trade policy.

Another important congruence is how modern China jealously guards its lucrative domestic market. By and large, Western companies cannot operate in China. Those granted the privilege are often forced into “partnerships” with Chinese companies, which siphon-off a portion of the profits and serve as important vectors for intellectual property theft—which costs America some $400 billion annually.

China’s protectionism also allowed the nation to evolve an independent and hugely profitable economic ecosystem. Just look at China’s information technologies sector: by blocking Amazon, China preserved the market niche for a domestic competitor, Alibaba. Today, Alibaba is one of China’s most valuable companies, and is Amazon’s only viable global competitor.

Modern Chinese bureaucrats, like their Qing predecessors, operate according to the simple maxim: China first.

When China “opened for business” in 1985, it was not emulating America, nor was it following the recommendations of free market economists: it was reviving the Canton System, it was embracing its mercantile past. China was becoming China again.

China was a mercantile power once, and it is a mercantile power again. And most importantly, it has no plans to become a liberal, free-trading nation—economists be damned. The late Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s economic resurrection, said this of China’s “economically illiterate” trade policy: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white—if it catches mice, it’s a good cat.” Economists can say what they like, but make no mistake: China is one fat cat.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • China • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • North Korea • Post • Russia

Trump Should Withdraw U.S. Forces From South Korea

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The election of Donald Trump was a seminal moment in modern American history, as one of the important things it signaled was a need for a fundamental reassessment of U.S. foreign policy. Yet no matter how costly in terms of blood and treasure the status quo may be for the average American, the brahmins of U.S. foreign policy dare not countenance any questioning of it. One of those unquestioned foreign policy commitments is the permanent presence of U.S. troops (and some of their families) in South Korea.

Although South Korea is wealthy and has a modern military the country is threatened by its unpredictable neighbor to the north. The threat South Korea faces is compounded by North Korea’s undying commitment to obtaining a nuclear weapons arsenal (something that the South Koreans do not have—and surprisingly don’t want). Traditionally, this has been the argument in favor of our continued presence on the peninsula.

What Happens Next?
It remains unknown, however, whether North Korea’s leadership is truly insane enough to launch a full-scale war against South Korea, should they acquire nuclear arms. At present, North Korea has enough conventional weapons pointed at Seoul to obliterate it in the first half-hour of any fight, so it’s a bit beside the point. But let’s also not forget that no matter how bloody another Korean War would be, the United States and South Korean forces would prevail in the end.

So, while one cannot discount the possibility that North Korea’s leadership is crazy, the fact remains that most geopolitical analysts insist Kim Jong-un is quite sane. Kim’s regime appears content to negotiate with the Trump Administration rather than engage in the standard nuclear brinkmanship that has defined more than 50 years of U.S.-North Korean relations. It’s also clear Pyongyang is not going to denuclearize any time soon.  It’s possible, however, that Kim only wants nuclear weapons as a deterrent against invasion (proving the claims about him being a rational actor are true).

All of this is to say that whatever our continued presence in South Korea may be achieving, it is not serving as a preventative measure against a third world war. Instead, the U.S. military presence may be a barrier to basic negotiations. If both the mainstream expert opinion about Kim Jong-un’s mental state and President Trump’s instincts about the North Korean dictator are correct, then removing U.S. forces might be the key to bringing lasting peace to the Korean peninsula.

How to Make Friends Turn On Each Other
What’s more, the continued presence of American troops not only provides a panicky North Korea with tempting targets, it also brings North Korea, China, and Russia closer together when Washington should be attempting to separate the three. China in particular has been willing up till now to do just enough to prevent all-out war in Korea, but not enough to end the threat decisively.

Beijing also wants nothing more than for American forces to withdraw from the Korean peninsula. Undoubtedly, China’s influence would expand if the United States did depart. On the other hand, once Beijing and Pyongyang no longer shared a common American threat their differences—of which there are many—would rise to the surface. Remember, one reason Kim Jong-un murdered his half-brother in Malaysia in 2017 with a nerve agent was that he feared the half-brother was working with Chinese intelligence to overthrow him.

Once their common American foe was no longer a factor, Kim Jong-un would once again face a threatening neighbor to his north. China, likewise, would feel threatened and act accordingly if Kim possessed a reliable nuclear weapons arsenal. And Russia, which has a close relationship with the Kim family, would not take kindly to any threat posed to Kim’s reign from China. Anyone who replaced Kim Jong-un as leader of North Korea would be far closer to China and effectively would lock Russian influence out of North Korea (weakening Russia’s presence in the Far East is a long-term strategic goal of Beijing’s).

Washington Should Drawdown and Reap the Benefits of Disorder
The United States gains little by remaining on the Korean peninsula. Washington should begin a phased withdrawal of its forces coupled with sustained diplomacy with Pyongyang. It might not result in denuclearization, but it could result in a more sustainable peace.

Once U.S. forces are gone, only the region’s local actors will be left. And, nothing kills a toxic relationship—such as the one between China and North Korea—like proximity. For once, the United States might end up taking the role of a neutral mediator in any future conflict in northeast Asia. That is much to be preferred over being at the front of a potential nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula.

That’s putting America First.

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Photo Credit: Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images

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China • Foreign Policy • Government Reform • History • Post

America Must Learn From China If It Wants to Beat China

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In Xinhua’s September 3 coverage of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese President Xi Jinping sounded remarkably like a globalist. Self-conscious of China’s solidifying position as a major power, the Chinese premier ironically condemned “hegemony and power politics” while outlining transnational threats in his promotion of Beijing’s commitment to Africa and greater “humankind.”

Against a backdrop of American tariffs and Trumpian trade restructuring, the great power economics of Sino-American relations is entering a new era marked by a fundamental restructuring of America’s reaction to the long standing Chinese strategy. Rather than writing off Chinese strategy and its consequences, lawmakers of both parties would do well to learn from China’s example, and make Trump’s conscious linkage of the country’s political economy to American security a mainstay of our policy going forward.

Contrary to popular belief, Beijing’s increasing confidence on the world stage is not the result of post-Cold War globalization, nor is it the simple fruits of the reforms begun under the post-Mao reforms of Deng Xiaoping. Patriotic and conscious of the country’s relative weakness compared to foreign powers, China’s intellectual elite in the 19th century began advocating fuqiang, or “wealth and power,” as a means of undoing the deterioration caused by poverty and foreign conquest. From the First Opium Wars through most of the 19th century, China faced a conglomeration of challenges ranging from economic concessions to foreign powers, internal strife, drug addiction, and an increasingly ineffective Qing Dynasty. Aside from fundamental differences in the degree of turmoil and in governing structures, the parallels animating the origins of pre-Communist Chinese nationalism and America in the Trump-era are difficult to ignore.

While Britain’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 made the United Kingdom the dominant power in the Atlantic, it was the elimination of China’s great power status that ushered in British hegemony. According to most estimates, Qing-era China was home to the world’s largest economy; yet, increased pressure from the U.K. and increased opium addiction in China took their toll. In an effort to redress trade deficits with the Qing, the British promotion of opium use in China culminated in the first of a series of drug wars with a disastrous effect on the Chinese economy. Internal strife caused by the ensuing economic losses, and the increasing ethnic resentment between the Manchu Qing and China’s Han majority eventually peaked in the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and the establishment of the Republic of China.

Against this backdrop, Chinese thinkers formed the “self-strengthening” movement aimed at restoring the country’s economic and military power. The movement’s main focus was the examining of foreign powers’ capabilities in areas ranging from administration to technology, and military strategy to economic and business models.

If China’s self-strengtheners could examine America’s contemporary political economy, their critiques would be scathing but useful. One of modern China’s early political thinkers, Feng Guifen notes that late Qing China was moribund in areas of academia, job training, and development. The Left’s takeover of academia and promotion of increasingly pseudo-scientific disciplines in exchange for student loan debt jeopardizes the ability of young Americans’ to invest in homes, start-up businesses, and retirement. Contemporary America’s trite refrain that higher education leads to upward mobility similarly has ushered millions of the country’s young workers away from needed job training and skills vital to repairing infrastructure and manufacturing.

Feng likely would have agreed with Trump on the need to renegotiate trade deals and use state power to force trading partners to the table. Contrary to the claims of so-called free trade purists, American workers cannot simply “compete” their way to growth in the face of artificially cheap wages and the nonexistent environmental laws that lure American factories abroad. European economic efficiency alone did not secure trade concessions in 19th century China; rather, it was coercive diplomacy.

Comparing the United States at the time when Qing rule was waning, Liang Qichao noted that China suffered from a profound lack of national and civic responsibility. Qichao’s observation found the flip side of Feng Guifen’s assessment of poor Chinese political legitimacy compared to the West. Notably, Qichao lamented China’s lack of “civic” and “national consciousness” in the presence of stubborn parochial subnational interests. The Democrat Party’s increasingly tribal strategy of valuing citizens’ membership in the republic’s social contract along racial and class lines provide an eerie American parallel to the ills observed Qichao in Qing China.

China’s self-strengtheners would have readily understood the appeal of Donald Trump that so confounded pollsters and political scientists in 2016. Thinkers such as Feng Guifen would have recognized America’s increasing distrust of media elites. Republican China’s founder, Sun Yat-sen, would have seen reflections of his era in Americans’ simmering distrust of established political parties and traditional party platforms. If the activist-scholars of China’s past offered advice to contemporary American policymakers, they would look favorably upon Trump’s economic nationalism. Paradoxically, they likely would have been skeptical of Xi’s commitment to transnational threats while applauding Trump’s chutzpah in placing the interests of American workers in Pittsburgh ahead of the Paris climate accords.

If China overtakes the United States as the premier power of the 21st century, America would be the butt of an ironic joke. Contemporary China’s growth in economic and military power is not an unexpected phenomenon, but comes as the culmination of a national project begun in the early 19th century to reclaim the country’s international standing. Losing its status to European states of the time, China endeavored to learn from various aspects of the West’s economies, military technology, and society. Ironically, if America falls behind China in the 21st century, it will be against a China that grew in part because of emulating a previous and more robust version of the West. In seeking to keep the page of history from turning to a chapter beyond the American century, the United States would do well to take one from China’s past.

Photo Credit: Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

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America • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • China • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • EU • Europe • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • NATO • Post

Holding Turkey Accountable

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The increasingly autocratic government of Turkey has lost its mind. Or, at least, it has returned to its historical form.

Under Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country has slipped away from a nascent form of democracy into an autocracy informed increasingly by Islamism. Whereas Turkey was once a bulwark against Soviet Communism in southern Europe—a secular power run by pro-Western leaders increasingly seeking to become enmeshed in the Western socioeconomic system—since Erdogan’s rise, Turkey has sprinted as far away from Europe and the West as possible. Now, Turkey exists as just another dictatorship in the Islamic World.

