I have had two really scarring experiences in my time. One was my childhood. The other was my adult life.
As a child, despite growing up in Beaver Cleaver's America with two loving parents, generally hygienic siblings, and the usual allotment of hamsters, turtles, cats, and a dog, there was still plenty of room for psychological trauma. Most of it came subtly but the damage has been irreversible (as my wife and children will attest). For example, I would bounce in the house beaming to report my grades, be asked how I did, describe the triumph of all As and a B and then, after a long pause, be greeted with "What was the B in?"
As an adult, well, it's much too complicated to go into here. But certainly one scarring experience was working in the United States Department of Commerce. For one thing, the inside of the Commerce Building was so dark, featureless and cavernous that it actually became a kind of spiritual black hole, sucking the souls out of its occupants with a ruthless efficiency that calls to mind a kind of industrial-strength version of the movie Poltergeist. Next, while you may have heard of Churchill's famous description of Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, well Commerce was a backwater wrapped in a bureaucracy inside a dysfunctional political system.
On top of that, I was largely involved in trade policy which involved making assertions about which we had no substantiation in support of policies we were not sure would work while hoping the negative consequences would not be so bad. And as it turned out, while my pro-trade reflex is still intact, it has over the years been tempered by the kind of caution blended with cynicism that can only come from exposure to the hype associated with the economic benefits associated with trade deals.
So, in short, not only am damaged goods but I have special experience which may account for how underwhelmed I am by the just achieved trade deals with Korea, Colombia, and Panama. I mean I know people are celebrating. I even have friends who are and I don't want to spoil their fun. So I offer my psychological history as a kind of an excuse for being a spoil-sport.
Not that these deals aren't net net a good thing. They are. The Korea deal is even potentially economically significant ... in a smallish kind of way. And there are those 70,000 jobs the administration is claiming will be created by the $13-15 billion in new exports the deals might help generate. But I can't help but think this is all pretty weak beer and that these deals are more like a throw-back to a bygone era of activist trade policy than they are indicator of some new push toward opening global markets.
In a way, not only are these Bush Administration policies come to long overdue fruition, but they kind of feel like they are simply the last spasm of 1990s trade liberalization.
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Happy birthday, Mr. President.
Admittedly, there has not been a lot to celebrate lately.
With market losses in this slide now exceeding the 10 percent level, so-called correction territory (London's FTSE is down over 11 percent since April), weak employment numbers in the United States, troubling global economic indicators wherever you look, the Arab Spring stalling, the Libya intervention in slow motion, AfPak a source of deep worry and frustration, China rising, global warming, Justin Bieber, the bad reviews received by Cowboys & Aliens, it might well be, Mr. President, that you feel like there is very little to celebrate.
Well, not only do I think you've got a wide range of accomplishments that deserve celebration, but I think it is high time that those of us who actually believe government can do some good start making our case as actively as are those who are simultaneously talking it down and taking it down. That's why every week until I run out, I'm going to try to focus on at least one significant area of accomplishment, a success story.
This week, the gift wrapping around the success story is that which comes hard to some of us up here in the blogosphere's peanut gallery: an admission that I was wrong. Now readers of this blog will be the first to note that I'm wrong all the time. But in this instance, I am even willing to acknowledge it.
When you announced your National Export Initiative, I thought it was just a rehash of the National Export Strategy we did back in the Clinton days. What's more, since I thought the administration did very little on trade policy in its first year or two, I felt that the announcement, made in your 2010 State of the Union, was little more than a rhetorical device, that there was not meat on its bones nor was there likely to be any.
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For years the hackneyed joke about Brazil was that it was the country of tomorrow and always would be. But almost a decade ago, in the wake of the reforms of the Cardoso administration, and then thanks to the remarkable presidential tenure of Luiz Inacio "Lula" Da Silva and the industry and enterprise of the Brazilian people, the joke was overtaken by events. As investors, CEOs, journalists and most of the world's leading powers have recognized, Brazil has arrived.
While U.S. leaders like Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama have acknowledged the change, many in the U.S. policy community remained holdouts or skeptics. Yes, Brazil was on the rise they said, but they always found a way to qualify their views, to establish one criteria or another that Brazil would have to meet before it was finally seen as a "first-class power." While Asia specialists embraced the rise of China and India and quickly began to remake policy based on changing power relationships, Latin specialists clung to the past, to old formulations and prejudices.
In the eyes of these living museum pieces of Washington's small, inbred Latin American affairs community, Brazil might be the country of tomorrow, it might even be the country of later on today, but we would be sticking with the policies of yesterday until further notice.
