Thursday, May 13, 2004

THE LAND OF THE FREE TRADERS

Part Four of a six-part series on 'Progressive Internationalism'


The liberal hawks who composed the foreign policy manifesto �Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy� are not just interested in the bold exercise of American military power. They are quite keen on the bold exercise of American economic power as well. While war takes pride of place, free trade is an important secondary plank in the �progressive internationalism� (PI) platform.

PI is animated by four �core principles that have long defined the Democratic Party�s tradition of tough-minded internationalism�. One of those principles is dubbed �Free enterprise� which PI defines as �vibrant, entrepreneurial markets, open trade, and active governance to ensure honest competition�. PI is even brazen enough to equate �free enterprise� with �economic freedom,� a phrasing which every libertarian can happily embrace. This fits together snugly with John Kerry�s recent proclamation that he is an �entrepreneurial Democrat� who loves nothing more than to berate the dangerous radical left wing proletariat of the Democratic Party (namely . . . namely . . . is there a left wing proletariat anymore?) which apparently �loves jobs but hates the people that create them�. �I am not a redistributionist Democrat,� Kerry said to the DLC recently. �Fear not.� Phew! You had me going there for a second, John.

PI is so devoted to the ideology of free trade that it cannot help but interpret even US military capabilities through the language of David Ricardo:
The U.S. military is doing a brilliant job, but . . . is often asked to undertake missions for which it does not have a comparative advantage
Under PI, America and the world are promised more free trade than Bush ever delivered. The breakdown of both the WTO and the FTAA talks are pinned on the failure of �US economic leadership� which Democrats will magically resurrect. The resurrection will be relatively painless as well thanks to Clintonesque competitiveness and economic growth at home �which made the American people more willing to bear the costs of international engagement� during those halcyon 1990s. Funny, but I thought Clinton failed in securing fast track authority in 1997 and 1998 precisely because Americans were not willing to bear more costs of free trade. I also have this strange memory that tens of thousands of Americans went to Seattle in November 1999 and Washington in April 2000 precisely to protest the way Clinton was managing his neoliberal form of �international engagement�. PI also praises the manner in which Clinton �craft[ed] effective responses to financial crises in Mexico in Asia� whereas I remember a giant bailout of US investors and a disastrous heavy IMF hand sending East Asia into deeper depressions. It waxes poetic over �the creation of 21 million jobs and unprecedented economic growth at home� without acknowledging either the New Economy bubble which conveniently popped at the end of Clinton�s term nor the now structural quality of the US �jobless recoveries�. Surely a different package of tax cuts would have stimulated the US economy more fairly and efficiently over the last three years, but is anyone naive enough to believe that no jobless recovery would have occurred on Al Gore�s watch?

PI gives a welcome nod to �tackl[ing] corruption and poverty more vigorously, lifting labor and environmental standards around the world, and raising the US profile in the fight against child labor and the subordination of women.� All good things indeed � but how is PI going to achieve them? While there are multiple promises of the �bold exercise of American power� in Iraq and Afghanistan, when it comes to labor standards in the WTO, participation in the Kyoto Protocol or embracing the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, suddenly the specifics are nowhere to be found. While PI demands more US government action on fighting HIV/AIDS and developing hydrogen fuel cell technology, this is nothing more than what George Bush himself has laid out for his own agenda.

The big free trade showcase held out by PI is preferential trade relations with Arab countries and a Middle East free trade zone. The logic behind it is straight out of Tom Friedman or Robert Zoellick:
The combination of rising population and vanishing opportunity creates a vast pool of angry, directionless young people: a natural audience for radicals, anti-Americans, and fundamentalists. A new trade preference program for the Muslim world . . . followed by a concerted effort to deepen the region�s economic integration more broadly, can help restore growth and confidence to the region.
This is precisely an idea which Bush himself trotted out in May 2003. And let�s not fool ourselves; the US and Jordan have had a free trade agreement for over three years now, and I don�t hear anyone holding this pact up as a signature blow against terror.

As with the war in Iraq, John Kerry is having a difficult time finding any traction on trade and globalization precisely because he and Bush share virtually identical positions. If anything, Kerry � who never saw a free trade agreement he didn�t like � promises more FTAs and a more aggressive �trade� policy. As the Washington Post noted last month,
Sen. John F. Kerry may favor cooperating with other countries on most international issues, but on the subject of trade, the Democratic presidential candidate yesterday accused the Bush administration of failing to be confrontational enough. . . .

The trouble is, Bush also proclaims himself to be a free-trader who enforces U.S. trade laws vigorously -- the stance the president took, for example, when he slapped tariffs on imported steel in 2002. So Kerry's position, in essence, is that he would be more effective and aggressive.
More evidence of PI as more or less a �good government� version of the status quo.

PART THREE: Mo' Better Blues

PART TWO: Building a Better Bush

PART ONE: Kerry is So Very . .

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