2016 Election • America • Conservatives • Economy • Education • Foreign Policy • Immigration • Trade

The Art of Economic Warfare (Part 6): The Knowledge Economy Isn’t Very Knowledgeable

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Americans have been sold a bill of goods. Coastal elites keep telling them that they must abandon the blue collar jobs that created modern America and turn, instead, toward education, just as so many farmers of yesteryear abandoned the fields in favor of manufacturing jobs. (Although given all of the subsidies the United States government pays out to farmers, it’s not clear that the farmers who moved on to the city made the wise choice.)

But this is not an apples to apples comparison. Regardless of how potent the knowledge-based economy may become, the fact remains that even products created in a futuristic economy require someone to manufacture them. For example, what good is the Internet without a device with which to access it?

While the proponents of “free trade” are more than happy to accept that physical manufacturing will not go away, they are not so apt to admit that many things can be made in America. This is why, for instance, companies such as Apple design their amazing new gadgets in the United States, but outsource the manufacturing and production to China. We are told this is because Americans can no longer do efficiently the work that the Chinese can do.

If that were so, why did Apple CEO Tim Cook suddenly declare that he’s going to move some production away from China and back into the United States—something that the global free traders claimed was simply impossible? Because Donald Trump said he would impose costs on Apple (or any company) for abandoning America.

The orthodox free trade supporters insist that inventions such as 3D printers will further remove the need for manufacturing jobs. This may be true on some level. But who will build those 3D printers? What’s more, the technology they are speaking of is in its infancy with likely many more years—if not decades—of research and development ahead of it before these devices could completely replace what human workers can produce.

Also, this supposed knowledge-based economy has yet to come fully into fruition. Rather than shedding supposedly antiquated manufacturing jobs in favor of higher paying, more creative, “knowledge” jobs, what the majority of Americans got instead was a massive service economy.

Yet again, a handful of educated, bi-coastal elites were taking part in this exclusive global knowledge-based economy and benefited disproportionately from it. The rest of the country, meanwhile, either toils in the slums of those coastal metropolises, or they get along in the small towns across America, doing their best to keep a small business above water as the towns that once supported thriving communities slowly evaporate.

In many cases, those toiling away in the service sector were doing so just to pay for one semester of college—after all, how else could average Americans hope to have a shot at the endless opportunities of this exclusive knowledge economy without an overpriced degree?

But how can America transition from a mostly manufacturing economy to a “knowledge-based” one when America’s production of knowledge is so weak? Does anyone really think that America’s educational system is producing the kinds of innovators and thinkers necessary to maintain America’s economic dominance in this future knowledge-based global economy? Are we suddenly overrun with Steve Jobs clones?

No.

In fact, we’re being smothered by thoughtless social justice warriors who spent their time and money specializing in gender neutrality studies or some such. These people prove very useful in a globally competitive, “knowledge” economy, don’t they? I’m sure the Chinese and Indians are quaking in their boots at having to compete in the global marketplace against the greatly feared American SJWs!

It’s not that I oppose the creation of a knowledge economy, either. It’s that I don’t see any real commitment to creating the infrastructure necessary to building, maintaining, and expanding such an economy in the United States. What’s more, I am dubious of the concept that every American must or even can become a formally educated expert. Historically, a healthy society has a mixture of workers with varying types and degrees of skills.

The only thing that could make America the hub of a knowledge-based global economy would be true school reform; not “reform” of the kind that Leftists and the Democratic Party try to shove down America’s throat under the guise of school reform. I’m talking wholesale reform. But, even if such reform were a real political possibility, it could not come fast enough to provide alternatives for those affected by the jobs losses savaging the heartland of our country.

How many Americans have been told that they have to go to college? How many of those who do, end up with staggering debt and without employment that compensates at a rate high enough to cover their loan payments in addition to living expenses? Too many. Things will not change any time soon, either—not as long as the Left continues to enjoy its vice-grip on America’s education system.

The nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary is a great first step toward real reform, but I am dubious of the kinds of changes that she and President-elect Trump will be able to implement in four years (or even eight, for that matter). As Barry Rubin documents in his excellent book, The Silent Revolution: How the Left Rose to Political Power and Cultural Dominance, the Left has had almost 50 years to consolidate control over the nation’s education system. Leftists are highly entrenched and are usually protected by unflappable unions and cushy tenure.

Besides, how is it that states like China and India, who are making themselves more competitive in this new global economy, retain not only their knowledge base, but also their manufacturing base? Why can’t the United States do the same?

The argument that America must shed its manufacturing jobs with due haste, in order for more people to enjoy the fruits of the burgeoning knowledge economy is a sick joke perpetrated upon us by a global elite, which is merely seeking to justify poor public policy choices.

Spain and many other “forward-thinking” Western countries have tried to embrace such a New Age model. Look where it got them. When Spain embraced an education-heavy, “green jobs” economy, unemployment went through the roof and did not come back down until the government collapsed a few months back.

Moreover, Spanish entrepreneurial activity plummeted as more people sought safe (but highly competitive) government jobs. Not only were education and unemployment levels high, but so too were burdensome regulations. This, in turn, led to low economic activity which dragged the country down for years.

Throughout Europe and large parts of the United States, the knowledge economy has yet to come to fruition. What has happened has been the rise of a handful of elites getting wealthier as the world is made smaller, while the rest of us toil in multiple, low-paying service jobs.

Let’s bring America’s jobs back. Let’s protect the livelihood of many Americans and let’s rebuild America. Donald Trump’s economic policies will do just that. This is the Art of Economic Warfare, according to Donald Trump. It’s also how most other countries—even within the EU—conduct their economic policies.

American Conservatism • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Economy • Government Reform • Trade • Uncategorized

The Art of Economic Warfare (Part 5): Using a Bad System For Some Good

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In the last week, Right- and Left-wingers alike have been picking up on an old theme: Can one serve a greater good by engaging in a little bad? This is the dilemma that currently plagues the checklist conservatives and the big government Leftists opposing Trump.

The question has been raised in relation to President-elect Trump’s recent actions regarding the Carrier air conditioning firm in Indiana and the $4 billion Boeing deal to build the next Air Force One. In the aftermath of these two events, Trump’s critics have banded together to decry what they view as the unabashed use of “crony capitalism.”

Crony capitalism is often defined as the union of interests between the state and selected private enterprises. This concept could also be called corporatism or what Joshua Kurlantzick refers to as, “State Capitalism.” The truth is that the United States has been operating under such a system at least since the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration.

As I stated in part four of this series, “crony capitalism” is actually an oxymoron. Real capitalism is the decentralization of all economic decisions in a state. Cronyism is the result of the centralization of economic decisions and activity. Combining cronyism and capitalism is like trying to combine oil and water.  It just doesn’t work. The term “crony capitalism” is really nothing more than a Leftist term of disparagement for capitalism—as if to suggest that capitalism is a delusion or a thing that always devolves into injustice of one kind or another. A more appropriate term would be either “corporatism” or “mercantilism.” Or, at the extreme, “fascism.”

Over the years, that system of “corporatism” or “cronyism” that replaced capitalism after FDR has become a devouring dragon: gobbling up more and more of what was once left to individuals, private businesses, as well as local and state governments. In this system, the President of the United States has the capability to repay all of his union supporters by using federal funds to bail out a failing car company, such as President Obama did with General Motors.

As a conservative, I loathe the idea of crony capitalism or corporatism. I resist it at every turn. I rail against subsidies. I decry politically motivated regulations. But I am also a realist. I recognize that this is the system we live in. For better or for worse, it is the system that Donald Trump is entering on January 20, 2017. At least Trump seems to be trying to make things better for you and I (as opposed to satisfying the cries of the hypocritical political class).

Myopia as Principled Conservatism

The checklist conservative opposition to the Carrier deal is best expressed in John Tamny’s claim that by using the bully pulpit to goad Carrier into remaining in Indiana, Trump has likely created market distortions that will be visited back upon consumers. From a purely economic standpoint, the critics are likely right. Consumers will likely suffer from a modest increase in costs—particularly those who purchase Carrier products.

