Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the US’s pivot to protectionism and “America first”
Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): In its various comments on the upcoming Trump presidency, Noah denkt™ has repeatedly expressed its hope that the closest advisors of the 45th President of the United States (POTUS 45) will be able to steer him away from making the most outrageous mistakes and push him to do the right thing instead. Does Noah denkt™ still nourish this hope?
Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Not as much as we used to. In the course of the inauguration it has somewhat dawned on us that Messrs. Mattis, Kelly and Flynn probably don’t understand the corrosive effect that protectionist trade policies can have on the strength of traditional military alliances. It now seems to us as if they are compartimentalizing their new job as being strictly about military matters only. So they will probably be able to steer POTUS 45 in the right direction as far as NATO, Russia and Syria is concerned but they won’t stop him from causing an endless number of trade wars with erstwhile friends and foes alike. That is very troubling and very disappointing in deed.
AE: What is it exactly that gave you that negative intuition with respect to Sec. Mattis and others?
Nd: Well, we suddenly realized that security and foreign relations experts especially of the conservative brand are traditionally strong in analyzing geopolitical power politics (Russia etc…) but that they have little if no interest for the implications of trade agreements and disagreements. They tend to view this as an issue of secondary importance. So they fail to understand that the Trump pivot to protectionism is not just a disagreement on the price of chicken but a serious threat to the stability of our world order and thereby to the US itself. Clearly, we should have realized this earlier. But it was so obvious to us that POTUS 45’s rejection of a core US policy stand must lead to a huge international upheaval that we were unable to comprehend that the extent of this pivot is probably hard to grasp from the inside.
AE: Can you expand on this? What is so hard to understand from the inside in this?
Nd: If you are US patriot as Sec. Mattis certainly is, the plight of laid-off factory workers in Ohio is clearly closer to you than the consternation that Chinese leaders may feel over the US betraying its own earlier convictions. It is simply harder for you to understand the Chinese point of view.
AE: What is that Chinese point of view?
AE: Well, think about how many US Presidents have gone visiting China lecturing it on the virtue of open societies, free trade and the values of the international community. Think about how long it has taken China to warm up to the idea of international trade to begin with, let alone to that of becoming a member of the World Trade Organization. Now, that it has finally started to do that the US changes its own stance on free trade and the value of supranational, collective security arrangements. And it, the US that is, does so just because it has gotten a little more costly and inconvenient to stay true to its earlier missionary beliefs. Must that pivot by the US not be perceived by the Chinese as an American loss of face? How can the Chinese continue to view the US as a credible negotiating partner that stays true to her word if the current experience is that the US ditches its own high held convictions at the first inconvenience? And what does all this mean for the creditworthiness of the US? Don’t forget that China is the US’s biggest lender. Presumably, the Trump administration will want to expand on that when it goes to the markets in order to generate massive loans for a huge infrastructural spending that POTUS 45 has announced during his campaign. How can China trust that it will in deed get its money back eventually if the US is now betraying its own word in a matter that supposedly was so fundamental to it?
AE: So do you anticipate that the US will have a hard time to auction off its Treasury bills in the years to come?
Nd: POTUS 45 is certainly doing what he can to alienate some of the more important foreign creditors. He repeatedly singled out China in his stump speeches. He wasn’t terribly kind to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. And he didn’t treat Japan with a lot of heartening respect either. Nevertheless, the US will always have the option of spreading the bulk of its new debt among domestic organizations thereby inflating balance sheets left, right and center. So the creditor question may not be as important as one might think.
AE: So where does this leave us with respect to the future of the US?
Nd: It seems very likely to us, that China will want to fill the international vacuum that the US is leaving being after its retreat to “America first”. And it is equally likely that it, China that is, will manage to do so because the US has lost quite a bit of credibility as far as international leadership is concerned. So countries like Mexico and others will receive the Middle Kingdom with open arms.