Truth is, Turkey and the West were always allies of convenience. When push-came-to-shove in accepting Turkey into the EU, Brussels opted to push back against Turkey’s membership until Ankara met certain political conditions. By that time, though, Erdogan had already begun his rapid Islamization of the once-secular Turkey. No compromise could be brooked.

Turkey also rankled the West when it continued zealously to hold influence over northern Cyprus. The government of Turkey also clashed routinely with those in the West who (rightly) supported Kurdish independence (at least in northern Iraq). Turkey was so concerned that the United States ultimately would grant the Kurds of northern Iraq a state after they toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, that Turkey—a fellow NATO ally—refused to allow American military units to use Turkish territory to conduct offensive operations against Iraq.

Neo-Ottomans Unite!
Meanwhile, Turkey made overtly corrupt alliances with leading figures in Iran, in a bizarre oil-for-gold scandal. From there, elements of Erdogan’s government began funding disparate Salafist groups—even ISIS at one point—in an attempt to topple Arab strongmen. The reason? Erdogan fancied himself a new Ottoman sultan and was keen on reconstituting the old Ottoman Empire that once spanned the Islamic World (at least the Middle East and North Africa). This ideology became known as “neo-Ottomanism.” As ethnic Turks and Sunni Muslims, Erdogan and his fellow neo-Ottomans believed that only they had the ability to unite the Islamic World under their leadership.

The Obama Administration was wary of selling advanced American arms to Turkey—despite its position as the primary pillar of NATO’s southern defensive perimeter—because of Ankara’s quiet support for terrorist factions and its revisionist foreign policy. Thus, Turkey, which had already begun sending envoys to China and Russia to develop closer ties, redoubled its efforts to woo both autocratic states.

Part of this move away from the West came in the form of Turkey’s acceptance as a dialogue member to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2016. For years, Turkey had flirted with becoming a member of the SCO but was prevented from doing so because Turkey was also seeking admission to the European Union.

All of that changed in November 2016 when the European Union parliament decided to suspend negotiations with Turkey indefinitely. The moment that occurred, Turkey became a dialogue partner to the SCO along with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. In 2017, Turkey was granted chairmanship of the SCO’s powerful energy club.

Turkey is now holding captive an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, while insisting the Trump Administration grant sanctions relief to one of Turkey’s largest state-owned banks, Halkbank. The reason Halkbank was sanctioned in the first place was to punish the Turkish government’s aforementioned ties with Iran—despite the fact that Washington reintroduced sanctions on Iran for its continued development of an illicit nuclear weapons program last year.  

Bear in mind, Turkey is digging in despite the Trump Administration’s decision to abandon America’s long-time Kurdish allies (who did most of the fighting—and dying—in the war against ISIS) in order to placate the Turks. What Trump got in place of the Kurds was an ungrateful ally that continues terrorizing the Kurds; suborning Iran’s imperial aggrandizement; supporting terrorist groups; holding northern Cyprus hostage; all while empowering both Russia and China.

Turkey has made its intentions clear: it is not a Western ally. Ankara does not seek to be a Western partner. If the West continues treating Turkey as though it were simply a wayward child rather than a rival, the West will continue to be undermined and embarrassed from within.

Turkey is free to make alliances and conduct business with whichever country its leaders wish. However, the United States does not need to continue giving Turkey a pass for its poor behavior because American leaders still delude themselves into believing that Turkey can be wooed. Turkey is an autocratic, non-Western state. It always has been. It always will be. It’s time to recognize that and act accordingly.

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China • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • NATO • North Korea • Post • Russia

Renegotiating America’s Role in the World: Avoiding the British Precedent

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After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Great Britain pursued a grand strategy of primacy, based on the concept of what Robert Gilpin has called “hegemonic stability.” For nearly a century, Britain provided an international “public good,” underwriting the security upon which global stability, interdependence and prosperity depend.

By balancing power on the European continent, enforcing freedom of navigation, and supporting free trade, Britain was able to maintain an uneasy peace—disturbed only by the Crimean War and the Wars of German Unification. But by the end of the 19th century, Great Britain had become a “weary titan.” In many respects, Albion was the victim of its own success.

Having prevented general war in Europe for nearly a century, many opinion leaders in Great Britain came to believe that peace was the natural condition of the world and that war could be prevented by adhering to what is today called liberal internationalism. The burden of defense was too high. Who needed a large Royal Navy when peace was at hand?

Moving on from Siren Song of Liberal Internationalism
Much of the British response was shaped by the fact that its hegemonic position had become more expensive as its relative share of the global wealth declined. Britain had benefited economically from free trade at a time when most states in the international system pursued mercantilist economic policies. This economic benefit created a comparative advantage that helped offset the cost of subsidizing peace in the international order. Although Britain was the primary bill payer for maintaining a free trading system, it was also the primary beneficiary of such a system.

It was also the case that the opportunity cost of policing its imperial frontiers was rising, hampering the ability of Britain to check the rise of a major state competitor, mainly Germany. As Britain learned from 1914-1918, success in the former does not guarantee success in the latter.

From the end of World War II to the beginning of the Obama Administration, the United States, like Britain before it, pursued a grand strategy of primacy in an effort to sustain a liberal world order. It ensured access to the “global commons”—especially freedom of navigation, which is essential to the prosperity arising from free trade and commerce—and airspace. It deterred the behavior of potential aggressors in the international system. It was willing to confront aggressors in the “contested zone,” the littorals of Eurasia.

But unlike his predecessors from both parties since World War II, President Obama chose to pursue an approach to international relations that relegated the United States to the status of just “one among many.”  He firmly rejected the idea of American exceptionalism and the status of the United States as the “indispensable nation” providing the “public good” of security. He made a conscious decision to dial back American power based on the expectation that others would step forward to maintain peace and security. Of course, they did not do so and our enemies exploited the situation.

This was a radical shift and a dangerous one that has led to a more turbulent world and an increased likelihood of war by miscalculation in the future. China became more aggressive; Russia threatened the peace of Europe. By acting on the claim that he was elected to end wars, not to start them—as if wars were ends in themselves, not means—President Obama aided and abetted the rise of ISIS after his decision to withdraw completely from Iraq. And his nuclear agreement with Iran made a mockery of the decades-long U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy. More importantly, the agreement was just another aspect of President Obama’s campaign to cede the Middle East to Iran.

When Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president, his statements led many—including myself—to believe he would continue Obama’s retreat as president. Trump’s campaign rhetoric suggested he had no coherent view of U.S. foreign policy, other than the gauzy commitment to “making America great again” and “America first.” Among other things, Trump criticized America’s overseas commitments, including the ongoing effort in Afghanistan; called into question the value of NATO; and argued the United States was being undone by its adherence to free trade. But in practice, Trump’s national-security strategy has been far more coherent than the incoherent global retreat embraced by the Obama Administration.

Now it is doubtful that Trump has studied the decline of British power or has reflected on its lessons for America today. But he seems intuitively to have recognized that the problems besetting Britain in the latter part of the 19th century were similar to those that face the United States today. He seems to have realized that if indeed geopolitical and economic conditions have changed, then the terms of the relationship between America and the rest of the world must be revamped.

Trump’s Foreign Policy is No Obama-style Retreat from the World
I previously identified several pillars of an emerging “Trump Doctrine”: First, there is what Walter Russell Mead has called a “healthy nationalism,” neither ethnic nor racial but civic in nature, based on the belief that the purpose of American power is to advance the interests of American citizens, not to create some abstract “global good,” or corporatist globalism divorced from patriotism or national interest.

Second—a corollary of the first—a state-centric view of international politics, one that approaches international institutions and “global governance” with great skepticism. Of course it is in the interest of the United States to cooperate with others within this international system, but such cooperation depends on reciprocity. This is especially important in the areas of trade and alliances. In principle, free trade is good for countries in the international system but for too long, the United States has pursued trade agreements that have not favored the United States. The principle of reciprocity is necessary to redress this imbalance.

Third, armed diplomacy. For too long, American policymakers have treated force and diplomacy as an either-or proposition. But understood properly, force and diplomacy are two sides of the same coin. As Frederick the Great observed, diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments. The threat of force increases the leverage of diplomats. The Trump administration’s approach to North Korea is a case in point.

Fourth, prioritizing economic growth and leveraging the new geopolitics of energy. The Trump Administration has moved expeditiously to lift regulations that hamper U.S. domestic productivity across the board, but especially in the area of energy production.

As Colin Dueck has argued, Trump’s approach to foreign policy has featured actions on four fronts: pressuring adversaries over security issues; pressuring adversaries over commercial issues; pressuring allies over security issues; and pressuring allies over commercial issues. This approach is not without its risks but it constitutes a recognition that the terms of the post-war global order need to be renegotiated.

If Russians Wanted a Puppet, Trump Would Have Been a Bad Bet
Of course when it comes to foreign policy and national security, the most serious charge against Trump is that he is somehow a “Manchurian Candidate,” advancing Russian interests to the detriment of our own. Indeed, some who should know better even accuse him of treason. But if Putin thought he was getting a puppet, he seems to have miscalculated.

Cui bono? The United States has increased defense spending, pulled out of the dreadful Iran deal, armed the Ukrainian opposition to Putin, bombed Syrian chemical-weapons sites, constructed ballistic missile defense (BMD) sites in Poland; browbeaten NATO to spend more on defense while actually deploying U.S. forces into NATO bases in Central Europe; killed Russian mercenaries in Syria, and expanded sanctions against Russia and especially Putin’s inner circles.

Meanwhile the Trump Administration has enforced penalties against U.S. and foreign companies that violate those sanctions, as well as expelled Russian diplomats. Most importantly from a geopolitical standpoint, he has unleashed American energy production, which hurts the Russian economy. These steps are all much tougher and impose much more cost on Russia than anything Obama did, or Hillary Clinton might have done.

Russian Decline in the Service of American and Western Ascendancy over China
But there is another issue here. Russia is a declining power, especially in demographic and economic terms. Putin may be playing a weak hand well, but it is still a weak hand. Russia’s weakness opens up the possibility of a U.S.-Russian alignment against the real threat to America’s position in the world: China. To paraphrase the 19th century British prime minister, Lord Palmerston, “the United States has no eternal friends, the United States has no perpetual enemies, the United States has only eternal and perpetual interests.”

Trump’s approach to Russia is part of a necessary restructuring of America’s relationship with the rest of the world. As in the case of Great Britain in the 19th century, America’s hegemonic position has become more expensive as its relative share of the global wealth has declined. And again as in the case of Great Britain, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate that the opportunity cost of policing our “frontiers” has risen, hampering our ability to check the rise of a major state competitor, especially China. Trump intuitively recognizes this reality and has sought to renegotiate America’s global bargain.

I share with many friends and colleagues a visceral distaste for much of President Trump’s rhetoric. I am put off by his unfiltered Twitter musings. I am offended at times by his public vulgarity. But if we look at his actions instead of his words, the picture changes for the better. In a famous essay, Isaiah Berlin once reflected on the difference between the fox and the hedgehog: the former knows many things while the latter knows one big thing. Ronald Reagan was the quintessential hedgehog. It seems to be the case that Trump is a fox. We will have to see if Trump’s fox knows enough of the right things to adapt American foreign policy to a changing geopolitical landscape.