But, as a nation-state, the American republic benefits mightily from maintaining economic capacity in the form of jobs saved. The more people who are employed, the more money those people will have to spend. The more money they have to spend, the more that the economy can expand. What’s more conservative than providing opportunity and prosperity to as many Americans as possible? Who cares if the consumer faces minor and, likely, temporary distortions?

Also, what is the obsession with the globalized consumer economy (hold your breath University of Chicago folks) anyway? The same principled conservatives who decry Trump’s purported misuse of executive power also blather endlessly about the need to keep prices low on consumer products.

But, who cares about keeping prices low on flat screen televisions if a majority of Americans are either unemployed or hopelessly underemployed? Do these principled—or, rather, myopic—checklist conservatives realize that mindless consumerism is not a conservative principle? It is rather, a quasi-socialist, Keynesian concept.

So, no, the Carrier deal did not uphold America’s bizarre commitment to globalization at the expense of the national interest. What it did do was reaffirm Trump’s commitment to preserving the economic capacity of America. Such capacity is desperately needed in the face of stiff international competition. After all, how can a country compete with another in, say, manufacturing if its manufacturing capacity has been gutted due to precariously low trade barriers?

The Tweet Heard ’Round the World

When Trump tweeted: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” he signaled what is likely to be a sea change in how the U.S. government manages its defense budget. If you want to see the most visible—and pernicious—form of crony capitalism in action, then look no further than the American defense budget.

The Pentagon is where big government (the military, the executive branch bureaucracy, and Congress) meets big business. This is where major defense contractors, such as Boeing—as well as their highly paid lobbyists—move through the elephantine government bureaucracy to line their pockets with taxpayer dollars.

These groups sell very expensive items to a government that is more than willing to pay whatever the asking price is (so long as the political class benefits).

Part of the problem is the insular culture of the defense contracting community. The rise of smaller startups to challenge the quasi-monopoly that the larger contractors have on the bidding process is what’s most needed to lower costs to the taxpayer. But, it’s the one thing that is not happening in the defense community. This is why the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or the Navy’s newest warship, the LCS, took so long to build and cost so much. It’s also why both the F-35 and LCS are about as useful as the Iraqi navy. Lack of competition breeds inefficiency and waste. But, such is to be expected in a crony capitalist system.

The Pentagon is so closed off to startups that Taylor Lincoln, director of the congressional watch division of Public Citizen (a nonprofit consumer advocacy group) has said, “If you’re a startup, you almost certainly won’t get a chance to sell your product or service to the U.S. government.”

This is in spite of congressional legislation demanding that the Pentagon open up its doors to cost-cutting startups. In fact, whenever startups do successfully bid on a government contract over at the Pentagon, very often, the bigger firms, like Boeing, buy them out. This, then, gives the appearance of defense budget reform without the whole reform part.

In one small tweet, Trump challenged the entire system. Oh, sure, it’s just $4 billion (a rounding error, in terms of the defense budget) and nothing has actually happened. Boeing has merely said that they are willing to reopen negotiations on the issue. But, that’s a big step in the right direction. For the first time in a very long time, an American political leader has likely just played hardball with defense contractors—and won.

Imagine what the president-elect will do once he’s in charge of the Defense Department this January. With James Mattis as his secretary of defense, I’d expect a lot more movement in saving hard earned tax dollars than just a simple tweet. Though, to be fair, that small tweet fundamentally reversed the way that things have been done at the Pentagon since 1945.

Give The Man Some Time

We have to remember that Trump will not be president for several more weeks. The checklist conservatives worry that Trump will simply behave as Obama did in office: that he was use the bully pulpit of the presidency to pick economic winners and losers. Leftists worry that he will slaughter all of their sacred cows.

There is no doubt that Trump will do a little bit of both. Yet, I suspect that once Trump is officially the President of the United States, he will not only have the ability to cajole and intimidate businesses into bending to his will, but he will also have the ability to incentivize them. Keeping 1,100 jobs in Indiana is one thing. But, how can Trump possibly keep more jobs from leaving high-tax America?

That’s where Trump’s tax cut proposal comes into play. It’s where regulatory reform is involved. The Trump Administration will lower costs to the consumer and taxpayer while also removing the burdens that restrict business (and, therefore, employment). Meanwhile, Trump has appointed people to the Pentagon who worry about cost overruns and inefficiency as much as I do. He has appointed real reformers there.

431830366v3_225x225_frontFor now, however, we will all have to accept that Donald Trump is coming into possession of an inherently bad system of pre-existing crony capitalism. The needs and challenges Trump will face require immediate action. Therefore, in the near-term, the most expeditious solution would be for Trump to turn that inherently bad system of crony capitalism around from doing active harm to taxpayers and workers and instead toward doing some good for the American people as a whole. This is exactly what Trump has done with the Carrier deal and his Boeing tweet.

Those who are decrying his actions from the Right are being unrealistically dogmatic. Trump’s critics on the Left are suffering from selective amnesia, as they have not only disproportionately benefited from the system, but they also—in many cases—helped to create the system!

As such, this seems to be nothing more than a case of crony capitalism for me, but not for thee. Leftists love Big Government when they’re in charge. It’s going to be fun watching them squirm these next four years with Trump running the show.

Economy • EU • Foreign Policy • Trade • Trump White House • Uncategorized

The Art of Economic Warfare (Part 4): Overcoming the European Fantasy of Free Trade

 

The dogmatic popular version of “free trade” is a pretty terrible deal for most Americans. Yet our elites continue to push what amounts to an unwanted and unneeded policy—which they are pleased to call “free trade” but which amounts to a privileging of the elites—upon the public. Most of our elites in the business and political world insist that such policies have worked very well for the European Union and we should not allow ourselves to be left behind by such advanced peoples in the Old World.

But let’s look at the “economic miracle” of the EU just a bit closer, shall we?

Even when the European Union experiment seemed unquestionably successful, the truth is that unemployment throughout the continent was grotesquely high. During the period of 2000–05, the most recent economic boom time, the overall unemployment rate in the EU was around 10 percent, according to Eurostat.

Most economists argue that an unemployment rate higher than 5 percent is bad. If that is the case then Europe’s general unemployment rate was high even during what was supposed to be a boom time in the global economy. The reasons for these high unemployment numbers were related to the European Union’s commitment to open borders and cheap labor above all things. The problem was that Leftist leaders throughout Europe defined their national interests in ways that were “coincidentally” tied up in the economic interests of their friends and supporters and allowed the supranational interests of the EU to supersede common sense—to say nothing of the interests of their countrymen. This was a failure of “free trade.”

Also, since when is the European Union a model for free trade? It’s a customs union, which is quite dissimilar from a simple free trade agreement, as former British Conservative MP, Daniel Hannan argued recently. The EU is a conglomeration of states and businesses seeking to unify the European continent in a supranational union that effectively boxes out foreign goods and services through an external tariff, in favor of domestically-produced, European ones.

Indeed, the EU is one of the biggest protectionist entities out there—all while it is hailed by the global elite as a model of free trade. Yet, when Trump advocated on behalf of policies offering protections for American workers and industry, he was lambasted as a parochial nationalist who would launch a trade war.

There is little doubt that Europe is the model for the American Left. Is it really a surprise that the same business tycoons and popular Democratic politicians championing this view of the world are all based in cosmopolitan coastal cities? These are cities that have far more in common with post-national cities, like Brussels and Paris, than they do with working-class towns, like Omaha, Nebraska, and Canton, Ohio.

The cities in question are also places where unemployment (save among the highly educated, insular, ruling class) is high and there exists a culture of a very few haves and a great many more have-nots. Such a system should not be replicated for the entirety of the United States.

The United States has suffered mightily under the brutal yoke of global “free trade.” Over the past eight years, America’s unemployment numbers have started looking like Europe’s unemployment numbers. This ceaseless assault from those packaging cronyism as “free trade” has marginalized a majority of Americans. It has also gutted America of many opportunities for real growth and expansion. Without opportunity and with the rise of the welfare state, America will increasingly come to look like the Europe that our forefathers sought to liberate themselves from: class-minded, divided, highly centralized, and devoid of economic opportunity for the common man.