Today, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has issued a new task force report on U.S.-Brazil relations that goes a long way toward breaking with the past by recommending the U.S. move toward a new policy stance with regard to Brazil. The central point of the report is that Brazil must be liberated from the Latin policy barrio and viewed as one of the most important global powers of today and of the century ahead.
After a brief stop at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that will almost certainly be the anticlimax of a 10-day swing through Asia, President Barack Obama will briefly return to Washington to pick up a new change of socks before heading off to Europe. From unsatisfying discussions about the world economy he will move on to unsatisfying discussions about Afghanistan. From difficulties with the new powers of Asia he will move on to difficulties with the old powers of Europe. And through all this he must be thinking, "The heck with the birthers debating where I was born -- if this keeps up, I have to wonder, where am I going to live once I leave this job?"
Admittedly, many of the challenges he faces are not of his own making. He did not send the world economy into a tailspin, gut the U.S. manufacturing sector, recalibrate global labor markets, or introduce the first U.S. troops into Afghanistan. And on this trip to Asia and next week's to Europe he has taken many substantial steps to address these problems and to restore the United States' international footing. From a successful mission to India, the innovative and smart (if largely symbolic) move to endorse India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, a sensitively handled journey to an Indonesia where he spent time as a boy, and an effort to embrace the new world economic order by continuing to support the empowerment of the G-20, many of his efforts deserve praise.
Having said that, as is often the case with this administration, Obama giveth and Obama taketh away.
The frustrations and missteps of this trip, especially those encountered in Seoul, could have been easily avoided. First, the United States could be somewhat less disingenuous about our economic policies. I am a supporter and admirer of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in most things, but his line that "We will never seek to weaken our currency as a tool to gain competitive advantage or grow the economy…" has to go down as the howler of the month, and may qualify for howler of the year honors next month. In the wake of QE2 and longer-term easing, money-pumping policies -- which are clearly designed to offset what are seen as unfair Chinese currency practices -- the United States is guilty of promoting precisely the race to the bottom that earned such broad condemnation from Europeans, Asians, and other emerging powers in Seoul.
The failure of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement talks is also due to American misplays. Long ago in this space I warned about the mistake of giving too much authority to the office of Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in appointing senior officials at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. This week, Baucus' influence apparently triggered the breakdown of the Seoul talks. Sources suggest that the Montana senator pushed for greater beef market access beyond what the Koreans had repeatedly said were their limits. The result: A deal the president promised would be done this week floundered -- and its prospects do not look good.
Should the White House, then, have been as surprised and disgruntled as it was this morning by the two column New York Times lead headline "Obama's Economic View Rejected on the World Stage"? Heck no. Them's the facts. What's more, like the election results, perhaps it was a message the team needed to see written out in bold dark type.
Obama embarked on this trip with a message from the American people: They were frustrated with the state of the U.S. economy, and something had to change in the way Washington was dealing with it. As it happens, that is the same message he got from the G-20 leaders in Seoul. While he was away there were two events that may present him with an opportunity to gain ground with both of his stakeholder constituencies, the voters who elected him and the creditors to whom the United States owes so much money. One was that by some sort of alchemy (which is to say the ability of Democrats to do basic arithmetic), the administration realized they would have to accept a deal to extend all the Bush tax cuts, probably for a couple of years. They leaked their inclination in this regard without clearly confirming it. The second was the leaking of the co-chairman's bullet-point summary of the Deficit Commission report. Whatever the problems with their recommendations, they represent the first recent, high-level effort to deal seriously with this problem on both the revenue and the cost side of the ledger.
My sense is that there is a potentially transformational deal here for the president: Agree to an extension of the Bush tax cuts for two years, if Congress agrees to an up or down vote on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report -- provided it receives support from at least 14 members of the deficit commission. Link dealing with the poor economy to a commitment to getting our house in order -- as our creditors, allies, and most sensible citizens and neighbors are pleading with us to do. (If it is not "fast track" for the deficit report, perhaps it could be a commitment to linking a deficit reduction plan to the first budget of the new congress.)
The president has three big game changers that could restore his standing at home or abroad. One is a spontaneous recovery of the U.S. economy. Another is catching Osama bin Laden. Neither of these is likely, nor are they things that he has much control over. The last would be establishing himself as a president with the courage to manage us through first a market crisis and then a deficit crisis, who could do so in the face of criticism from both parties and who could engineer support from both parties. It is not that much more likely than the first two "brass ring" events, but it is the one outcome over which he has the most potential control.