Photo Credit: Andrew Cabellero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

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China • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Infrastructure • military • North Korea • Post • Russia

America and the Risk of Pearl Harbor 2.0

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In 1940, America launched an embargo against Japan. In 1941, Japan responded with a surprise attack on America’s Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Fast forward to today. America could be in a similar situation against even more dangerous foes.

President Trump has made sanctions a cornerstone of his foreign policy. This includes “maximum pressure” against North Korea, a reinstatement of sanctions against Iran, and—in a similar manner—substantially higher tariffs on Chinese goods.

Trump just put new sanctions on Russia, too—awfully bold for a leader ostensibly beholden to Vladimir Putin. Reports indicate that these sanctions are a significant escalation and may include “downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending the state airline Aeroflot’s ability to fly to the United States and cutting off nearly all exports and imports.”

A Corrective to Appeasement 
This is a sharp break from previous American policy. President Clinton, despite facing ongoing nefarious Kremlin activities, gave the Kremlin billions of U.S. tax dollars. President Bush was too busy chasing Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (the latter being one Bush never could catch) to give due attention to bigger players. President Obama pursued a pro-Kremlin line which meant bringing Russia into the World Trade Organization, a “reset button,” and greater “flexibility” to downgrade U.S. missile defenses in Europe after his reelection.

Trump’s sanctions are a correction to Obama’s naïve policy of appeasement that emboldened American adversaries into ever more dangerous, degenerate, and subversive activities.

As a correction, however, they are also a significant change, and these countries will get a chance to respond. It’s not clear that Putin, Xi, Khamenei, and Kim are all on board meekly to give in.

Who Has More to Lose?
The problem is if they—or even just one of them—responds as Japan did in 1941, when facing similar pressure, it’s not at all clear that America is prepared to handle the consequences.

Most Americans prefer to assume that an attack from these adversarial countries is impossible. But the reasoning to justify this assumption is often nothing more than a collection of rationalizations to avoid thinking about something scary. That’s not a good basis for national security.

The thought leaders in Washington, D.C, who consistently have gotten just about everything on foreign policy wrong, argue that China won’t become involved in a serious war because it would hurt their economic self-interest. But China is Communist. General Secretary Xi recently affirmed this when he gave a long homage to Karl Marx for his 200th birthday. These are not people known for making the most enlightened decisions.

Iran supposedly can’t attack America because it means America will kill the mullahs. But that fails to consider matters from their perspective. They are hurtling towards regime change and face the prospect of being strung up by the neck. Who knows what theocratic mullahs will do under the circumstances. Maybe they’ll consider it their religious duty to attack America before they depart this world for Allah. Maybe they think they can draw Russia or China in to their defense. Maybe they will try to frame someone.

Iran could surprise Americans with how much damage they can cause. If Iran has terror cells in America and they destroy just nine key interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer then America could be blacked out for 18 months.

Russia supposedly can’t attack America because civilization would end. Actually, only Americans think that. The Kremlin has planned extensively for war. They may think they can launch a nuclear Pearl Harbor and win.

Lights Out
Here is possibly the scariest reason why an attack may come. North Korea could actually beat America in a war.

If North Korea detonates a single nuclear warhead miles above America they would cause an electromagnetic pulse that destroys America’s electric grid, putting America in a prolonged blackout, and ending America as it’s known today. America’s EMP Commission has reported that 90 percent of Americans could die in such an attack.

North Korea may have that capability already.

They launched two satellites into orbit which the Obama administration ignored. The Kim regime claims they are part of a program to explore the moon. Expert Peter Pry and his colleagues, however, warn that given the satellites’ altitude, size, and trajectory right over the heartland of America, they could easily hold nuclear bombs and pose an immediate and existential danger to Americans.

It is not safe to assume that the American government has accounted for each of these possibilities. Remember, the American military answered to Clinton, Bush, and Obama. The Department of Defense remains riddled with Obama holdovers.

To be clear, Trump is not causing this potential conflict today. All of these countries have been pushing America for a long time. Trump just started pushing back. If they escalate yet again it would be their moral responsibility entirely.

More important than moral responsibility though is the actual outcome. Pushing back against nuclear-armed tyrants is dangerous. Are Americans ready? Is Mattis ready? Is the American electric grid ready? It wouldn’t be so easy to come back from a modern Pearl Harbor.

Photo Credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • China • Congress • military • Post

Protecting Taiwan From Chinese Aggression

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The Chinese want to regain Taiwan as much as Abraham Lincoln desired to keep the southern states in the Union. Since the day that Taiwan became home of Chiang Kai-shek and his displaced Chinese Nationalist forces, the United States has vowed to uphold Taiwan’s place as an independent country. China views Taiwan as a breakaway province. The United States sees Taiwan as a democracy besieged by a larger, bullying neighbor. Taiwan simply wants to be free and sovereign.

A Complex Relationship: China, Taiwan, and the United States
For its part, the United States strives to maintain a posture of strategic ambiguity. At first, the United States unequivocally stood behind Taiwan as a counterweight to Red China in the Cold War. During the Nixon Administration, however, U.S. policy toward China fundamentally changed. Nixon went to Mao and the two leaders opened up their countries to each other.

Later, as part of the Carter Administration’s diplomatic efforts with China, the United States no longer recognized its long-time ally of Taiwan as the legitimate government of China.Until then, Washington had only recognized Taiwan’s government as the government of China. But under Carter, Washington conceded the “one China, two systems” model that there is only one Chinese government—and that government is in Beijing, not Taipei.

The main objective of China’s Communist Party has been to reacquire Taiwan as a province of China, since the Nationalists retreated there in 1949. For Beijing, the post-1970s American policy was an incremental—but important—step toward China realizing such a goal.

Taiwan had lost its status as a country. Though it remained independent from Beijing’s control, Taiwan was no longer viewed as the legitimate government of China and, therefore, lost all rights and privileges awarded to sovereign states. Taiwan lost its place in the United Nations (and was, instead, replaced by China); Taiwan’s embassies were no more and were replaced with a meager trade commission in Washington, D.C. Yet, Taiwan was neither merely a province of China (as Beijing believed) nor its own state (much to the chagrin of most Taiwanese people).

American Support for Taiwan
To smooth over any ruffled feathers in Taipei after the United States entered into its new diplomatic relations with China in 1979, the United States Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act. The bill was created by Congress after legislators (rightly) expressed the belief that President Carter struck a bad deal with China not only in recognizing the Communist Party as the rightful ruler of China, but also in striking down the decades-old mutual defense pact between the United States and Taiwan.

According to Richard C. Bush of the Brookings Institute:

Although circumstances have changed [since 1979], [the Taiwan Relations Act] still reflects a strong political and legal commitment to Taiwan. Because China’s military is growing, the U.S. security role is far more important today than it was in 1979. Because Taiwan is a democracy, Washington’s task of balancing political values and security interests is more complex.

Even though America’s Taiwan policy effectively had been muddled by its newfound—and growing—relationship with Red China, former President Ronald Reagan sought unambiguously to declare American support for Taiwan with his Six Assurances. Delivered by presidential envoy, James Lilley, to Taipei in 1983, Reagan sought to explain that the United States:

1. Had not agreed to set a date for ending arms sales to [Taiwan];

2. Had not agreed to hold prior consultations with [China] regarding arms sales to [Taiwan];

3. Would not play a mediation role between [China and Taiwan];

4. Would not revise the Taiwan Relations Act;

5. Had not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan;

6. Would not exert pressure on [Taiwan] to enter into negotiations with [China].

Since that time, the United States—across several administrations, both Republican and Democrat—has sought to assure Beijing (at least rhetorically) that it was opposed to recognizing Taiwanese independence. Yet, the actions of the United States have indicated that, if push-came-shove, Washington would protect Taiwan from Chinese attack.

This was best exemplified in the Clinton Administration’s decision to send two U.S. Navy aircraft carriers through the narrow Taiwan Strait separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan in 1996. The Taiwan Strait Crisis occurred when the Chinese began getting belligerent with their Taiwanese neighbors because Beijing feared Taiwan was inching toward independence—and that the United States might recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state.

At the time, many assumed that Clinton’s brazen action—putting two American aircraft carriers within range of Chinese missiles and planes (which, back then, could not mount a serious threat to America’s powerful military)—intimidated the Chinese. Instead, it aggravated them. From 1996 until today, the Chinese military redoubled its rapid modernization program so as to prevent the Americans from ever repeating their humiliating behavior from 1996.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
In fact, nearly half of the Chinese military’s budget is directed toward developing Chinese capabilities that could be used to invade and conquer Taiwan, according to Ian Easton of the Project 2049 think tank in Washington, D.C.

Make no mistake: China will not leave Taiwan alone to its own devices. What’s more, the Chinese believe they have a decades-long historical record of American actions supporting Taiwan when faced against a potential Chinese military threat. China has made it their mission to reacquire Taiwan—sooner rather than later. Given our long-standing support for Taiwanese independence, Washington had better be prepared to withstand Chinese attacks against the United States.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo Credit: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

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America • Asia • Center for American Greatness • China • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • military • Post

Confronting China: America Needs Japan, India, and Australia

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When President Donald J. Trump was elected, one of his first decisions was to fulfill an early campaign promise: he abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that the Obama Administration negotiated. The reason for withdrawing was simple: it disproportionately would have harmed American middle-class workers and their already-ailing communities.

Yet the decision to remove the United States from the TPP agreement came at a cost. It created some damaging downstream effects for America’s foreign policy.

One positive aspect of the TPP was that it empowered Asian states to stand against China’s growing threat in the region. Since the termination of the agreement, the Asian democracies have tried to go forward without the United States without success.

Despite its necessary decision to end American involvement in the TPP, the Trump Administration has also correctly acknowledged that Asia is the most important region of the world. Moreover, the Trump Administration believes that Asia cannot be left to the machinations of authoritarian China.

Japan, Australia, and Vietnam have all become concerned about Chinese military activities in the region over the last decade. More importantly, India—the world’s largest democracy, and the seventh-largest economy (an economy, moreover, that is set to grow even larger over the next decade)—is equally, if not more, threatened by the Chinese juggernaut.

Since the start of this year, the Trump Administration has sought to revitalize the Quadrilateral Security Dialog (or simply the “Quad Alliance”), a loose coalition from 2007 consisting of the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. The Quad Alliance, which is currently informal and relatively powerless, should be formalized by the Trump Administration and given greater power. It should be the basis for a new trading and defensive military bloc aimed at tethering together the region’s most powerful economies into a competitive counterweight to China.

But the Quad Alliance is not without its problems.