Donald Trump’s election has signified that the common man is fighting back. It is a kind of non-violent  form of American Revolution. Trump sees the disruptive effects that unnecessarily are being visited upon Americans before they can adapt to the new paradigm and a changing economy. Therefore, President-elect Trump’s policies seek to  protect most Americans from these pernicious effects until such time as an adaptation is possible. This is the thrust of what Trump supporters mean when they advocate for “economic nationalism.”

Finally, an American president is placing the economic interests of Americans, not just international hedge fund-types, at the forefront of our policy aims. This is the essence of good public policy. We should not allow our economy to become distorted and permanently harmed by the greed and the mistaken beliefs of a handful of global left-wing elites.

Let’s “Make America Great Again” by preventing it from looking like Europe.

America • China • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Trade • Trump White House

The Art of Economic Warfare (Part 3): Audacity! Audacity! Audacity!

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Listening to Donald Trump’s remarkable “thank you” speech on December 1 in Indiana, I was struck by how well-honed the president-elect’s worldview seems to be—particularly in relation to economic statecraft. During that speech, Trump elucidated why and how America would conduct its trade deals.

Trump’s recent pre-presidential victory in preventing the Carrier Corporation from uprooting in Indiana and moving shop down to Mexico was an excellent case in point. Using a combination of economic carrots and sticks to entice the firm to remain in place, Trump achieved what everyone from Jeb(!) Bush to Barack Obama said was impossible.

Why, apart from his pledge to keep American jobs in America, did Trump do this?

He did it because he understands that the loss of the factory would not be just a sad day for Hoosiers. It would represent more irreparable harm to America’s ailing working class—the very backbone of America’s economic and, therefore, military might. The continued losses of this group of people do a strategic disservice to the United States.

Trump rightly recognizes the strategic implications of America losing its manufacturing capabilities. After all, it was manufacturing that helped to win the Second World War. While America likely will never return to that level of manufacturing output, or to that level of mechanical competence among average Americans, the fact is that much of our potential in these areas has been squandered not simply because there were more lucrative alternatives, but also because American leaders have demonstrated a lack of strategic foresight.

While many of the more dogmatic free trade purists decry what they call Trump’s “crony capitalism,” I think they are missing something. Indeed, as Trump critic Greg Weiner argues, capitalism is best characterized by “decentralized economic decisions.” Crony capitalism is most often understood to be the union of interests between the state and certain private industries. Essentially, it is the centralization of economic decisions. As such, there is some question as to whether one can even use the term “capitalism” after the term “crony.”

The term “crony capitalism,” therefore, is just a bastardization of what capitalism really is (which is why the Left loves using the it). Indeed, a more apt term for “crony capitalism” would be either “corporatism” or “mercantilism.”

But this is not what was at work in the Carrier deal. The Carrier deal, instead, shows how Trump will enact his economic statecraft policy. For those companies already here, Trump is signaling—through persuasion—that he will do what it takes to keep them in place. He goes to them to find out what is necessary to achieve that and he offers what he can. He also promises to enact penalties where he can, of course. But Trump is limited here by the Constitution and by political reality. Still, companies may be uncertain about his limits. If they seek to err on the side of caution in ways that help American workers, so be it. That’s smart politics.

Once in office, he will seek to lower taxes and reduce regulations, which—in addition to keeping companies here—will also entice more businesses to open up shop in the America. This influx of entrepreneurial activity will increase America’s strategic capital on the international stage. While it may be heresy to the Free Trade purists over at Cato and the crony “capitalists” in the Democratic Party, Trump’s economic warfare doctrine seems to be predicated upon making America so economically strong, and so attractive for businesses, that no other country could ever use economics as a cudgel against the United States again and no sensible American company would want to relocate.

Gonzo geopolitical analyst Edward Luttwak recently observed this shift to economic warfare, or resisting China’s rise through geoeconomics in his most recent book on Chinese grand strategy, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy. As Luttwak writes:

China’s continuing rise ultimately threatens the very independence of its neighbors, and even of its present peers, it will inevitably be resisted by geoeconomic means—that is, by strategically motivated as opposed to merely protectionist trade barriers, investment prohibitions, more extensive technology denials, and even restrictions on raw material exports to China if its misconduct can provide a sufficient excuse for that almost warlike act.

Trump has recognized repeatedly the threat that China’s aggressive economic posture poses to American national security. His recent phone call with the Taiwanese president highlights the ways in which he intends to put pressure on China and to slough off our own supine neglect of our interests.

Trump’s economic counterattack against America’s true rival, China, is just beginning. This, coupled with his threats vis-à-vis tariffs on incoming Chinese goods (lest they operate more fairly in the economic realm) is nothing less than audacious. It is a Patton-esque strategy for winning the ongoing economic war with China. Trump is very Chinese in his view on grand strategy.

True statecraft is not limited to the use of the military or traditional diplomacy only. It also involves economics. An offensive, audacious, economic warfare strategy is therefore needed to protect America’s interests globally. Donald Trump will take a page out of China’s book and use it against them. In Trump, the successful Art of Economic Warfare will be on display. As such, we will not only be safer, but also far more prosperous.

China • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Trade • Trump White House • Uncategorized

Gordon Chang on Why The Taiwan Call Is a Good Thing

indexChris and I were joined on our radio program Tuesday by Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and Nuclear Showdown:  North Korea Takes on the World to discuss the probable signals president-elect Donald Trump is sending in taking that now famous call from Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen.

Chang makes the case with us, and in his piece that appeared in the Daily Beast, that Trump appears to recognize America’s policy toward China—especially during the  last two administrations—has not been working and it is time, not merely for a reset, but for putting our relations with that nation on an entirely new footing. China’s increasingly hostile and bold manuevers with respect to the United States have been met with meek and reactive attempts to make nice and be cooperative while ignoring China’s aggressive posture. Trump’s refusal to be cowed and, to test China instead of waiting for them to test him, may be exactly the kind of first steps needed to stabilize East Asia.

https://soundcloud.com/thesethandchrisshow/december-6-2016-gordon-chang

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America • China • Defense of the West • Foreign Policy • Trade • Trump White House

The Art of Economic Warfare (Part 2): Maintaining America’s War Footing and Seeking the National Interest

Sherman_Rhino_Normandy_1944When Donald Trump won the White House last month, his victory represented more than the usual handing off of power from Democrats to Republicans. It was a total reworking of the political order. One of Trump’s consistent themes has been economic nationalism. Since the 1980s, Trump has always questioned the conventional wisdom of globalization as a force for good. Trump has pointed out a critical flaw in America’s grand strategy.

Thirty years ago, Trump argued that America was being taken advantage of by the likes of Japan. By the mid-1990s, however, worries over a resurgent Japan faded as that country fell into a long-term recession. Today, China’s meteoric rise as well as Mexico’s and a litany of other countries prospering through the use of so-called “free trade” practices in their deals with the United States, have many Americans skeptical about the benefits accrued to us from these deals.

Trouble is, as American think tankers, bankers, and politicians all congratulated themselves over their various free-trade agreements, China and other rivals were laughing as they acquired more and more American assets.

Trump, more than any American political or military leader, has rightly assessed that far from being ancillary to a country’s foreign policy, a country’s economic policy is integral to its conduct in foreign affairs. That is why Trump’s rhetoric opposing increased trade with China is so important. For almost 20 years, the Chinese have been using their economic potential—and the promise of great profit to China—to weaken America strategically.

The Chinese lure advanced American corporations over to their country, which then guts America’s economic potential, as jobs and opportunities are forever lost (after all, how can any American worker compete with a worker in China who can get paid almost nothing for doing twice the work?) Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party is empowered, as the Chinese people achieve unprecedented wealth and their country’s economy is rapidly modernized. In America, however, things slow down and America’s productive might is mollified.