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The United States seem to be swimming in economic initiatives that are going to go nowhere. But are we really surprised? After all, as in the case of U.S. efforts with regard to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Israel and the Palestinians, we also seem to be swimming in foreign-policy initiatives that are very unlikely to produce much (positive) change to the status quo.
But seriously, if the United States is going to devote our efforts to empty symbolism and hollow gestures, couldn't we focus on some that were leavened by a little nobility, creativity or boldness? If we are going to float proposals that are doomed to failure or ineffectiveness, couldn't we float better proposals?
Let's take the four big economic initiatives making headlines this week.
The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement
We were greeted this morning with the unsurprising news that the efforts by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and his Korean counterparts to hammer out a new and improved version of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade deal had foundered on beef and automobile issues. I lead with this news because it is one of those rare proposals that actually have the opportunity to fail twice -- in addition to this week's setback, it could also fail in the negotiating phase. That's not very likely (the White House promises a deal "within weeks"). But even if the deal is reached, the likelihood that a free trade deal is going to make it through the U.S. Congress any time soon seems slim.
conventional wisdom has it that Republicans are warmer to free trade than
Democrats, the reality is that centrists are warmer to trade. The real
opposition lies in the growing right and left wings in each party.
A story in today's New
York Times highlighted a Pew poll that 44 percent of Americans feel free trade deals have
been bad for the country, while only 35 percent feel they have been beneficial.
While some deals are viewed more favorably, others -- like deals with China or
Korea, countries viewed with more unease -- are not. The article also notes
that, "Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who were aligned with
the Tea Party movement had a particularly negative view of the impact of free
trade agreements." In the last election cycle something like 4 out of 10 voters
identified themselves with the Tea Party or Tea Party candidates -- a group
that now has 110 members of Congress.
With the Blue Dogs slaughtered in the last election, the power in Democratic caucus has also shifted solidly to the left; between that fact and the growing importance of unions as 2012 nears, the idea that a trade deal might get approved anytime soon should provoke some skepticism.
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In the story of the dilemma of Buridan's Ass, the poor tormented beast, placed between two equidistant and equally appetizing haystacks, starves to death. In a twist on this ancient paradox, American voters, placed between two equally unappetizing political alternatives, have over the past few election cycles scurried from one to the other in a constant state of revulsion and perpetual buyer's remorse.
There is a paradox within this second paradox. It is a play on the old observation of my former boss Henry Kissinger that the reason academic infighting is so fierce is because the stakes are so low: The reason political infighting is so fierce now is because the difference between the opposing haystacks, er, parties is so small.
Think about it: Bill Clinton's big twist that made "new Democrats" different from the old version was that he tacked right, embracing many of the free-market, anti-crime, stronger defense policies of Reagan-Bush Republicans. It is hard to remember but George W. Bush, all those many years ago, ran saying he had a track record of working across the aisle and the main contrast he offered from Clinton was less about policy than that he would restore the honor of the office. Oh sure, the rhetoric is shaped and twisted to appeal to the base in each party, but the mainstream policies of both parties shared many similarities. And then came Barack Obama and the promise of change. From their approach to dealing with the economic crisis to most foreign policy decisions (including, I would argue, Iraq, where Bush would probably be doing much of what Obama is), the new administration has turned out to be much more like the old than many might have expected. Indeed, many in the world hoping for a big change have been shocked to discover, once again, that for the most part U.S. presidents act alike.
There are subtle differences, of course. For example, in recent years, a branch of the Democratic Party has been anti-trade. Of course, so has a branch of the Republican Party. (Far left and far right meet on the far side…) But in a twist appropriate to the preceding assertions, despite the fact that unions -- key parts of the Democratic base -- oppose free trade deals, Obama's rhetoric and behavior in India is an indication that he is stepping right in where Clinton left off -- becoming a good old-fashioned mainstream U.S. mercantilist. He now believes, as we used to say back in the Clinton administration, exports equal jobs. Since jobs are the metric by which voters will determine his score and fate as president, he is becoming a trade promoter.
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We are not in Kansas anymore. More importantly, Kansas is not even where it once was.
Once upon a time and in the minds of most living Americans, Kansas was more than just a synonym or a metaphor for America's heartland, it was the actual geographic mid-point of the United States. You could debate whether the exact location deserving of this honor was closer to Lebanon or Grenola, but at the end of the day, all would agree that by virtue of the power and position of the United States, somewhere out there in the middle of nowhere was the center of the world.