Like it or not, Trump’s trade war with China has turned off potential allies in the Asia-Pacific. Most of the Quad Alliance members have all become fabulously wealthy from the “free trade” policies that President Trump opposes. The leaders of these states are therefore skeptical of Trump. This has translated into their unwillingness to further enmesh their countries in the budding Quad Alliance.

Don’t let that fool you, though. As time progresses, Japan and India will be unable to ignore China’s true threat. In the last decade alone, China’s extreme behavior in the South and East China Seas (with their unlawful island-building program) have already exhibited to the region the danger that a China—drunk on wealth and nationalism—poses.

In 2017, India and China fought a series of pitched battles in their long-standing feud over water rights (which China controls at present) for the Tibetan Plateau. The stronger and wealthier China becomes, the less inhibited Beijing will be in checking its revanchist impulses.

For its part, Australia has taken a schizophrenic approach to the issue of China’s rise. Australia has allowed for the United States to base some Marines in Darwin. It has also expanded its participation in joint-naval exercises with the United States. Australia also attempted to participate in major naval exercises with the Indian Navy recently (which New Delhi, in an attempt to appeal to Beijing, rejected). However, like Japan and India, Australia has become more committed to its free trade policy with China, thereby negating the potential potency of the proposed Quad Alliance network.

The Quad Alliance is not dead yet, however. All that is needed is a more visible sign of American engagement with the Asia-Pacific (beyond mere rhetoric) generally, and specifically, American commitment to the other Quad members. What’s needed, then, is Trump’s decisive leadership. A new trade deal and deeper military ties are required to sweeten the deal.

Beginning with Japan, a country with the most antipathy toward China, the Trump Administration must negotiate the creation of a new fair trade deal that would leave open the possibility of Australia and India joining. From there, the United States should court other Asian countries, like Vietnam and South Korea, into becoming observing members of the Quad Alliance.

Rather than advocating for an expansive trade deal that effectively weakens the United States at the expense of the other members, the Trump Administration would have to employ its thus far effective negotiation style to goad its potential Asian allies into fully committing to the Quad Alliance, and making it a mainstay of the region.

Also, a joint military command would have to be created to better coordinate members’ defensive efforts. China, the world’s second-largest economy, will not be contained by each country in the region acting alone. It will require concerted effort and dedication.

The Quad Alliance is the only way to compete with China.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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2016 Election • America • China • Deep State • Elections • Foreign Policy • Political Parties • Post

Worried About ‘Foreign Meddling’? Look at China!

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Every day for the past 18 months, we have had to endure legions of news reporters and liberal lawmakers appearing on our television screens, pretending to deplore “Russian meddling” in America’s 2016 presidential election. Never far below the surface of this tedious moralizing is the implication that (evil) Trump wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Russia’s skulduggery, and, since he surely worked hand-in-glove with the Russians all along, he ought to be booted from office.

The truth, as many conservatives have pointed out, is that Russia’s “meddling” was irrelevant to the central dynamics of the 2016 election, which was lost by Hillary Clinton—a truly dreadful candidate—more than it was won by Donald Trump, and “foreign meddling” in American elections, and American meddling in foreign elections, is nothing new or even particularly outrageous.

Every election is executed imperfectly. Despite these imperfections, those who truly believe in democracy readily acknowledge, broadly speaking, electoral results still encapsulate the people’s will. This is why Richard Nixon, despite his well-founded concerns about election rigging in 1960, never contested John F. Kennedy’s victory. He foresaw that this would lead to endless electoral hair-splitting and a field day for lawyers, all of which would damage the country he so loved. Thus he swallowed his pride and waited his turn to run again.

If only Democrats were as patriotic and far-sighted!

Who Benefits?
“Foreign meddling,” in any case, comes in many forms, and it is by no means the Russians who are solely, or even primarily, responsible for it. Aggressive “influence campaigns,” of the sort waged by Russia in 2016, were waged by the United States throughout the Cold War, and we still “meddle” from time to time.

The Obama Administration, for instance, gave money to a group that campaigned against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s 2015 election. Moreover, the United States actively intervenes in Iraqi and Afghani politics. Influence campaigns are also standard operating procedure for China, Israel, Iran, and various wealthy Persian Gulf oil states.

It’s not merely governments that “meddle.” Foreign citizens may be forbidden from donating to U.S. political campaigns directly, but their (paid) lobbyists in this country are not. Foreign lobbyists gave millions to candidates in 2016. (The Russians, by contrast, laid out about $100,000 for their infamous Facebook ads.) The top recipient? Hillary Clinton, of course. Senator Chuck Schumer was third. The enormous foreign contributions to the Clinton Foundation are also a matter of record—some of them made during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state—and it is not hard to imagine that these overseas donors may have expected some back scratching in return for their largesse.

Corporate donations to political campaigns and Super PACs represent another way for foreigners to “meddle” in U.S. elections. Corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to organizations promoting political causes, rather than specific candidates, and, lest we forget, the stockholders of these corporations are very often foreigners, espousing foreign, or “globalist,” agendas. Evidence is also mounting that wealthy foreigners contribute to Super PACs directly. Safeguards to prevent this are pitifully weak.

Foreign Leaders Aren’t So Covert or Subtle
Meanwhile, the most potent form of “foreign meddling” in the 2016 election had nothing to do with financial contributions or hacking. It came in the form of repeated statements by foreign leaders that were designed to undercut the Trump campaign and boost Hillary Clinton’s chances of victory.

Former British Prime Minister David Cameron labeled Trump’s call to restrict Muslim immigration “divisive, stupid, and wrong.” French President François Hollande said Trump sometimes made him want to “retch.” China’s finance minister called Trump’s trade proposals “irrational.” Mexico’s president baldly compared Trump to Hitler and Mussolini. Clinton, by contrast, earned international plaudits. The Italian prime minister declared he was “rooting” for Hillary.

All of these statements, naturally, were intended to influence public opinion, including the views of American voters, and they represented a departure from historical norms of non-interference. Was this “foreign meddling” roundly condemned by liberals and the news media? Of course not. Prior to Donald Trump’s historic victory in 2016, concerns about “foreign meddling” were decidedly muted, because it was assumed that the “right woman for the job” would win.

Now, though, China is presenting us with a new and arguably even more provocative form of election meddling. Given its timing, and given Democrats’ incessant hysterical warnings about the existential threat to American democracy posed by foreign interference, you would expect that these pillars of patriotism and rectitude would be screaming bloody murder. But, no. As usual, it’s only Trump-related and Russia-related “meddling” that merits their attention.

China’s Extensive Interference
And how is China interfering with our democracy? In the most naked, shameless manner possible.

In response to President Trump’s tariffs against China, designed to combat Chinese trade manipulation and theft of U.S. intellectual property, China has retaliated with tariffs of its own. Those tariffs, however, have been targeted against states and regions that supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Texas and Louisiana top the list of affected states. Rural areas have also been hard hit, with China slapping steep tariffs on soybeans, dairy products, and meat. Rural voters, lest we forget, supported Trump in 2016 by record-setting margins.

In other words, China’s tariffs are designed to punish Trump’s key constituents. In essence, they are designed to blackmail Trump voters into abandoning their support for Trump, and by extension for his economic and trade policies. China’s actions are therefore a direct and purposeful form of interference in U.S. elections and in our system of governance.

Are Democrats (and Trump-decrying Republicans) reacting to this assault on American democracy and the integrity of our elections with sanctions, threats, and general outrage? Not a bit of it. They are blaming the whole debacle on President Trump, who had the temerity to challenge China’s dishonest trade practices in the first place! In other words, given the choice of siding with American consumers and U.S. workers, or with the foreign countries and interests taking advantage of them, these two-faced politicians are choosing to undercut the President of the United States and give aid and comfort to our trade adversaries. Incredible.

The sad part is that we know that President Trump’s hardball trade tactics can work. They did with South Korea, and just recently they produced a deal (in principle) with the EU. Trump’s aggressive pursuit of fair trade works best, however, when Americans project an image of unity. If instead our adversaries believe that Trump will be forced to knuckle under to a fractious Congress or a critical media, they would refuse to budge in trade talks. Trump’s domestic enemies know this. They know their carping is undermining America’s negotiating position and exacerbating our “trade wars,” and they don’t care. They want Trump to fail.

Where’s the Outrage?
The Left and the media’s utter indifference to China’s attempt to manipulate American voters proves, as nothing else could, that their phony outrage over “Russian meddling” is exactly that: empty, opportunistic, and undoubtedly temporary. Our political elites have stood by for years as foreign interests exercised more and more control over American democracy, and as U.S. economic independence was forfeited. They expressed not a whit of concern about these trends before 2016.

Now that Donald Trump is president, however, these political charlatans are pursuing an utterly hypocritical strategy: in disputes between the Trump Administration and foreign leaders and interests, they invariably side with the foreigners; simultaneously, they falsely accuse Russia and Trump of conspiring to rig an American election, and they thus elevate a contrived discourse about “foreign meddling” to the top of the public agenda.

It is time to call these hucksters on their deceit and duplicity. Either the media and Democrats should start taking all forms of foreign meddling seriously, even when they are designed to hurt Trump and Republicans, or they should cease their moralizing altogether. As things stand now, the disconnect between the feigned, chest-thumping patriotism and the actual globalist pusillanimity and treachery of these scoundrels is shocking to behold.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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America • Americanism • China • Donald Trump • EU • Europe • Foreign Policy • Germany • Greatness Agenda • Immigration • Middle East • NATO • Post • Trade

Reciprocity Is the Method to Trump’s Madness

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Critics of Donald Trump claim there is no rhyme or reason to his foreign policy. But if there is a consistency, it might be called reciprocity.

Trump tries to force other countries to treat the United States as it treats them. In “don’t tread on me” style, he also warns enemies that any aggressive act will be replied to in kind.

The underlying principle of Trump commercial reciprocity is that the United States is no longer powerful or wealthy enough to alone underwrite the security of the West. It can no longer assume sole enforcement of the rules and protocols of the postwar global order.

This year there have been none of the usual Iranian provocations—frequent during the Obama Administration—of harassing American ships in the Persian Gulf. Apparently, the Iranians now realize that anything they do to an American ship will be replied to with overwhelming force.

Ditto North Korea. After lots of threats from Kim Jong Un about using his new ballistic missiles against the United States, Trump warned that he would use America’s far greater arsenal to eliminate North Korea’s arsenal for good.

Trump is said to be undermining NATO by questioning its usefulness some 69 years after its founding. Yet unlike 1948, Germany is no longer down. The United States is always in. And Russia is hardly out, but instead cutting energy deals with the Europeans.

More importantly, most NATO countries have failed to keep their promises to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

Yet the vast majority of the 29 alliance members are far closer than the United States to the dangers of Middle East terrorism and supposed Russian bullying.

Why does Germany by design run up a $65 billion annual trade surplus with the United States? Why does such a wealthy country spend only 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense? And if Germany has entered into energy agreements with a supposedly dangerous Vladimir Putin, why does it still need to have its security subsidized by the American military?

