Trump Prepares For War
You wouldn’t exactly know it by reading the front pages of the newspapers today, but I think history will show this as the day that Donald Trump decide to go to war on multiple fronts. With the announcement of new tariffs on around $60 billion of Chinese goods and the promise of retaliation from the Chinese, Trump has essentially declared a trade war, a war that will especially hurt our allies in Japan and South Korea as well as American businesses and workers. And in choosing John Bolton as his National Security Adviser, Trump has essentially declared his intention to militarily strike North Korea and withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, prompting a nuclear arms race in the Mideast and potentially another military strike against Iran.
The tariffs, in particular, are just another example of policy-makers fighting the last, lost war. The Chinese subsidies, massive trade surpluses, and currency manipulation that decimated American jobs and manufacturing all occurred primarily occurred in the first decade of this century and has largely ceased. Yes, there are certain industries, like steel, that China still subsidizes, and China still engages in massive intellectual property theft. But the majority of goods we import from China are just finished products based on components that China has imported from other countries. But the response from China will be to retaliate against America’s own subsidized agricultural and livestock industries in the Midwest and Great Plains. Americans in those industries will basically be asked to pay a price in order to try and protect the intellectual property rights of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. If protecting Hollywood and Silicon Valley was the idea, then the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump withdrew from was actually a better vehicle.
Now it’s possible that Trump will decide not to actually wage this trade war. The steel and aluminum tariffs that he announced with great fanfare a few weeks ago have been watered down with so many exemptions that over half of steel imports are now covered. Instead, the administration is considering a quota system that will simply raise prices for all imported steel.
The appointment of John Bolton as National Security Adviser is even more concerning, to use Republicans current favorite phrase. Bolton believes in launching a first strike against North Korea and has advocated not only withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal but also launching a first strike against Iran as well. And, of course, advocating for reneging on the Iran deal makes it highly unlikely that North Korea will believe we are negotiating in good faith. Withdrawing from the Iran deal on its own will simply create a nuclear arms race in the Mideast, with Iran restarting its nuclear program and Saudi Arabia beginning its own. And launching a first strike against Iran will just further destabilize the Mideast and result in an increase in global terrorism.
As one New Zealand academic and North Korea expert says, “Bolton isn’t just a run-of-the-mill hawk; he’s a kind of warmonger. He’s never seen a foreign policy problem that couldn’t be solved by bombing”. And, while Bolton also believes that Russia is a bad actor, I think we can be sure that Trump will ignore him on that issue. Bolton’s extremist views and his excessively abusive behavior as a manager prohibited from being confirmed as George Bush’s UN representative but, as National Security Adviser, he will not need Senate confirmation. That abusive behavior will make Bolton fit right in in this administration.
The one thing we do know about Donald Trump is that he is full of bluff and bluster. He prefers to essentially negotiate as an extortionist. In so many instances, from his threats to sue the women that claim he sexually harassed and assaulted them to the watering down of the steel and aluminum tariffs, Trump has continually shown he is bluffing. And it is possible that Trump believes that Bolton will provide the extortionist threat that he prefers to both North Korea and Iran that will allow him to successfully negotiate with them. That would be consistent with Trump, unrestrained and relying on his own instincts. It would also be a massive miscalculation. North Korea and Iran are not some fly-by-night contractor that Trump can intimidate and threaten and they will react extremely negatively to that approach.
To move into a more speculative area, you have to wonder if Trump is, at least on some subconscious level, trying to extort us all, in the sense that he is indicating he is willing to destroy the international trading system, willing to risk nuclear war, willing to totally shut down the entire government (based on his latest veto threat of the just-passed budget deal) because of his aggravation with the Mueller investigation and the lawsuits brought by the women he has harassed and assaulted. He is the man-child with a temper tantrum who has the power to destroy the world as we know it. And he is showing he may not be afraid to do just exactly that.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on March 23, 2018.