Such zero-sum thinking may seem anathema to many dogmatic free traders. Unfortunately for them, this is exactly how the Chinese view economic policy (as do many other nations, including some of America’s allies). We may be thankful, however, it is appears to be how Trump views economic policy. Indeed, his is the first administration in some time to move toward a holistic doctrine of national defense that includes an economic component. In other words, Trump seems to understand that we need an economic policy that will place America (for the first time in years) on the offensive against its foreign rivals, by using all methods of state power to better protect the American economy while expanding prosperity for Americans. Despite what detractors say, this is a good thing—not only for our economy, but also for our national defense.

This gutting of America’s Working Class has also led to a cultural malaise, particularly among America’s men. One need look no further than Hanna Rosin’s obscene book, The End of Men for evidence of the problem. Everything from the wussification of men in our society to transgendered bathrooms are physical manifestations of this ceaseless assault on our nation’s character, through “free trade.”

Remember Stephen E. Ambrose’s book, Citizen Soldiers, and the tale of the young American G.I.’s during D-Day who ingeniously devised a way to cut through the Nazi hedgerows that were blocking the American advance up the beach? Had it not been for those young G.I.’s and their experience of working as welders—but even more important, their audacity and willingness to take charge and take risks—who knows how many American lives would have been lost.

In a random sampling of 10 American men from the ages of 18-24, how many do you suppose would have experience in welding or similar skill sets today? God forbid the U.S. found itself in a shooting war with the 2.3 million man Chinese military (many of whom are conscripts from the impoverished inner part of China). Do you think we have enough of the kind of men we would need to effectively challenge the Chinese (particularly if the Chinese neutered our technological advantages)? Sure, we need programmers and engineers.We always have needed those highly skilled kinds of workers and we always will. But it is foolhardy to imagine that we no longer need the kinds of men that can only be produced through the Blue Collared experience. With that way of life so readily shrugged off and sacrificed by those who do not understand it—all in the name of “globalism” and “efficiency”—one has to wonder how much longer America can retain its martial prowess.

Just look at the wars that America is fighting today. Despite the newfangled technology involved (and some of the stuff is really awesome), the wars of today are not unlike the wars of yesteryear. The Global War on Terror is fought almost exclusively on the ground. The men who serve in the Marine Corps and U.S. Army infantry are far more efficient and lethal when honoring a working class ethos of strength (the very ethos that draws sneers from most coastal elites) than they would be replacing that ethos with social justice experimentation.

I mean, how many hipster baristas could kick down Bin Laden’s door?

Rather than serving as a force for democratic liberation and increasing American prosperity, America’s unquestioning devotion to policies labeled “free trade” have sapped America of its economic potential as well as its martial ethos. Slowly, prosperity has been drained and Americans, once among the least class conscious of peoples, have become bifurcated. As Angelo Codevilla outlined in his book, The Ruling Class, we now live in a society where the distinctions between the cosmopolitan coastal elites (the ruling class) and the disenfranchised, rural poor (the country class) are apparent to all but those wearing ideological blinders. This not only has harmed most Americans, it has also created strategic weaknesses for rivals like China to exploit (and boy, have they exploited them!).

Why should the U.S. shrug when China uses their economy as a weapon to do far more damage to America’s strength in peacetime than their military could ever hope to do in war? Donald Trump’s experience and sense about what American priorities ought to be promises to  reinvigorate America’s economy and to turn our attention, once again, to a grand strategy for America encompassing more than just a narrow defensive posture—one that recognizes the necessity of an economic warfare doctrine if we are to go on and maintain the offensive. No more bad deals. No more selling out Americans. Once again Americans will seek to answer the question, “What’s in our national interest?” It’s about time!

America • China • Donald Trump • Trade • Trump White House

The Art of Economic Warfare: China Gains the Upper Hand by Playing a Different Game

Since the end of the Cold War, the world has witnessed a blurring of lines that were once seen as separate and distinct. Today, civilians and enemy combatants are virtually indistinguishable. Everything that can be weaponized has been—from jet airliners to your personal computer. “National security” and “economics” are no longer separate policy arenas. They now overlap.

The Chinese were among the first states to recognize this trend and capitalize on it. Many other American trading partners did as well. Yet, American leaders—either through ignorance or through stubborn indifference—failed to see this happening.

For 20 years or more, “We, The People,” have paid the price for our leaders’ ignorance and indifference.

The concept of economic statecraft, as Benn Steil and Robert E. Litan outline in Financial Statecraft: The Role of Financial Markets in American Foreign Policy, “encompasses efforts by governments to influence other actors in the international system, relying primarily on resources that have ‘a reasonable semblance of a market price in terms of money.’” Economic statecraft has been a vital tool in the conduct of foreign policy for most states since the beginning of time. Indeed, until the end of the Cold War, it was a fundamental component of American grand strategy. Since the end of the Cold War, however, America’s ability to conduct economic statecraft has eroded. Even worse, as America separated its security and economic policies, states like China fused them together.

In 1996, just as Taiwan was set to elect its most pro-independence government in decades, the Chinese decided to use military brinksmanship in order to dissuade them from independence. China fired several missile volleys across the Taiwan Strait in a blatant attempt to intimidate what former Nixon aide Bruce Herschensohn dubbed the “threatened democracy.”

It didn’t work. Not only did Taiwan’s elections go on as planned, the Clinton Administration—in a rare instance of demonstrating military resolve—sailed two aircraft carrier battle groups through the Strait, in order to affirm America’s continued support of the fledgling democracy.

Following America’s decisive show of force, the Chinese immediately stood down. But they did not forget—or forgive—the humiliating American military maneuvers in the very thin strip of water separating Mainland China from Taiwan. During and after the Taiwan Strait Crisis, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted a series of military drills in which they gamed out what a war with the United States over Taiwan would look like. Needless to say, the results were quite disheartening for the standing members of China’s Politburo. Realizing that no amount of military modernization would turn the PLA into an equal rival of the United States’ military, the Chinese began seeking alternative forms of resistance.

During the 1996 exercises, two PLA colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, compiled their thoughts on alternative strategies for defeating the United States outside of a military-to-military conflict. Their book, Unrestricted Warfare, was the apotheosis of that undertaking. Since its publication in 1998, Unrestricted Warfare has become a foundational text of Chinese grand strategy. This book (which is based largely on Sun Tzu’s concepts of deception in war) outlines key areas where China could debilitate the United States on the strategic level. These methods of asymmetrical warfare represent the blurring together of previously thought separate, non-military areas, into one, seamless concept of total warfare.

Terrorism, cyber warfare, and, yes, economic warfare are all key components of China’s asymmetric approach. Look at the last 20 years of economic dealings between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. It should be obvious that China has waged unremitting warfare against the very backbone of America’s military strength: our economy.

Over the last two decades, China has become the largest economy in terms of its purchasing power parity. In terms of GDP, China has displaced Japan as the second-largest economy in the world and is set to displace America as the largest economy in the near-future. The United States imports significantly more of its goods from China, which has created a trade imbalance, in everything other than financial services (go figure). U.S. manufacturing capabilities have been seriously degraded. Meanwhile, China’s manufacturing capacity has surged ahead. This has allowed the Chinese to mass-produce weapons systems that will eventually challenge the technologically superior, but numerically inferior U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific.

Just look at Detroit, the once-mighty hub of American manufacturing and compare it to, say, Guangzhou. Yes, Guangzhou is a smoggy, overpopulated city in southeastern China. But, unlike Detroit today, Guangzhou is also one of the most prosperous manufacturing hubs, not just in China, but also in the world. Although I hate parroting Thomas Friedman and Michael E. Mandelbaum, they are right: that used to be us! But the reason it isn’t us any longer is due to  the mindless globalization policies advanced past two decades by the likes of Friedman and Mandelbaum!

China has rightly assessed that economics, like all other avenues of human life, has a strategic value. The Chinese  have honed their economic statecraft and married it to their overall revanchist goals in the Asia-Pacific. Even as they do this, even as they violate U.S. copyright laws, dispossess Americans of economic opportunity, and continue to damage the U.S. national interest, how have we responded? With the Trans-Pacific Partnership! A deal that was purportedly aimed at stunting China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific, by surrendering more of America’s sovereignty to even more Developing States (who disproportionately benefit from the deal)! Some deal.