Trump approaches NAFTA in the same reductionist way. The 24-year-old treaty was supposed to stabilize, if not equalize, all trade, immigration, and commerce between the three supposed North American allies.

It never quite happened that way. Unequal tariffs remained. Both Canada and Mexico have substantial trade surpluses with the United States. In Mexico’s case, it enjoys a $71 billion surplus, the largest of U.S. trading partners with the exception of China.

Canada never honored its NATO security commitment. It spends only 1 percent of its GDP on defense, rightly assuming that the U.S. will continue to underwrite its security.

During the lifetime of NAFTA, Mexico has encouraged millions of its citizens to enter the U.S. illegally. Mexico’s selfish immigration policy is designed to avoid internal reform, to earn some $30 billion in annual expatriate remittances, and to influence U.S. politics.

Yet after more than two decades of NAFTA, Mexico is more unstable than ever. Cartels run entire states. Murders are at a record high. Entire towns in southern Mexico have been denuded of their young males, who crossed the U.S. border illegally.

The United States runs a huge trade deficit with China. The red ink is predicated on Chinese dumping, patent and copyright infringement, and outright cheating. Beijing illegally occupies neutral islands in the South China Sea, militarizes them and bullies its neighbors.

All of the above has become the “normal” globalized world.

But in 2016, red-state America rebelled at the asymmetry. The other half of the country demonized the red-staters as protectionists, nativists, isolationists, populists, and nationalists.

However, if China, Europe, and other U.S. trading partners had simply followed global trading rules, there would have been no Trump pushback—and probably no Trump presidency at all.

Had NATO members and NAFTA partners just kept their commitments, and had Mexico not encouraged millions of its citizens to crash the U.S. border, there would now be little tension between allies.

Instead, what had become abnormal was branded the new normal of the postwar world.

Again, a rich and powerful United States was supposed to subsidize world trade, take in more immigrants than all the nations of the world combined, protect the West, and ensure safe global communications, travel, and commerce.

After 70 years, the effort had hollowed out the interior of America, creating two separate nations of coastal winners and heartland losers.

Trump’s entire foreign policy can be summed up as a demand for symmetry from all partners and allies, and tit-for-tat replies to would-be enemies.

Did Trump have to be so loud and often crude in his effort to bully America back to reciprocity?

Who knows?

But it seems impossible to imagine that globalist John McCain, internationalist Barack Obama or gentlemanly Mitt Romney would ever have called Europe, NATO, Mexico, and Canada to account, or warned Iran or North Korea that tit would be met by tat.

(C) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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America • Center for American Greatness • China • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Post • Russia • the Presidency • Trump White House

Putin Needs a Deal With Trump

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The Russian Federation controls one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world. In fact, Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons arsenal is likely larger and more advanced than its counterpart in the United States. To compound matters, the Russians have stationed a large portion of those nonstrategic nuclear warheads in a part of Europe they control known as the Kaliningrad. And, ever since 2008, the Russians and the United States have been on the brink reigniting the long-dormant Cold War.

President Trump is doing what every Cold War president from Eisenhower until Reagan has done: he’s keeping the lines of communication open to avoid a nuclear calamity. When John F. Kennedy or Jimmy Carter did it, Democrats and their kept media lauded their mature diplomacy. When Trump does it, Democrats and their kept media say he is Putin’s man in the White House. It’s a truly strange world we live in today. Yet, press forward with necessary diplomacy Trump must.

The good news is that the United States under Trump is surging into unprecedented levels of prosperity and military readiness whereas the Russians are crashing-and-burning.

Decades of bad government policy—coupled with a sclerotic economy and autocratic rule—have created the perfect conditions for Russia’s economic malaise and an almost unstoppable decline (this is most evidenced by the decades-long decline of Russian fertility rates).

In fact, Russia is contracting in every way imaginable and Putin knows it, which is why he has tacked so hard toward the militant nationalism side of Russian politics. But none of Putin’s bluster can arrest the fundamental changes occurring in Russia.

That is, Putin cannot stop this decline without American assistance.

Why should we help shore up a collapsing Russia? Well, what happens when Russia collapses and a handful of basket case republics—some armed with weapons of mass destruction—arise in its place?

Such a world is too frightening to imagine. Remember the chaos that befell the world when the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German, and Russian Empires collapsed? Imagine that, but with loose nukes, other weapons of mass-destruction, and an anti-Western ideology.

Menacing Migration

Russia, like its neighbors in Europe, is dealing with a massive immigration problem that is placing undue pressure on the calcified regime in Moscow.

From the south, Muslims are pouring in from the Middle East and Central Asia. As a result, Moscow is now home to the largest Muslim population of any European city. Russians who can flee from the country to the West have been doing so at breakneck speed—further depleting the country in this most precarious moment in history.

To the east, the Chinese have been flooding the resource-rich (and sparsely-populated) Russian Far East for more than 20 years. If demographic trends persist, there will be more ethnic Chinese living in the Russian Far East than there will be native-born Russians in a few short years. Under such conditions, it is unlikely that the ethnic Chinese will wish to remain a part of Russia. Instead, it is more than likely that those Chinese will seek to return the Pacific side of Russia to China—as things were until the 17th century.

The situation in the Russian Far East is so problematic that a recently released Russian military assessment indicates that the Russian military is incapable of defending that part of Russia from an invasion.

Clearly, Moscow is worried that the Chinese juggernaut on their porous and undefended border will seek to reclaim the Russian Far East. The military document calls for an immediate repositioning of Russian forces away from Europe and into the Russian Far East, to deter potential Chinese aggression there.

As the old saying goes, “Russia without Siberia [and the Far East] is not Russia. It is simply Muscovy.” Plus, in order for Russia to be competitive in the global economy, it needs access to the panoply of natural resources that exist in the east—which is precisely what the Chinese ultimately seek to deny Russia.

Putin understands this and is desperate to refocus his attention to his far more important east. But that won’t be possible until he’s secured his western flank. Stabilizing relations with the United States would give Putin the room he needs to start standing up to China.

Western Woes

It’s fair to say that Putin has invited much of the antipathy he has encountered over the last decade from his Western neighbors. Then again, as Peter Conradi outlines in his first-rate book, Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War, the West since 1991 steadily has encroached upon Russian borders and reactivated Russia’s centuries-old paranoia of encirclement, invasion, and dismemberment by foreigners.

How would Washington respond if, suddenly, Russia and China started amassing on America’s southwestern border? No wonder Moscow has taken an increasingly nationalistic and militaristic approach in foreign policy.

Trump’s Hand

Taking stock of Russia’s woes, how can anyone honestly believe that Trump is entering into the pending summit with Putin with anything other than a strong hand? What does Trump really need from Putin (compared to what Putin needs from Trump)?

Putin needs:

Sanctions lifted in order to have a chance at rehabilitating his country.

Continued expansion of Russia’s ties with Western countries, so that Russia can sell Europe more oil and natural gas—the two commodities that drive Russia’s economy.

Legitimacy in the eyes of the West.

The conflict in Ukraine to end. While Putin can accept a more amicable peace in Eastern Ukraine, he cannot countenance returning the Crimea to Kiev’s control.

The Syrian Civil War to die down so that Russia can fully pull its overextended forces out of the region.

In exchange for stabilizing Russo-American relations and helping Putin get Russia back on its feet again, Trump should follow F.H. Buckley’s good advice:

We have one thing to offer Putin that he truly craves—legitimacy, both at home and abroad. That is what an understanding with America would give him, and in return we’ll want an end to Russian military sales to Iran and support for our withdrawal from the nuclear deal with that country. If Putin wants legitimacy, that’s the price of admission. It’s time for him to choose sides [in the U.S.-Iran conflict].

Putin’s hand is remarkably weak—and he knows it. Ultimately, Putin needs a deal more than Trump does, though there is no denying that a deal will be good for the United States, too. Whatever bluster Putin may exhibit in public, if Trump grants Putin the simple kindness that international law insists all world leaders be granted by fellow world leaders—legitimacy—then the Russo-American relationship will stabilize.

From there, the threat of another Cold War would be mitigated and, perhaps, Russia and America could bring much-needed stability to the world.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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America • China • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • military • NATO • North Korea • Obama • Post • Progressivism • the Presidency • Trade

Trump’s ‘Deplorable’ Diplomacy

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Liberals see Donald Trump as the embodiment of toxic masculinity. Trump’s voters see a real man.

My husband jokes that in our family, if anything is dead, bites or is on fire, it’s his job. North Korea was beginning to approach the “bites” and “is on fire” category.

It took a year of intense economic and military and psychological pressure to bring Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table in Singapore. Trump’s critics tried to spin the initial meeting as a diplomatic disaster.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will arrive in Pyongyang this week to kick off the negotiations. Satellite images show that North Korea is expanding missile production, so the Washington Post is calling the entire diplomatic effort a “sham” before actual negotiations have begun.

Trump’s critics are going to fall on their faces with North Korea, as with their other predictions of doom. They underestimate Trump time and again because his strengths are invisible to them.

The United States does not have to blink at threats from a squirt like Kim Jong-un. Our experts don’t know this. Trump does.

When Kim tried some last-minute bluster before Singapore, Trump canceled the summit. Setting clear lines is not a setback, it is a key to success. Trump was defining the relationship. Kim cannot make threats. We can. Trump was his usual blunt self: “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”

Force of Commitment
It’s easy to point to Trump’s character flaws. His virtues are discounted by liberals who adore the Ivy League finishing school polish of Barack Obama. They never noticed the small, aggrieved, lying politician inside the fancy suit.

Trump wears big, ill-fitting suits by choice. He does what he likes. He does not tailor himself to suit others.

Trump’s critics do not understand the force of the president’s commitment to protect and defend America. His voters do. It is an essential, common sense, manly, American virtue—men protect their families. Men take care of danger.

It seems a big leap from New York real estate to international diplomacy. It is not. Being a confident, tough, aggressive man is essential in dealing with dangerous pipsqueaks like ISIS and North Korea.

The victory over ISIS came first and so fast that the partisan press had little trouble ignoring Trump’s achievement. After years of Obama flapping his hands and disastrously inviting Russia into the Middle East to do the job for us, ISIS was out of Syria. ISIS was in our weekly headlines, and then it was gone. No success here, move along.

Trump focuses on his goals, like any good businessman, not on his re-election prospects, as politicians do. His job as president is to protect the nation’s security and advance American prosperity. North Korea will not be a nuclear power, period. It’s too dangerous to let a rogue country, run like a slave-labor camp with a half-mad ruler, have nuclear missiles. Add in the fact that Kim is already selling military technology to Iran, and the task is beyond urgent. Trump sees that Kim is a dangerous weirdo murderer better than anyone. That is why he decided Kim must “denuke.”

His critics predict the same old diplomatic collapse when North Korea blusters and cheats. They think Trump is an idiot and can’t handle a Kim Jong-un. They think Trump’s aggression is out of control, even insane and destructive.