No more. America may be the richest and most powerful nation on earth. But the world's economic center of gravity is shifting away from Kansas much more rapidly than anyone had any reason to expect it would even a decade or so ago. (I know this for a fact -- as a senior economic official in the Clinton Administration who helped put together and run the first U.S. inter-agency effort focused on the world's largest emerging markets, I remember how officials would smile patronizingly and roll their eyes, "Yes, China, India, Brazil, yes... important, but not in our lifetimes.")
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The Washington Post, like many Beltway watchers, took President Obama's statement that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would make a "great mayor of Chicago" as an acknowledgement that Emanuel is as good as gone from his administration -- and that the typical midterm game of musical chairs that enlivens the West Wing has begun.
I take the statement as something different. I take it as a personal request from the President to me to let him know what changes he needs to make after the November elections.
So, let's begin with replacing Rahm. Rumor has it that Emanuel himself has been mentioning Valerie Jarrett, among the president's closest confidantes, for the job. While being as simpatico with the president as Jarrett clearly is would be a big plus, the chief of staff job has a massively tough management component to it that would undercut Jarrett's ability to remain the vital sounding board for the President she has become. Better suited to the job would be two of the other names mentioned: Ron Klain, the vice president's chief of staff, and Tom Donilon, the deputy national security advisor. Both are excellent, smart and proven administrative masters. Tom Daschle, former Democratic majority leader in the Senate, has also been mentioned. He played a vital role in the president's campaign and would add an important capacity for Hill outreach to the mix.
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This weekend the Obama Administration will send a team to China headed by the somewhat unlikely duo of Larry Summers, head of the National Economic Council, and Tom Donilon, deputy national security advisor. The purpose is to send a clear message that the U.S. is approaching its relations with China strategically, with a view that integrates the full range of economic and security concerns.
While such trips are old hat for Summers, the journey represents a bit of a change of pace for Donilon, the inside guy who is credited with having done a great job making sure the policy process trains have been running on time within the National Security Council. Some in Washington are buzzing that this is a profile- and skill-raising trip intended to make Donilon a better candidate to replace National Security Advisor James L. Jones should Jones decide to depart, as many expect he will. Others grumble that the trip represents precisely the kind of "operational" role for the NSC and NEC that many cabinet departments have long thought should be out of bounds for White House policy coordinators.
But beyond the Washington gossip the trip has caused, the juxtaposition of economic and security concerns offers an illustration of an often over-looked fact -- the centrality of economic issues to current U.S. national security concerns. In China, the tricky calculus is fostering collaboration on security issues from North Korea to Iran in the face of political pressure back home to press Beijing harder on issues like currency valuation and unfair competitive practices (especially those associated with pressuring foreign firms to transfer proprietary technologies).
The U.S. has never been especially effective at coordinating its multiple interests in China so that pressure in one policy area produces progress in another -- or even simply avoids causing setbacks. So this trip, in concept at least, represents a step in the right direction -- at least if Congress doesn't undercut the administration's efforts by, for example, drafting its own legislation on currency issues.
But China is just one of a host of current hotspots where Summers, Geithner, and the international economic team are playing a central role on national security issues.
For example, in Afghanistan, the story of the week turns on the amazingly brazen behavior of the Karzai gang in trying to pressure the United States into bailing out a clearly corrupt and mismanaged bank in which President Hamid Karzai's brother, Mahmood Karzai, is the third largest shareholder. Mahmood has publicly called for a bailout even though his affiliation with a bank through which U.S. funds flow to Afghan security forces compromises both him and the president. Both remain unabashed, however, behaving like the proverbial kids who murder their parents and seek the mercy of the court on the grounds that they are now orphans. So the United States is in a pickle: Step in and support the Afghan kleptocracy and its culture of corruption or stand on principle (and law), and run the risk that the bank falters. It's not a situation that General David Petraeus can handle, but how the economic team manages it will have direct ramifications for him.
In the same way, some of the most sensitive concerns regarding Pakistan turn on economic policy. Will the Zardari government pump too much cash into the economy to deal with the aftereffects of the devastating flooding, and risk a major inflationary episode? Or will it introduce price controls and a set of micro economic measures that, if mismanaged, could produce social tensions or even rioting? The wrong mix of policies could plunge the already fractured and battered country into political turmoil and perhaps the reintroduction of military rule.
In talks with the Israelis and the Palestinians, many of the core concerns will turn on how to improve the economic conditions for the Palestinian people. If they can get past initial hurdles, they will, of course, ultimately have to move to a state structure that will enable organic economic growth in a Palestinian state, actually fostering job and wealth creation for people who have lived in an economic no man's land for too long.