Free trade dogmatism is mistaken: economics is not always a positive-sum game—at least not when it comes to international affairs. States such as China have proven that economics is yet another domain where the nation-state can and will compete for strategic advantage over other states. Donald Trump is the first U.S. leader in a very long time to realize this fact. He has begun tailoring a foreign policy that effectively synthesizes the all-powerful traditional forms of statecraft (i.e., military power) with the much-ballyhooed, yet little-understood tools of nonviolent statecraft (of which, there are many). In much the same way that China has combined all of the available tools of statecraft to create a cogent and productive foreign policy, so will Trump begin the important work of reminding Americans of the many and long-neglected tools of statecraft.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Democrats • Donald Trump • Greatness Agenda • Hillary Clinton • The Culture • Trade • Uncategorized

A Time for Choosing

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Last month I threw away nearly all my old National Review magazines. Watching the decline of a publication once home to a conservative intellectual elite has been sad to watch, and it has darkened many friendships. But the times called for clarity and for distinctions to be made.

Although we may long for reconciliation, that appears unlikely in the near term and may not be desirable under current conditions. Here’s why.

Trump has won the election, and the time has never been more ripe to revive the idea of America that can only come with the gathering of serious minds who are honest proponents of liberty. The #NeverTrump faction was not of a like mind. It did not believe in or fully understand the American Idea.

Trump’s campaign and ensuing victory has exposed the reality that the parties and the country are perhaps even more divided than any of us thought. We shall never again be the same. This was not caused by Trump. Those who thought the divisions within the Republican Party were a thing to behold will see something even more spectacular within the Democratic Party. Both parties are in disarray, but Trump has the opportunity to rebuild the Republican party and restore it to its foundations.

Just how significantly the electoral map is revolutionized remains to be seen. However, one thing is clear: this election was not one of consensus. It was one of choice. Make no mistake, the new American majority will be fashioned by the intrepid outsider.

The election should call to mind the Harry V. Jaffa’s eloquent essay in Equality and Liberty, titled, “The Nature and Origin of the American Party System.” In times of normal politics, parties seek consensus. It is the only way that a party may garner a majority and, hence, earn a majority of the seats in government. Parties seek a broad consensus from an “infinitely varied, contrary, and sometimes contradictory demands of the electorate.”. If they do not, one party will always be relegated to the minority. Single party government would reign. Because a diversity of interests (as opposed to skin color) is constantly changing and ever present, as Publius noted in Federalist 10, parties are tirelessly searching to cobble together a governing majority.

Parties are not always consensus-seeking entities, however. In “different times” one party may offer a choice instead of a consensus. These usually occur in times where choice is needed for the very survival of the Republic. The lead up to the Civil War was one of those such times. Jaffa believed that the “Civil War [revealed] the innermost character of that politics.”

Usually, though, it’s the individual, not the party, that represents choice. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were their respective party’s representatives and articulated the positions that shaped their party: “neither was the spokesman of a party so much as he was the embodiment of a principle and a policy about which the structure of parties—and of political power in the nation—was to reshape itself.”

We are not living through the kind of sectional division that afflicted the country in 1860. Nevertheless, these are grave times. Trump represented a stark choice. It is the first real choice of its kind that we have had since Lincoln’s election. The gravity of the choice was noted by Publius Decius Mus in his excellent essay on the Flight 93 election.

Trump is not Lincoln, but Lincoln was not Washington. Trump is not Reagan, but Reagan was not Coolidge. Each spoke to the people in the times they lived. We easily forget that Lincoln gave far more speeches in public about current topics than did our Founding Fathers, who ran on their reputation and character, leaving the politicking to surrogates. Trump seemed more vulgar because he is a democratic man who speaks his mind. But in the 1850s and ’60s, we should remember, people considered Lincoln’s ways more vulgar.

Trump is the first candidate since Reagan to take the fight directly to the opposition. For the most part, he does not instigate fights, he finishes them. Only after he is attacked does he go all in and defend himself and (it is important to add, the country) while simultaneously leading a counterattack on his opponent. His penchant to counterpunch aggressively has unhinged his opponents, the Clintons in particular, who literally paid people to harm fellow citizens at his rallies. Only someone like Trump could defend the United States against such thuggery. It was his penchant to defend himself, and this country, that ultimately led to his victory.

Jaffa is right about one important thing in this regard. Great statesmen are those who appeal to a timeless ideal and enduring principle.

As Jaffa noted in Crisis of the House Divided, Lincoln’s argument pertained to the rights we all possess by nature. It is this person who gives “rise to legitimate government.” Against the backdrop of one candidate’s attempt to circumvent consent, one thing the anti Trump people have failed to consider is that Trump is actually persuasive and reviving the twin pillars of safety and happiness. That he has attempted to persuade is a necessary condition to legitimate rule. Jaffa is explicit about this: “the first task of statesmanship is not legislation but the molding of that opinion from which all legislation flows.” He goes on to remind us that the “Constitution and Union were means to an end,” that secures “the equality of all men.”

Trump is a particular figure for a particular time no less than Lincoln was for his. Just glance at any number of his speeches, and you will find that his stated intention is to restore America. We also find that the economy’s dangerous trend of increasing debt has the effect of placing our country into a form of slavery—a slavery that is compounded by forcing people to pay for unusable healthcare insurance. His support of school choice and deliberate non-patronizing appeal to black voters is a direct assault on the academic Jim Crow that presently afflicts this nation.  His remarkable goal is the restoration of our ancient faith by defending without apology our Constitution and those natural rights stated therein. As Ken Masugi noted, his campaign’s focus on the fraudulent and rigged nature of the electoral system was not a complaint, but a defense, of the natural right of the consent of the governed. His opponent sought to overthrow that consent. Trump made the case for the consent of the governed. The voters responded by giving their consent to him.

Trump is thus a restorationist and a Declarationist. This is most obvious in his Lincolnian inspired promise to return the government to one “of the people, and by the people.”

Lincoln believed in building up the Union and re-adopting its idea. The current “conservative” elite believe in burning down the house to save it. But, nothing could be gained from destruction of the Republic by handing it over to what is clearly a criminal crime family. It is imprudent at best to suggest that the country could have been saved by handing it over to a party that does not seek our enlightened consent. Yet, our consent is but one aspect of the American Idea. The other is having the ability to secure the blessings of liberty in order to pursue our own happiness. Trump argued that liberty and happiness is strengthened by the means of gainful employment.

NAFTA is a free trade document of more than 1,700 pages. Almost 700 of those pages are the treaty itself. TPP is another marvel of “free trade” weighing in at more than 2,000 pages. Neither are truly free trade agreements. They are riddled with crony capitalism and side deals that defy the very meaning of freedom. While the agreements are supported by many of the Never Trumpkins, the fact is it has not benefitted the majority of the people of this Union in a meaningful way. Cheap goods may be good for the consumer, but not when the consumer is out of a job. As Decius noted, free trade is not a principle, but, following Jaffa, it should only be a means to realizing our humanity founded in our natural equality.

America’s Founders were not strict free traders. Alexander Hamilton’s “Report on the Subject of Manufactures” remarks that domestic markets are preferable over foreign markets. He does not mean this in terms of rejecting foreign trade, but as a matter of national wealth, and even as a defensive mechanism so as not to rely on foreign nations for subsistence. The foreign obstacles to domestic business, are impediments so great, Hamilton believed, that they cannot conduct business equally. Foreign trade must exist on “terms consistent with our interest.”

The longest serving treasury secretary after Hamilton, Albert Gallatin, though in theory a proponent of free trade, stated in his “Free Trade Memorial” of 1832 that equal intercourse with Europe was not desirable because it would not encourage “domestic manufactures.” He supported a duty on imports of 25 percent so they fall “equally upon all.”

As it pertains to Trump, he is the first candidate in the 20th century to be in such concord with the Founders not only in his economic policy, but in the reason for such a policy: the defense of the American Republic against trade that harms the nation. In a modern context, free trade means literally the end of America because it is coupled with a borderless politics.