But then, they think all healthy masculinity is destructive.

“Don’t Mess With the Messer”
His voters believe Trump will win in Korea because they think the same way. Diplomats see complexity. Trump sees simplicity. A nuclear North Korea is dangerous to the United States. North Korea is small and weak. We are strong. It is protected by China, but China is no match for America either.

What is impressive is how Trump communicated the force of his decision to disarm North Korea to China and to Kim Jong-un. It took a year of strategic, multifaceted diplomacy and intimidation.

China has been buying off and manipulating our politicians for decades. Trump can’t be bought, and he does the manipulating himself. As the old Willie Dixon song goes, “Don’t mess with the messer, the messer gonna mess with you.”

Real estate tycoons like Trump win through intimidation. They are masters at that game. Trump isn’t intimidated by anybody. Not by business rivals, political rivals, lying journalists, not by rogue FBI agents. He is not intimidated by China, and certainly not by Kim Jong-un. Intimidation is what Trump does. It is a game he enjoys as a master.

Trump wants to upset the status quo with China. Trump puts the American worker, his voters, first. The powerful economic interests who profit from China’s predatory trade practices are less than nothing to him. He wants to win the existing trade war with China, the one that the United States has been losing for more than two decades. Accommodating to China is over.

War If Need Be
Politicians play things safe by doing what has been done before, solutions be damned. Trump the builder likes to get things done. It is not in him to follow Obama’s politically safe, irresponsible, do-nothing footsteps and call that “peace.”

North Korea could thumb its nose at us because it was protected by China. When Trump put China on notice he was going to war with them—a trade war, that is—calculations changed. Encouraging Kim’s bellicosity was no longer to their advantage. China shortened Kim’s leash.

The messages continued all year. Trump became more and more menacing. That ranged from bombing Syria during dinner with the Chinese premier, to mockery, to military exercises in the Pacific. This was not a phony Twitter war, it was geopolitics at the highest level. It is almost exactly a year since Trump sent the third carrier battle group into the western Pacific. It is said that when the United States sends one or two carriers, it is a show of strength. Sending out a third carrier means war. China and Kim got the message.

Asserting Power in Our Self-Interest
Why is Trump’s pragmatic, forceful, classic carrot-and-stick approach so difficult to grasp for our foreign policy experts and pusillanimous politicians? Because the solution requires character traits they don’t have. Masculine traits Trump and his supporters have in abundance—not accepting bullshit, not caring what other people think, not being afraid of a fight.

That is why his voters are sure North Korea is not going to be the dangerously useless diplomacy we have had since Clinton. Trump and his voters share a common outlook about getting the job done, no matter if it is dirty or difficult. Don’t over-complicate things, and don’t shirk your duty. Just do the job.

China and North Korea and Trump’s critics are getting to experience how a tough man goes to work. This is how a responsible president deals with a small but rabid country threatening the safety of our own nation.

President Trump understands we are a powerful country. He knows how to assert American power in our self-interest.

He is on the job.

Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

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America • Americanism • Asia • China • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Economy • Government Reform • Greatness Agenda • Post • self-government • The Culture

The Establishment Hearts China

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Communist China is one of the gravest threats this country has ever faced, in large part because many members of the American establishment see China as a partner, a role model, and the wave of the future. They believe that, instead of fighting the Communists, we should work with them and emulate them.

Democracy is a problem, and China has the solution.

In the real world, China is a totalitarian police state that tortures and jails dissidents and seeks to intimidate anyone who gets in its way. Arguably the worst violator of human rights in history, it’s killed more of its own people than any other government, ever.

Enriched by the work of slaves and near-slaves and by the theft of intellectual property, China’s kleptocracy is using its unimaginable wealth to buy off politicians in Africa, fund hundreds of propagandizing “institutes” at U.S. colleges, and corner the market on the minerals necessary for modern technology.

The long list of China’s hacking operations includes the theft of 21.5 million U.S. government personnel records. And, as admitted by Mark Penn, Clinton chief strategist in 1996 and 2008: “In 1996, the Chinese government had the ‘China plan’ and pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign.”

Today, even James Clapper, President Obama’s director of national intelligence, concedes that China is the greatest threat to America “long term.”

Yet most members of the elite in the nation’s capital, in the major media, and in big business see no problem in working with the Communists.

With China as the world’s top movie market and an indispensable partner on projects ranging from movies to theme parks to casinos, Hollywood is in Beijing’s pocket, as are news organizations that are divisions of China-partnered corporations. Squire Patton Boggs, one of the top-30 law firms in the world and a key power-broker in Washington, represents China. The Washington Post distributes, as a newspaper supplement, the Communists’ propaganda publication China World.

Why not? China’s cool. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote in 2005: “I cannot help but feel a tinge of jealousy at China’s ability to be serious about its problems and actually do things that are tough and require taking things away from people.” In 2009, Friedman wrote, “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”

Professor Daniel A. Bell of Tsinghua University in Beijing, formerly of Stanford and Princeton, wrote in a 2012 Christian Science Monitor commentary about “the success of meritocracy in China” as opposed to “western-style democracies” where “less talent goes to the bureaucracy.” The summary of his article reads: “Democracy has its problems. The world—especially the U.S.—could learn from China’s ‘political meritocracy.’ Its one party selects leaders based on ability and judgment. They balance the interests of an entire country—and the world, not just finicky voters or big donors.”

Another sinophile is Andy Stern, former head of the Service Employees International Union and the labor leader closest to President Obama. “As painful and humbling as it may be,” Stern wrote in a slavish 2011 op-ed, “America needs to . . .  study the ingredients of its competitors’ success. While we debate, Team China rolls on.” Stern quoted Robert Engle, Nobel Prize-winning economist, as saying “that while China is making five-year plans for the next generation, Americans are planning only for the next election.

Former Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Robert Herbold wrote: “Let’s face it—we are getting beaten because the U.S. government can’t seem to make big improvements. Issues quickly get polarized, and then further polarized by the media, which needs extreme viewpoints to draw attention and increase audience size. The autocratic Chinese leadership gets things done fast (currently the autocrats seem to be highly effective).”  

General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt (former head of NBC and MSNBC and chair of the Obama Administration’s Jobs Council) said in 2012: “The one thing that actually works, you know, state-run communism may not be your cup of tea—but their government works.”

In 2014, The Economist summarized the Chinese argument, that “their model–tight control by the Communist Party, coupled with a relentless effort to recruit talented people into its upper ranks—is more efficient than democracy and less susceptible to gridlock. . . . [T]he regime’s obsession with control paradoxically means it pays close attention to public opinion. At the same time China’s leaders have been able to tackle some of the big problems of state-building that can take decades to deal with in a democracy.”

Some Chinese intellectuals have become positively boastful,” the magazine continued. “Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University argues that democracy is destroying the West, and particularly America, because it [institutionalizes] gridlock, [trivializes] decision-making and throws up second-rate presidents like George Bush junior. Yu Keping of Beijing University argues that democracy makes simple things ‘overly complicated and frivolous’ and allows ‘certain sweet-talking politicians to mislead the people.’”

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the arguments against democracy by many of our opinion leaders and industrialists sound as if they were crafted by Chinese Communists? Great fools think alike, I suppose.

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America • Americanism • Asia • China • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • military • North Korea • Obama • Post • Terrorism • The Media

Trump’s Moves With N. Korea Are Nothing Like Obama’s With Iran

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In the wake of the Singapore summit with North Korea, many commentators and publicists, Democrats as well as figures from the NeverTrump Right, have argued that President Trump is legitimizing a dictator. Trump critics contend that had President Obama met with a dictator like Kim Jong-un, Republicans would be fuming. After all, Republicans criticized the previous president for negotiating with another despotic regime, Iran, over its nuclear weapons program. Accordingly, honesty and principle require Trump supporters to criticize the current president for doing precisely what would merit attacks on a Democratic president.

A cursory glance shows that the two situations are not at all similar. Iran does not yet have a viable nuclear weapon and North Korea does. The negotiations that led to Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, legitimized Iran’s path to the bomb, achievable within a little more than a decade. The purpose of Trump’s negotiations is to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Clearly, Democratic and NeverTrump political operatives are not making a serious argument. They’re posturing. Since this is a deadly serious issue, however, it’s worth getting it right.

Obama’s Realignment Effort
It’s vital to understand that Obama’s Iran deal wasn’t simply or even primarily an arms agreement. Rather, it was an instrument with which to realign American interests in the Middle East. The goal of realignment was to upgrade Iran and downgrade traditional American partners—especially Israel and Saudi Arabia—in order to facilitate a U.S. withdrawal from the region.

Michael Doran wrote an important essay in February 2015 explaining realignment and detailing the Obama Administration’s flawed assumptions. Tony Badran is another Middle East analyst whose articles during the course of the Obama years showed how the United States was moving toward realignment. Obama aides and supporters waved off the realignment thesis as a “conspiracy theory” impugning foul intent to a president who simply wanted to avoid another Middle East war.

Most of these Obama supporters didn’t understand what the president was doing. It’s worth recalling that the “echo chamber” was a loud and incoherent chorus given the task not to explain Obama’s policies but to shout down critics of the Iran deal. For instance, the administration trotted out nuclear experts like Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to sell the “science” of the JCPOA—while at the same time Secretary of State John Kerry pushed poetry and fantasy, like Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s imaginary fatwa against nukes.

Most of the echo chamber had no idea what it was actually advocating, even though Obama frequently discussed it. In a New Yorker article from January 2014, for instance, Obama described a “new geopolitical equilibrium . . . developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.”

Realignment was Obama’s version of Great Britain’s twin-pillar strategy. Formulated after World War II when London realized it could no longer sustain its empire, the twin-pillar strategy held that the two great powers of the Persian Gulf, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, would balance the region and manage British interests after withdrawal.

Fundamental Misunderstandings
In fact, it was the United States that kept the peace in the Persian Gulf after the British exit, a peace that became increasingly difficult to manage after Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Obama was correct to see that the United States had further altered the regional balance by toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003, thereby strengthening Iran. Obama wrongly concluded that the way to facilitate the U.S. exit from the region was by further empowering the regime in Tehran.

The Obama Administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran needs to be seen in this context. The United States was not negotiating with an adversarial regime but was rather treating with a potential partner that would help stabilize the Middle East to the benefit of American interests. How could Obama possibly deny the regime what it most desired, the bomb, if he expected Tehran to help balance the region?

The actual intent of the JCPOA negotiations has led to a great deal of confusion. Many critics on the Right believe that the Obama team did a bad job and got a bad agreement. Some thought the way to go was to renegotiate the Iran deal, not crash it, as Trump did in May.

This misunderstanding of the fundamental nature of the Iran deal has helped open the way for Trump critics to return fire. “How can anyone praise Trump when he has won nothing on paper from the North Koreans?” the argument goes, whereas Obama got lots of paper in a deal officially struck with Iran to limit its nuclear activities. But that was not the purpose of the Iran deal. The JCPOA simply provided Obama with enough cover to grant Iran the nuclear weapons program it will have as soon as the so-called sunset clauses prohibiting certain activities expire.

