Gen. John Kelly kept Donald Trump from making a mistake. The marines like to do their job in an orderly fashion. Trump’s brand-new chief of staff convinced the president that — difficult though it might be — the United States should not abandon Afghanistan without trying to strengthen that country’s government and marginalize the Talibans.
Most likely, Kelly didn’t say it but surely he thought it: his son Robert had died in the Afghan war, killed by a landmine. To pack up and leave empty-handed would have been a brutal form of saying that Robert Kelly’s sacrifice had been in vain, and we know that the marines don’t abandon their men in the midst of battle.
As part of the process of educating Trump, Steve Bannon was ousted from the White House. He was much too isolationist and kept one thousand conspiratorial fantasies in his imaginative little head. He not only thought that the United States was the best country in the world — a thought to which he was entitled — but that it had to keep to itself any wealth it might create. Bannon didn’t realize that selfishness is not a virtue in the international domain.
The reasoning of Roosevelt/Truman during and after World War II remains in effect. The United States could not survive as a free and prosperous society in a planet dominated by models and criteria that lead to totalitarianism. To protect itself, the United States had to associate with other nations and share its wealth. To a great degree, altruism was a defensive attitude. Consequently, the entire government apparatus involved in foreign affairs was designed according to that criterion.
The State Department created ways to collaborate with like-minded nations and — through a system of rewards-and-punishment to attract the so-called “free world”– developed formulas to penalize adversarial nations. It all began with the generous Marshall Plan (named after a brilliant and understanding general) and continued with the institutional redesign of Germany and Japan, with the very successful objective of “regime change” in those countries.
As time went on, new dangers arose: drug trafficking, Islamic or other forms of terrorism, the smuggling of people through U.S. borders, organized crime, public and private corruption, almost always in collusion. And these challenges were confronted in the same manner: through international pacts and lists of undesirable people and businesses such as the Clinton List. To the habitual task of the intelligence services was added the search for information of that nature (e.g., the Panama Papers), a quest joined by the DEA, the FBI and the Treasury Department.
Was something left out of Trump’s education that keeps him from leading the world’s greatest power? Many lessons were left out, as we can gather from the painful speech he delivered in Arizona on Aug. 22 to a crowd of feverish fans.
It is urgent, for instance, that President Trump understand that — to continue to be great and prosperous — the United States needs to trade intensely with all the world’s nations and must abandon the absurd attitude of threatening to quit free-trade treaties (such as the one being gestated in the Pacific), beginning with the treaty the U.S. signed with Canada and Mexico. That protectionist attitude might earn him the good will of some workers affected by competition but it’s detrimental to the whole of society.
That counterproductive language used by Trump is spoken by mercantilist businessmen who work “in the shadow of protectionism,” as charged by Mexican economist Luis Pazos, parroted by a communist-oriented left anchored in the ignorance of how the economy works, incapable of understanding that in commercial activities all the parties win, because they are not zero-sum transactions where one party’s gain is the other party’s loss but because they are the essential operations of a market economy that fosters a constant growth of capital. Everybody benefits.
As Pazos stresses in his article Trump: Protectionism Is the Same as the Left, “beyond dogmatism, the 22 years of existence of the North American Free-Trade Agreement demonstrate that both countries benefit from NAFTA. If Trump insists on fulfilling his campaign promise of imposing more duties on Mexico-U.S. trade, he will benefit some labor unions in the U.S. but hurt most of the businesses and consumers in North America.”
What will also happen is that China will fill those spaces that the U.S. abandons. That has been suggested regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership on economic cooperation (TPP) and will happen again with NAFTA. But this time it will happen in the United States’ immediate neighborhood.
Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on Sunday August 27th, 2017