“The preservation of the hope of an equality yet to be achieved, was the ‘value’ which was the absolutely necessary condition of the democratic political process,” Jaffa wrote. “That men may be called upon to fight for such a conviction cannot be called a failure of democracy. It would be a failure only if they refused to fight for it.”

Those who abandoned our ancient faith failed because they did not fight for the heart and soul of our nation and the idea that gave it its birth.

Trump did.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Foreign Policy • Hillary Clinton • Immigration • Terrorism • The Culture • The Left • The ME Agenda • Trade • Uncategorized

Make America Victorious Again

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Reposted with permission from the Claremont Review of Books.

At the 2016 elections our bipartisan foreign policy class is near-unanimous, not so much behind Hillary Clinton nor even against Donald Trump. Rather, it circles its wagons around its own identities, ideas, practices, and, yes, livelihoods. Clinton represents the ruling class’s people and priorities in foreign affairs as in domestic ones, though she seems to care even less about the former’s substance. Trump, a stranger to most of the foreign policy class (though not to its current epitome, Henry Kissinger) has voiced views on foreign affairs that are within the establishment’s variances in substance if not in tone. Chastise and threaten NATO for its lack of contributions? Senate majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) offered an amendment to that effect in 1970. Cozy up to Putin? Hillary Clinton brought him a bright red “reset” button in 2009.

Nevertheless, the foreign policy class does not merely reject Trump; it detests him. Why? Because Trump, in tone even more than substance, expresses the subversive thought that U.S. foreign policy has failed to “put America first,” causing the nation to suffer defeat after defeat. Hence, the entire foreign policy class—in the bureaucracies, think tanks, academe, and the media—are a bunch of losers. Millions of Americans consider these two thoughts to be common sense. But the above-mentioned class takes the first as the root of heresies, and the second as a demagogic insult. Consequently, the 2016 election is not so much about any particular plank in any foreign policy platform. It is about who defines and what constitutes common sense.

Who and what

Why the fuss? Obviously, foreign policy’s formulators and executors are their country’s fiduciaries. Though it follows logically that they should mind no interest before their country’s, nevertheless our foreign policy class’s defining characteristic for a hundred years has been to subsume America’s interest into considerations they deem worthier. The following is our foreign policy class’s common sense, which it hopes the 2016 elections will affirm.

Since Woodrow Wilson, Progressive Democratic and Republican statesmen have confused America’s interest with mankind’s. In practice, they have taken upon themselves the role of mankind’s stewards (or sheriffs, leaders, pillars of order, or whatever) and acted as if, in Wilson’s words, America has “no reason for being” except to “stand for the right of men,” to be “champions of humanity.” Accordingly, a series of statesmen has forsaken war and diplomacy for strictly American ends and with means adequate to achieve them, and adopted foredoomed schemes pursued halfheartedly—Charles Evans Hughes (commitment to China’s integrity and renunciation of the means to uphold it), Franklin Roosevelt (seeking world co-domination with Stalin and the U.N. to banish “ancient evils, ancient ills”), Harry Truman (pursuing peace through no-win war in Korea), Nixon/Kissinger (scuttling Vietnam to help entice the Soviets into a grand detente), George W. Bush (democratizing the Middle East because America can’t be free unless and until the whole world is free).

Instead of Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” these Progressives’ maxim seems to have been: speak grandly while brandishing twigs. The pattern has been consistent: Think global order, make political-military commitments if not in secret then certainly without the American people’s affirmative consent, commit military forces while avoiding declarations of war or specifying how success is to be achieved, and refuse to calibrate American military commitments to what opponents might do to thwart our forces. Then, when the enterprise falls apart, seek scapegoats.

For most of a century, persons of both parties but the same basic proclivities have handed to one another the conduct of America’s international relations. Elihu Root, secretary of state from 1905 to 1909 and Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1912, begat Henry L. Stimson, secretary of war from 1911 to 1913, secretary of state from 1929 to 1933, and secretary of war in 1945. Stimson begat McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser from 1961 to 1965, who begat Anthony Lake, national security adviser from 1993 to 1997, and foreign policy adviser to the campaign of President Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 2009. Beginning in the mid-1960s Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and secretary of state from 1969 to 1977 and Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1973, was adopted into this family and shared Anthony Lake’s paternity. His progeny, Brent Scowcroft and then Condoleezza Rice, practiced what one might call the same common sense. Want to know what America’s interest is? Ask what kind of world order such statesmen prefer, and then work backward. Hence, U.S. foreign policy’s bipartisan consistency for the past hundred years: grandiose commitments, then war, followed by no peace, prizes and honors for all.

Only President Ronald Reagan and, to a lesser extent, Dwight Eisenhower appointed a few people who looked at foreign affairs from a very different perspective, the common sense that had dominated American statecraft from George Washington’s time to the 20th century. The founders recognized that no other people had ever organized themselves around the proposition that “all men are created equal,” making the Republic’s moral and political character unique. Because maintaining such a Republic would be difficult, it is and should be the American people’s paramount occupation. As students of history, they knew that international affairs hold out temptations to meddle in others’ affairs, to invite others to meddle in ours, and to foster strife among ourselves. And so the common sense of the men on Mount Rushmore—Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt—was as John Quincy Adams synthesized it: America first. Interfere in nobody’s affairs and suffer no interference in ours. Don’t go looking for monsters to destroy, but make war on whomever troubles our peace.

This is what the American people want and have always wanted. From earliest times to our own, people have come to America to live in peace as Americans, shedding ancestral interests, allegiances, and quarrels. (Recent immigrants from the Middle East excepted, many of whom nurse ancestral identities to the point of enmity to America.) Because America’s 19th-century statesmen shared the people’s peaceful America First perspective, they built this country into the world’s mightiest. George Kennan’s history of American diplomacy begins with the observation that by 1905 Americans could not imagine any harm coming to them from abroad.

Kennan writes that by 1950, however, Americans could hardly think of anything except the prospect of disaster being inflicted from abroad, despite an enormous increase in America’s military power and diplomatic reach. This turnabout happened because what had been a surplus of power over commitments had been replaced by an even greater surplus of commitments over power. That, in turn, happened because Woodrow Wilson and his successors committed the United States to unachievable objectives, sought in concert with peoples either indifferent to them or outright enemies of America. Having sought to mind others’ business, America’s statesmen forgot to mind America’s.

Participation in the Great War for the purpose of ending war forever left 117,000 Americans dead, thousands more wounded, and millions bitterly disillusioned. Then Democrats and Republicans competed in making moral commitments against war while cutting America’s armed forces. When war came, they blamed it on the unenlightened people’s isolationism and, once again, used the commitment to remaking the world to evade responsibility for matching Americans’ sacrifices to America’s interests in postwar peace. That, compounded by blind faith in Stalin and Mao, resulted in more than half of the globe under Soviet and Chinese communist tyrants intent on finishing off America. The American people were angry, and had every right to be angrier.

Pons Asinorum

Ah, but after all, didn’t today’s bipartisan foreign policy class prove its worth by winning the Cold War? Nothing could be further from the truth. The Soviet collapse resulted from Mikhail Gorbachev’s politically disastrous decisions—fatal errors, forced neither by external events nor economic circumstances. Conservatives wrongly credit Reagan for the collapse, but the foreign policy establishmentarians who believe their steady application of “containment” or their own artful negotiations ended the Cold War, know that the opposite is true.

In fact, the foreign policy class had evolved rather quickly away from the objective of ending, or even diminishing, the Communist empires. By the mid 1950s, America’s Progressives effectively reduced foreign policy to avoiding war with Russia and China. They did this by limiting U.S. resistance to Communist advances and by seeking unenforceable arms control agreements that were, in fact, unilateral limitations on U.S. military power. By the Kennedy/Johnson Administrations, and flowering fully in the Nixon/Kissinger/Ford ones, the foreign policy class’s “strategic” objective had come around to the very opposite of “Containment”—namely to integrate first the Soviets and then the Chinese into the world community. The foreign policy class considered these empires eternal and deemed it madness to suggest otherwise.