The actual goal of the Obama Administration’s JCPOA negotiations was to legitimize the Iranian regime and its nuclear weapons program. North Korea, in this framework, is already legitimized, regardless of Trump’s efforts. Whether we wish to blame the policies of more than two decades that did not stop North Korea from getting a bomb or prefer to see Pyongyang’s program as an inevitable and natural fact that was no more preventable than a hurricane, the reality is that acquisition of a nuclear weapon puts that power on the global stage.

Delegitimizing a Dangerous Regime
Does the bomb “legitimize” North Korea, or for that matter does possession of a nuclear weapon “legitimize” any regime? “Legitimacy” does not refer to a universal quality all regimes must have in order to exist, nor does it describe a regime’s behavior at home and abroad. It is simply a concept drawn from international relations syllabuses used to describe how various actors secure and sustain power and prestige.

Or, think about it like this: During the Iran debate, advocates of the deal often argued that the mullahs would never actually use the bomb, or they’d be crazy to use the bomb. Iran, said JCPOA advocates, isn’t crazy. It’s a rational regime.

That line of argument falls away as soon as any power acquires a nuclear weapon. After a state’s nuclear breakout, a central concern for policymakers around the world is that said state may indeed use the bomb. The primary purpose of acquiring a nuclear bomb is to get the world’s attention.

Kim Jong-un has the world’s attention. He has Donald Trump’s attention. We cannot yet know whether Trump will be successful or to what extent he may succeed. But in his efforts to “denuclearize” the Korean peninsula, the goal is to “delegitimize”—if that’s how you want to understand it—a dangerous and destructive regime that terrorizes its own citizens and threatens its neighbors. This is precisely the opposite of what the Obama Administration did when it legitimized the clerical regime in Iran and its nuclear weapons program.

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America • Asia • China • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Hillary Clinton • Identity Politics • North Korea • Post • The Left

What’s Really Happening With North Korea?

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Most commentary on the Trump/Kim summit is evidence of partisan stampede thinking. Herewith are the insights of an old professor of international affairs, who does not know what is on Trump’s or Kim’s mind any more than anyone else, but who strives to be dispassionate.

The 33-year history of negotiations about “denuclearizing” the Korean peninsula is too well known to recount here. Suffice to say that, for Americans, it has been a triumph of hope over experience, for the North Koreans an unfailing fount of assistance in the building of a redoubtable force of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles capable of reaching and commanding respect from America. For China, it has been an incomparable tool for showing other Asians that America cannot protect itself, much less them. The salient question is how this round might possibly be different.

The standard conservative answer, that Trump faced Kim with the choice between denuclearizing or being crushed, is just nuts.

Crushed how? Certainly not militarily. The United States has no way of destroying North Korea’s missiles. We have no way of knowing where they are. Nor do we know where most of its nuclear programs are located. And if we did, no one advocates starting a nuclear war to do it—especially since China has made clear that it is on North Korea’s side.

Crush it economically? Trump vowed “maximum pressure.” But since North Korea lives by China, crushing North Korea means convincing China to do it. China has promised something like that again and again. But, now as ever, North Korea is what it is and does what it does because China wants it so. Indeed, China’s first reaction to the Trump/Kim summit was to drop even verbal support for sanctions, and urge others to do the same. Hence, talk about “crushing” is just talk.

What about denuclearization? On which of the following scenarios two years hence would you, gentle reader, bet your net worth? a) North Korea will have no nuclear weapons or intercontinental missiles, b) North Korea will have fewer nukes and ICBMs than today, c) North Korea will have about the same number of nukes and ICBMs as today, or d) North Korea will have more nukes and ICBMs than today.

Consider how much effort the Kim regime put into acquiring these weapons, and the primordial role they fill in its domestic and international assertion of legitimacy. Consider also the (bad cop) role the North Koreans play in China’s effort to expel U.S. political-military influence in the Western Pacific—its main geopolitical objective. What, if anything, has happened recently so momentous as to have led the Kims to hazard their very lives and China’s to abandon a principal geopolitical tool? I cannot think of any. Can you? Therefore, I would bet North Korea has more nukes and ICBMs in two years than it does today.

On the other hand, the best of the establishment’s commentary on the Trump/Kim summit—the essence of which is that Trump has fallen hard for the oldest of diplomatic traps—is premised on gratuitous assumptions.

The first, that Trump is as starry-eyed as Fox News, declaring victory and “giving away the store” unaware or mindless of the equities and history involved, is belied by his own statements, foremost of which is “we’ll see.” And were Trump’s irresponsibility plausible, national security adviser John Bolton’s is not. In addition to the equities and history the establishment’s assumption is based on the fact that Trump, uncharacteristically, has started the negotiating process by making unilateral concessions: suspension of U.S military exercises in the region, raising the prospect of removing U.S troops from South Korea, and “normalized” diplomatic treatment of North Korea. He even saluted a North Korean officer. Machiavelli, however, reminds us that uncharacteristic errors may be indications of ulterior motives.

The second gratuitous assumption, that Trump actually expects North Korea and China to eliminate or even to reduce North Korea’s armaments, makes it impossible for the establishment to imagine that Trump may be pursuing an entirely different objective. Consider the possibility that Trump, Bolton, etc. concluded that China-supported North Korea is a nuclear power, irrevocably. In that case, the best way to contain both North Korea and China is to mobilize South Korea, and above all Japan, to become very serious about their own defense. Doing that requires forcing them to face unvarnished reality.

If this were the case, Trump would have regarded South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s offer to broker a summit with Kim as a golden opportunity to show Asians, once and for all, the need to take up their own defenses. By taking Kim’s promise of denuclearization at face value and meeting it by advancing all that pacifist Japanese and Koreans might want, and by setting a deadline for his own definitive judgment on North Korea/China’s seriousness he set up a confrontation between North Korea/China and South Korea/Japan six months from now.

Between now and December, through the midterm congressional elections, the media will continue to bet on options a) and b). If they blame Trump, it will be for being too much of a peacemaker. Then, as Trump recognizes the inevitability of options c) and d), he will have gone a long way to accomplish what his campaign implied, to induce Japan and maybe South Korea, to go nuclear.

Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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America • Americanism • Asia • Big Media • China • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Free Speech • GOPe • Hillary Clinton • military • North Korea • Post • The Left • The Media

How Twitter Diplomacy Works

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President Trump this week will bust 68 years of diplomatic white paper inertia and meet the leader of a nation with which America has been at war since 1950.

In Singapore, Trump may add to a list of accomplishments that includes full employment, a booming economy, and sharp drops in illegal immigration, a new and completely unexpected one: ending America’s only war that lasted longer than the television show “M*A*S*H.”

Let’s not gloss over the fact that Trump’s foreign policy began with tweets, name-calling, and claims that “my nuclear button is bigger than yours.” Experts from CNN all the way to the Wall Street Journal have been aghast at Trump’s methods.

The experts haven’t yet figured out that the president’s tweets about Rocket Man and self-pardons cut through the news cycle like a machete, destroying every competing narrative in their path.

Because narratives are generally deployed to clutch, grab and frustrate Republican presidents, this is quite a political gift.

Trump wins the news cycle—as he won the presidency—by garnering maximum attention. That is why, in case you haven’t figured it out, he is taking pardoning advice from the Kardashians. Duh.

Writing 18 years ago in Dish: How Gossip Became the News and the News Became Just Another Show, Jeannette Walls presciently observed:

A lot happened in the world that week. The Berlin Wall was toppled and Germany was reunited. Drexel Burnham Lambert, the wildly powerful junk bond company, that spearheaded the eighties financial boom, collapsed. And after twenty-seven years in prison, South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela was freed. But for eleven straight days, the front pages of the tabs were devoted to the Trump divorce. Time and Newsweek did cover stories. Even the New York Times stooped to cover it.

It is an approach founded in effective branding. Trump Airlines. Trump Divorce. Trump Tower. Now, Trump World Peace?

Any civic-minded conservative who would ever say Trump should tone it down simply doesn’t understand political strategy in the social media age.

Trump’s tweets, bombast, and other Scaramuccis (to coin a term) draw maximum attention, but they should not be confused with the reason good things keep happening.

They are diversionary devices that keep his naysayers occupied while he does real stuff. Good things are happening upon principles of cause and effect, the governing science of a real estate developer.

The key to getting Kim Jong-un to bargain was . . . wait for it . . . to ask. Not Kim, but the Chinese.

Whatever happens at this summit, the greatest advance in the Korean stalemate happened about a year ago, when China made clear through its state-run media that it would not support North Korea in a war that it started against the United States.

It was a game changer that materialized after Trump’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. Nearly 70 years of State Department policy wonking and Harvard symposiums on Korea never quite got there.

There ensued Kim’s heavily armored slow train trip from the Hermit Kingdom to Beijing, where we don’t know what the Chinese told him, except that it was probably some version of “Cut it out, you’re ruining everything.”

Trump’s connection with the 65 million who voted for him is that they, too, live in the world of cause and effect, one bad decision away from losing everything.

They were fed up with the endless abstractions and self-congratulation that substitute for effective policy in Washington. They wanted a president who would be measured by results: did the president deliver benefits for America?

Even the phrase “America First” was a promise to yield tangible outcomes. That is how Trump voters understood it. Only huffy intellectuals far removed from causal connections could find their way to an esoteric reading of a simple slogan as a racial dog whistle. And, once again, their reading tells us more about them than it does about Trump or his supporters.

Trump enters the proceedings in Singapore with one unexpected advantage. He already blew up an international summit this week and publicly humiliated Justin Trudeau.

Kim Jong-un and whatever advisors he hasn’t yet killed have to be recalibrating their approach.

It is not quite three-dimensional chess. But it is at least the sort of tactical negotiation that a builder conducts with his granite supplier and that real people do every day.

Sometimes Justin Trudeau has to be roughed up to achieve a greater good.

And for those of you who never negotiated with a granite supplier, the olive branch extended to Putin while shutting down the G-7 was another shot fired at Kim Jong-un: even your friends like me better because my nuclear button is bigger, Exalted Leader.

It is impossible to know what will result from this summit. Maybe nothing, except the continued slow and effective isolation of North Korea from the protection of China. Or maybe the lion will sleep with the lamb and there will be 1,000 years of peace.

Whatever happens, one thing is entirely predictable: Trump will win the news cycle. Because that is how Twitter diplomacy works.

Photo credit: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

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America • Americanism • Asia • China • Donald Trump • Economy • EU • Europe • Foreign Policy • Germany • Post • The Media • Trade

Trump is Right: G7 Needs a Wake-Up Call on Trade

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The recent meeting of the G7 leaders in La Malbaie, Quebec ended dramatically, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau harshly criticizing U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum and threatening to retaliate. President Trump then instructed U.S. negotiators not to sign the communique that group members issued at the conclusion of the summit.

Predictably, global elitists have reacted with the usual horror, and expressed their customary disdain for Trump. According to the New York Times, we are witnessing a “slow-rolling collapse” of our “fragile alliances.” Trump is frivolously up-ending the global order, we are told, and alienating countries that traditionally have been our closest friends and partners. The talking heads may have backed off on their threats of apocalyptic “trade wars” (perhaps because strong economic growth rates and the ongoing buoyancy of the stock market make their predictions of doom seem laughable), but they are still clutching at the idea that we are witnessing a “fundamental” shift in the prestige and influence of the United States, and a steady worsening of our relationships with almost all civilized countries. There is even talk that the G7 has become the “G6+1” as America goes it alone.

The problem is these arguments are entirely self-serving, insofar as the global elite always chafes at the effrontery of populists like President Trump, and it invariably seeks to defend its own privileges and prerogatives by labeling all criticism of the established international economic order “protectionist” or “isolationist.” In fact, seldom do the elitists even bother to address the substantive complaints made by Trump (and others like him) about the unfairness of existing trade dealsthey simply wag their collective finger at anyone boorish enough to question the present regime of “free trade.”

Trading relationships should be susceptible to criticism and revision, however, and when the people of a sovereign state vote to empower a new leader who embodies such criticism and reformist zeal, his election should have consequences. The elite talks as if the vicissitudes of something as shabby as democracy should be divorced from our sacred trade agreements. Nonsense!

Turns out, G7 members are targeting their retaliatory tariffs against U.S. industries and enterprises concentrated in states that voted for Donald Trump. In other words, they seek to manipulate democracy itself and foster political headaches for those who dare to question the world order. So much for Russians trying to influence our elections. In reality, we have more to worry about from the French and the Canadians! This is simply outrageous, and it ought to raise the hackles of any American patriot.

Doing a Service
The idea that President Trump is doing permanent damage to our relations with our traditional allies flies in the face of the mountain of evidence that Trump has formed productive, respectful working relationships with numerous world leaders, from President Emmanuel Macron of France to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. Moreover, we should keep in mind that our ties with other powerful, wealthy nations are always troubled by tensions and disagreements, and, in the post-World War II era as a whole, many of these differences of opinion have been far more serious and dangerous than the current spat over trade barriers. Lest we forget, Messrs. Trump and Trudeau are duking it out largely over the price of milk. It seems unlikely that U.S.-Canada relations will be scarred permanently by so trivial a dispute.

Lastly, the critique of Trump’s performance at the G7 summit is misplaced because Trump is actually doing both the American people and the citizens of all the G7 nations a great service: he is drawing attention to the deficiencies of past trade agreements—deficiencies that have in many cases cost jobs, shuttered factories, and abetted many a populist backlash against elitist economic manipulation. Trump does so not because he wishes to curtail trade, but in order to build it on a sounder basis. Trump has made it abundantly clear that he supports free trade, but not biased trade deals that require openness on the part of some and allow tariff and non-tariff barriers for others.

How About Real Free Trade?
The truth is that the leaders of the international economic order have long lived a lie: they pantomime unfailing devotion to “free trade,” while at the same time overtly and covertly carving out exceptions for their preferred industries. The result is a half-hearted form of free trade that rewards sly negotiation and punishes naïve idealism. As Trump suggests, all too often it is the United States that has been the most naïve, accepting a trading regime that imposes massive trade deficits and costs millions of jobs.

In 2014, the United States had a $142 billion trade deficit with the countries of the European Union, and a $35 billion deficit with Canada. Essentially no one believes that this is because American companies can’t compete with their overseas rivals—it is instead manipulative, predatory trade practices that explain the imbalance. Why, then, should the United States not try to re-balance this equation in its own interests?

More broadly, though, will it not benefit all the nations concerned if we find a new formula for trade that limits job losses and de-industrialization, and that finds favor with voters anxious about their economic futures?

To achieve such a trading rapprochement, the United States even should be willing to make concessions of its own. After all, we too are sometimes guilty of using subsidies and non-tariff barriers to insulate our industries from foreign competition. If G7 countries believe their own rhetoric about free trade, surely they will be willing to meet us halfway and cooperate in the elimination of surviving trade barriers . . . unless, that is, they prefer to thumb their noses at Donald Trump on principle. Some principle, though!

The Choice Before the Globalists
In the end, for seeking the amelioration of a broken trading system, Trump should not be seen as an enemy of the established order, but rather as its would-be savior. His suggestion to his fellow leaders in Quebec that ideally he would like to see the elimination of all tariffs throughout the G7 economies is a testament to his dedication to the principle of free trade, and his belief in the transformative power of capitalist competition and development. The fact that Trump is clear-eyed about the pressing need for reform in our trading relationships makes him a realist, yes, but not the protectionist boogeyman that the mainstream media, and its international fellow-travelers, portray.

The truth is that the global economic elite faces a choice: take Trump (and the tens of millions of voters he represents) seriously, and repair and refit the damaged infrastructure of “free trade,” or mock and ignore him, ensuring that the wave of economic resentment and protectionist sentiment that seemingly has been cresting for years now will build into a true tsunami.

In that case, the global bigwigs may someday look back and say, “Donald Trump? He was the least of our problems.”

Photo credit: China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

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America • China • Donald Trump • Economy • EU • Europe • Foreign Policy • GOPe • Libertarians • Post • Trade

No, Tariffs Are Not ‘Domestic Sanctions’

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The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is not democratic—it’s barely even a republic. The same goes for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos).

In fact, if a country includes democratic in its name, you can safely assume that it’s not democratic. This is a classic example of, what I like to call, the wisdom of irony: things are often not what they claim to be, and the more they claim, the less they are.

Consider Reason Magazine. In a recent piece, columnist A. Barton Hinkle argues that tariffs are sanctions, since both limit imports into nations. Basically, Hinkle’s argument rests on the classic logical principle: “if it looks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Unfortunately, Hinkle’s conclusion is fundamentally unreasonable. As always, the Devil’s in the details—details which he conveniently ignores.

Strength Through Adversity
Hinkle begins with a hubristic bang:

No one would ever accuse Donald Trump of meticulous adherence to the rules of formal logic. But even the president ought to realize the strongest argument against Trump’s tariffs on American imports has been made by Trump himself.

Trump’s implied “argument” runs as follows: both sanctions and tariffs restrict imports to the targeted nation. Therefore, since sanctions harm foreign nations (like Iran), then tariffs should likewise harm America. Basically, Hinkle thinks sanctions are tariffs, and tariffs are sanctions.

Hinkle then brands yours truly as one of “Trump’s cheerleaders” for making the rather obvious point that technology drives economic growth, and moving technology-generating industries abroad will slow domestic economic growth. This point is axiomatic and not open to debate. I suspect this is why Hinkle avoids addressing my argument entirely, and instead turns to sophistry, reframing the debate by conflating sanctions and tariffs.

Hinkle’s first mistake is to assume that sanctions cause harm. Often, they don’t. Instead, minor sanctions routinely trigger hormetic responses, causing economic growth. This is because the economy is an organic system, which benefits from stress (to a point) due to the principle of overcompensation. Just as muscles get stronger in response to the stress of lifting weights, or forests grow lusher in the wake of forest fires, economies get more productive when times get tough (but not too tough).

For example, Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution would likely have been stillborn if not for the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Were it not for the labor shortage caused by war, there would have been far less demand for the productivity-boosting machinery that created the modern world. Likewise, Napoleon’s blockade of the British Isle forced Britain to become economically independent, rather than relying on imports from the Netherlands and Hanseatic States. This greatly diversified Britain’s economy and opened up additional development paths. Were it not for these stressors, steam technology could have been abandoned in favor of human labor—just as it was in Ancient Greece, Rome, and China.

Of course, sanctions can also be damaging—but only when the damage they cause exceeds the economy’s ability to (over)compensate. Consider Britain’s blockade of the German Empire in World War I. Perhaps the chief reason Germany lost was that it lacked rubber (most of which came from Anglo-French Siam). Without rubber, the Germans couldn’t build conveyor belts, many vital industrial components, and—most importantly—tires. No rubber, no industry.

There are two lessons here. First, Britain’s rubber sanctions worked only because Germany’s economy was unable to compensate fast enough. Second, Germany’s economy did compensate to some degree: the Germans invented a way to make synthetic rubber. Although this technology did not arrive in time to save Germany’s immediate war effort, it did make them immune to Britain’s rubber blockade in World War II. Overcompensation did occur, and it did make Germany stronger in the long run. So did Britain’s rubber sanctions work? Yes and no: it depends on the time-horizon.

My point here is that when debating, never accept your opponent’s presumptions without careful consideration. Hinkle’s argument only makes sense if you agree that sanctions are always bad for the sanctioned—this isn’t true. Sanctions only produce harm past a certain tipping point, otherwise they tend to stimulate economic growth. This same logic applies to tariffs.

There is wisdom in the Old English proverb: necessity is the mother of invention.

A Dam is Not a Wall
Let’s assume that everything I’ve said until now is false and that when America imposes sanctions they always harm our opponents. Would this vindicate Hinkle? No.

Long run economic growth depends upon technological growth—not free trade, not immigration, not low taxes, etc. Technology is the only factor that matters: it’s what separates the West from the rest, and ourselves from our ancestors (economically speaking). Understanding this is the key to understanding why tariffs won’t hurt America in the same way sanctions hurt Iran.

America invents technology and generates knowledge—America is at the cutting-edge of science. This is good, because it means we reap the lion’s share of profits from new discoveries, while everyone else plays catch-up. So long as America stays at the cutting-edge, we will remain the world’s richest nation.

However, many of America’s most advanced industries are currently moving abroad to save money. After all, labor is cheaper in India, and China’s government provides generous subsidies for American firms to relocate. This is a problem, because it decreases the likelihood that the next paradigm-shifting technology will be invented in America. By increasing import costs, tariffs prevent American companies from leaving, thus “locking-in” our advantage.

Tariffs are best viewed as a dam, keeping America’s economic advantage from flowing away.

On the other hand, sanctions are best viewed as a wall, preventing American technology from flowing into less advanced nations. Take Cuba, for example. Cuba is a technological backwater—something like a poverty-stricken 1950s movie set. Since they cannot generate their own new technology, they rely on imported technology. No imports, no economic growth. The same thing applies to Iran (to a lesser degree).

Hinkle and the rest of the free trade brigade fail to recognize this rather obvious asymmetry: Cuba needs America, but America does not need Cuba. Thus, American sanctions will harm Cuba, but American tariffs on Cuban goods will not harm America. It’s a one-way street. In fact, tariffs will actually benefit America’s economy by providing a minor stressor that triggers a hormetic response and discourages America’s advanced industries from offshoring.

That Hinkle and the editors at Reason would unreasonably confuse tariffs with sanctions is not surprising—after all, there is a wisdom in irony.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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