That, of course, is precisely what Ronald Reagan was about. But when, in 1983, Reagan said that the Soviet Union was a “sad chapter in mankind’s history whose last pages are even now being written,” Strobe Talbot (later Clinton’s deputy secretary of state) wrote in Time magazine that this was only Reagan’s personal view, and contrary to U.S. policy. Talbot was correct.

The U.S. government and the rest of the foreign policy class was on autopilot. On the basis of its own common sense and agenda, it counted Reagan an interloper and thwarted his proposals at almost every turn. Notably, it prevented his main departure from settled national security policy—Reagan, unlike the presidents who came before him and after him, wanted to defend America against ballistic missiles—from bearing fruit. The Soviets feared this most, and the U.S foreign policy class worked hand in glove with them to thwart Reagan. Moreover, by the end of the Reagan Administration the U.S. government was extending and facilitating untied loans to the Soviet government to keep it alive, a policy accelerated under George H.W. Bush. None should forget that, on August 1, 1991, as the Soviet monster was croaking, Bush read to an incredulous crowd in Kiev a speech drafted by Condoleezza Rice advising Ukrainians to be content as Soviet citizens. The foreign policy class and Ronald Reagan were from different planets.

The language of “policy-speak” obscures the fundamental differences. Since Reagan took a big hand in the word’s affairs he was “an internationalist,” wasn’t he? He supported anti-communist forces around the world, did he not? In this way, was he not in the grand Wilsonian tradition? To the contrary: speaking this way confuses means with ends, which Reagan never did. His primordial objective in foreign policy was to safeguard America from Communists. To this end he deployed every means at his command. Yes, he liked the Poles. What’s not to like? But he supported their push for independence, to which previous administrations had been deaf, because doing so weakened the Soviet empire. He supported democratic rebels in Nicaragua. Whatever benefits he expected democracy to bring that country, the reason for his support was the need to excise the Communist cancer from central America.

Ronald Reagan reveled in 600 U.S. Navy ships dominating the world’s oceans, and in military bases around the globe. But his heart and mind, like those of his Washingtonian predecessors, was in the peaceful, decent, American domesticity that all this power was defending. That defense aimed at defeating the Soviet Union. His common sense about the Cold War was, “we win, they lose.”

The reality of war

By the 1980s, the U.S. foreign policy class, having adopted the opposite common sense, was comfortable waging no-win wars. At the same time, its members were jetting between five-star conferences and enjoying deference as if exercising some sort of hegemony, dispensing billions of dollars in aid money plus various forms of access to America. Imperial Pashas in all but name, they identified with a process that was rewarding in and of itself and which they imagined could last indefinitely. But the reality of war has shown the unreality of what they have been about.

The bipartisan 1945 campaign to convince Americans that the U.N. was indispensable to protecting the American republic’s way of life had followed from the Progressive premise that there exists an “international community” of nations who want essentially the same things and adhere to the same standards of behavior. By organizing this community for action, Americans would sacrifice nothing while gaining allies to safeguard their peace. By 1950 things had turned out differently, and shown that “international community” is a hallucinogenic pipe dream.

In June of that year one of the U.N.’s leading members, the Soviet Union, sponsored North Korea’s invasion of the South, which killed American soldiers as it attacked the very basis of U.S. containment policy. By December, after the U.S. armed forces under General Douglas MacArthur had established military dominance over the Korean peninsula, the U.S. foreign policy class concluded that, because using that dominance to win the war would jeopardize America’s standing with its allies and might provoke the Soviets to fight us elsewhere, the U.S. armed forces should kill and die there without trying to win until such time as the Soviets and their clients decided to stop. They stopped after having killed some 50,000 Americans, and only after President Eisenhower seemed ready to use the atom bombs that his predecessor had denied to MacArthur.

The Korean War is essential to understanding how our foreign policy class has handled conflict ever since. Containment’s premise was that since any gain from the communist empires’ attempts at expansion would be incentives for them to aggress again, the United States and allies could secure peace and foreclose their expansion by making any aggression’s costs greater than its benefits. Korea reversed that premise. To this day, China celebrates what it justly calls its victory over America in Korea as an affirmation of its ruling class’s wisdom. With help from the Soviet Union and U.S. allies, it proved able convince the U.S. foreign policy class to accept losses in unsustainable no-win wars. Since then, America’s acceptance of loss after loss has torn at our domestic fiber and international standing.

The Soviet-Chinese axis quickly adapted the Korea pattern to Vietnam, with even more profound results. As the U.S. foreign policy class fought Communist aggression there, it never even considered the option of destroying North Vietnam’s regime. Openly mocking the very notion of victory and accusing those Americans who advocated victory of being enemies of peace, our establishmentarians placed forlorn hope in the notion of “nation building,” as if anyone possessed the secret for organizing any small country’s citizens for self-defense against a military attack endlessly supplied by major powers. Consequently, for a dozen years, another 50,000 Americans died in Vietnam in planned military futility as the republic was roiled by a socio-political revolution that undermined all manner of authority, shifted the ruling class’s composition, and has not yet run its course.

Perhaps the disaster’s most remarkable feature is that it empowered precisely the Progressives who had been most responsible for the war’s prosecution and dishonorable conclusion. This meant, on the level of operations, the Vietnam syndrome’s canonization throughout the foreign policy class, including the military. All but one of the U.S. government’s military ventures ever since have more or less copied the Vietnam paradigm, complete with “nation building” and “rules of engagement” that protect enemy “sanctuaries”—but above all without plans for victory. One will search fruitlessly for differences between the contemporary U.S. manual of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the work of General David Petraeus, and the Vietnam era’s manuals. But on the level of conception, our Progressive foreign policy class has strengthened its hold on the bureaucracies, academe, think tanks, and press during the 40 years since Vietnam, as if that disaster had been a rousing success.

Third world, terror, and default

Our Progressive foreign policy class has continued to prosper because its unanimity about fundamental assumptions has throttled critiques from within and scorned any from outside. The prevailing view that the foreign policy class consists of three competing intellectual currents—Liberal Internationalists, Realists, and Neoconservatives—neglects the fact that all proceed from Progressivism’s assumptions that all nations want for themselves what each of these American factions wants for them. As a result, the differences end up having little practical meaning. Liberal Internationalists, regarding themselves as harbingers of secular, technocratic progress, see foreigners as interested in the same things, thereby willing to modify their behavior to attain America’s help. Realists, seeing themselves as dispassionate technicians of power for the sake of international order, think foreigners are similarly amenable to the steps needed to achieve peaceful international equilibria. Neoconservatives, believing that foreigners are eager for democracy’s blessings, are eager to help foreigners to attain them.

In sum, today’s foreign policy class, no less than its forbears of a century ago, see themselves as mankind’s seniors, teachers, and benefactors. They expect to be treated as such. But as they have dealt with the world, they have sown disrespect for themselves and for our America.

Americans are genetically opposed to empires and favorable to republics. But the Men On Mount Rushmore knew that their right and duty in regard to popular government stops at the U.S. borders, that the rest of the world’s many peoples have an equal, inalienable right to govern themselves as they may, and that U.S. foreign policy’s duty is to deal with each and all as best serves the American people. Progressives, by contrast, have pursued anti-imperialism to the point of practicing something like an imperialism of their own. Beginning in the Wilson administration, they ran a foreign policy actively hostile to the empires of Britain, France, Holland, Portugal, etc. They promoted their colonies’ independence and expected to reap the newly independent nations’ gratitude. While rejecting the suggestion that they were substituting American for European imperialism, they worked hard to increase all manner of influence in what came to be known as the “Third World.”

As U.S. diplomats, and especially the CIA, competed with Communists for influence within the European colonies’ independence movements after WWII, many identified with those movements politically and ideologically. They also sponsored and raised up many of their leaders, imagining that these leaders reciprocated the affection. So close have been these patron-client relationships that, when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles spoke to the director of central intelligence, his brother Allen, he referred to Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser as “your colonel.” So much American money and influence went into the politics of Asia, Africa, and Latin America that a good case can be made that American progressives invented the Third World. They were surprised when their creation turned on America.

Whether because our foreign policy class has chosen clients badly, or simply because it neglected the inherent difference between others’ interests and America’s, it helped bring to power persons who made careers by making major trouble for America. Sukarno, the Ba’ath Party (Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad), Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, are just the most recognizable. Trying to curry favor with such, but also out of ideological solidarity, the U.S. government supported, among others, Franz Fanon, author of Wretched of The Earth, and the inspiration for countless anti-American terrorists. But our foreign policy class also made trouble for America by turning on compliant clients, such as the Shah of Iran, who were succeeded by outright enemies of America, or by overthrowing recalcitrant but effective clients like South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dihn Diem, who were then replaced by incompetent puppets. Consequently, as our experts tried to remedy the consequences of their choices, they resembled nothing so much as sorcerers’ apprentices chasing after the products of their incompetent concoctions.

“It is no coincidence,” as the Soviets used to say, that as America’s no-win policy in Vietnam was becoming undeniable and America’s third world creatures were reverting to type, growing disrespect for America burst into terrorism in the mid-1960s—tentatively at first, but growing in self-assurance and quantity as the U.S. reaction encouraged it. In December 1965 the Soviet Union gathered terrorist groups small and large in Havana for the Tricontinental Conference, whose symbol was a globe resting on crossed submachine guns and whose working groups examined techniques for terrorizing Americans. Terrorists from around the world exchanged best practices through World Marxist Review, published in Prague. Castro was the first to encourage would be revolutionaries to hijack airplanes to Cuba. Our foreign policy class refused to countenance responding forcefully to this act of war. Instead, it persuaded President Nixon to ban guns on commercial aircraft. The FAA also required passengers not to resist hijackers, a regulation that made 9/11 possible.

By the time the Soviet Union passed away, the U.S. government had accepted all manner of terrorism against America with such equanimity that terrorists no longer required a powerful patron. Consider Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1973 it assassinated U.S. ambassador Cleo Noel. In 1985, having hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro, it rolled overboard a wheelchair bound American Jew, Leon Klinghoffer. And much more. Nevertheless, the CIA continued to fund the PLO and was instrumental in giving it near-state status. In 1979 the Ayatollah Khomeini, having overthrown Iran’s Shah with U.S. help, seized the U.S. embassy and held its diplomats hostage for over a year, a textbook casus belli not answered in kind. In 1985 the Ayatollah’s Hezbollah agents hijacked TWA flight 847 and murdered U.S sailor Robert Stethem. But the U.S. government did not crush terrorist organizations or their sponsors.

By the 1990s, respect for America had fallen so low in the minds of so many that any and all reasons sufficed to accelerate anti-American terrorism. Following Iran’s unpunished capture of American diplomats in the name of Islam, all manner of Muslim radicals conducted anti-American terrorism. Terrorists who had served the Soviets, such as the PLO, started operating under Islamic pretenses. Terrorists who had been practicing their craft in the service of such regimes as Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad’s, also flew the Islamic flag. The U.S. government, which had rationalized treating terrorism as mere criminality in order to avoid confronting the Soviet Union, started rationalizing that same reticence by citing reluctance to wage a war of religion against Islam.

Consequently, whereas once upon a time the only people who would slaughter Americans were ones deeply in ideology’s grip, whether Communist or Islamic, in our time a superficial conversion is enough for the world’s restless and resentful, Americans included, to spill American blood. “No people was so small or weak that it could not do them harm,” Montesquieu wrote of what befell third-century Romans. By the 21st century, the failure of American foreign policy had thus come home to the average American.

Clinton or Trump?

By 2016, America’s foreign policy class looked out from its privileged places and saw citizens whose long simmering dissatisfaction with their works had boiled over into disrespect. Correctly, this class sees the election as the validation or rejection of what they are all about. But whether electing Clinton would or could confirm their hold on the machinery of policy, or how long a respite from their detractors might endure, is by no means clear. That is because Clinton’s election would perpetuate and strengthen the foreign policy trends that have led both the establishment and the government to lose credit at home and abroad. Electing Clinton would neither restore lost respect nor induce the foreign policy class to seriously consider what they have been doing wrong all these years. Because this class’s contempt for its domestic opponents continues to push the current course of action to its logical conclusions, it virtually ensures grave unintended consequences.

Thus, Progressives have touted disarmament, arms control, or reduction of armaments, as a matter of principle for a hundred years. Progressives have seen military weakness as an enabler of peace, an enhancement of “soft power,” and yet as no barrier at all to involvement in the word’s quarrels. In the nuclear age, they have been the primary proponents of what used to be called “minimum deterrence”—the theory that possessing a small, invulnerable stock of nuclear weapons designed to devastate cities is enough to deter attack even from governments whose nuclear forces are designed to fight, survive, and win nuclear war. It is an article of faith for this class that, because those invulnerable “second strike” weapons would avenge America’s defeat, the attacker would never inflict it. But one can find few members of that class who, themselves, would be willing to commit such senseless vengeance.

The foreign policy class has also recognized that supporting allies with some degree of credibility against nuclear powers requires the capacity and willingness to use nuclear weapons militarily. Nevertheless, over the years, the foreign policy class’s resistance to enacting the militarily senseless theory of Minimum Deterrence has weakened. President Obama’s plans for U.S. nuclear forces now put them on course to minimum deterrence. A recent article by William Perry, Bill Clinton’s former secretary of defense and a close adviser to Hillary, advocates it explicitly. As that change in America’s nuclear status takes hold, members of the foreign policy class should not be surprised to find their foreign hosts less accommodating to them and more to whomever wants to hurt America. Power, like water and much else, flows downhill.

The foreign policy class’s objection to the very notion of “America First” is that it deprives America of allies. This neglects the truth that allies, like bank loans, are available in inverse proportion to the need for them. To have allies one must first have the power to achieve one’s own objectives, and enough left over to help the allies along. The most prominent and authoritative book on Progressive foreign policy, Restraint (2014) by Barry Posen, director of the Security Studies Program at MIT, prescribes just the opposite. Progressive “multilateral” foreign policy consists of asking potential allies to sign on to schemes that the U.S. foreign policy class is considering, but whose adoption is conditional on the allies signing on. Any alliance formed on that basis is as fraudulent as the offer of alliance itself—today’s NATO being a good example. By the same token, Ukrainians would more likely put faith in an America that was pursuing policy toward Russia that was clear and forceful because it put America first than an alliance that supports its armed forces with American Meals Ready to Eat. Similarly, Japan, Indonesia, and Australia would be more reassured by knowing what America is going to do in its own interest about China’s appropriation of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, than by a “pivot” of U.S. forces that combines reassertion of U.S. commitments with a steadily decreasing inventory of ships and airplanes. Where does anyone think that such policies will lead America over the next decade?

Inexorably, Progressive foreign policy is gravitating in the direction of foreign Progressive forces. For Progressives, the benevolence of “the Arab Street” and even of organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood is an article of faith. From government, the media, and the universities, Progressives indict as racists anyone who imputes responsibility for terrorism to Arabs, Muslims, or Islam. America’s Muslims vote Democrat. Any Progressive president would find it hard to depart from this part of his tribal identity, least of all Hillary Clinton, whose top aide, Huma Abedin, is deeply connected to the Muslim world. The Democratic Party, along with its bench in academe, has identified increasingly with Israel’s enemies as fellow Progressives. Surely and not so slowly, our foreign policy class has acted more and more as if Israel’s refusal to accede to Arab demands were the chief cause of the Middle East’s troubles.

Imagine, then, what effects the intensification of U.S. foreign policy’s trends would produce in the not so distant future. Then, considering how these effects would manifest themselves on America’s streets, ask how the American people are likely to react.

The 2016 election is about whether that pattern should change. How much, if at all, it would change under Trump matters much less than the mere possibility it might change. Trump’s virtue in foreign policy lies in having voiced this simple, vital thought: U.S. foreign policy must put America first, and deliver victories rather than defeats. Whether Trump really believes that, whether he would act on it, or even whether he understands past mistakes, is secondary.

 

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