In North Korea, it is reported that the administration, conducting high level meetings on the subject this week, is seeking to explore "engagement." In the case of the economically isolated and struggling North, that inevitably will mean economic packages in exchange for gradual normalization of relations or reductions of threats. At the same time, this week, the administration widened sanctions intended to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
In Iran, the core initiative at the moment is making targeted economic sanctions work. In Iraq, the issue is fostering economic growth to help "purchase" social stability. The list goes on. It is clear that wherever the stakes are highest for the United States in the world, even as military and diplomatic initiatives garner most of the attention, behind the scenes much of the most critical work is being undertaken by international economic officials.
It is interesting to note in this respect that the responsibility for conceiving and coordinating most of these activities lies in the White House to a much greater degree than it does with military or diplomatic initiatives. The White House team on these issues is excellent. But in the end, these functions are so fundamental that the real leadership capabilities need to be cultivated elsewhere.
The economic team at the State Department could and should play a greater role in this respect; Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Robert Hormats is a talented and experienced official. As I have written before, State also could and should develop a dramatically enhanced capability when it comes to emergency economic intervention -- pre- or post-crisis. And all the other economic agencies need to be prepared to collaborate on this, not on an ad hoc basis but through a permanent program promoting cross-training and what the military might call inter-operability. Call it an economic rapid response capability -- or call them economic green berets.
We need people we can drop into critical situations and help manage them with an eye to our security and political needs rather than traditional purely economic metrics. That's a critical role for which development officials are ill-suited, and we still don't really have the fully developed institutional structure we need to support it.
Looking at the issues faced by the United States today, while one can't help but admire much of what is being done, the strategic side of the international economic agenda is such that it warrants some real thought about how and with whom we should be meeting such challenges in the future.
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U.S. national security is too important to be left to foreign policy specialists, the media or politicians. These are the clear lessons of the Post-Underpants Bomber Era.
Before Christmas and the disturbing revelations of a man setting his balls on fire on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit (rendering himself only slightly more uncomfortable than those flying economy class), there was at least a feeling that America was regaining her senses following the 8 hysterical years of the so-called War on Terror.
But within hours of the bungled terror attempt, we saw once again America's true vulnerabilities. And while they are linked to intelligence failures, it is not the ones on which the media and the president's political opponents have focused that are most salient.
Obama's reaction to the junkbomber incident was precisely right and just what you want from a leader: Dispassionate, thoughtful, and calculated. He gave his team the time to assess the threat, the breaches and the right next steps to take. At least one person in the United States, Barack Obama, seemed to recognize that the objective of terrorism is to promote terror and sought to defuse that effort by handling the threat with the proportionality and common sense that has long been missing from U.S. counterterrorism strategy.
But almost immediately, the foreign policy establishment -- acting with the acuity and purity of motives of Tila Tequila squeezing a few extra minutes of undeserved fame out of the untimely death of her "fiancé" Casey Johnson -- whipped itself up into a critical lather. Why? Because it was good for America or because it was in their own self-interest?
I'll leave you to work that out on your own, but here are a few clues:
First, we have seen very few such attempted attacks carried to the stage of that of the underpants bomber in the last decade. Second, we have been successful in foiling many such attacks -- successes for which those responsible get little credit. Third, the attempt revealed as much about the genuine and enduring weaknesses of even terrorists affiliated with major league terror operations like al Qaeda as it did about our own counter-terror efforts. Fourth, terrorism by definition is only successful if it produces "terror" -- the kind of hysterical over-reaction we are once again seeing -- yet this fact does not seem to have resulted in very many critics toning down their hysteria or shrillness. (The Republican Party has the collective cool on these matters of Prissy helping to birth Melanie's baby in Gone With the Wind. As for the media, given that the "news" networks probably devoted more live news coverage to the balloon boy hoax than were devoted to say, the invasion of Normandy, you recognize that they are actually in the business of emotional over-reaction. In fact, their constant refrain that every event is an earth-shattering pinnacle of human experience that could well be the biggest thing they have ever seen suggests they have more in common with folks in say, Ashley Dupre's line of work than that of, say, a journalist.)
Most important, however, is that within days of what may go down on record as the world's first and last attempt at plastic explosive-assisted self-circumcision, news stories kept popping up that underscored the fact that the terror attack paled in significance for those concerned with America's future to other concurrent global developments. To begin with, the intelligence failures involved were not even the biggest problem of the week for the intelligence community given the devastating blow to some of our most senior field operatives in Afghanistan.
But the biggest threats to U.S. leadership and security ... to our very ability to protect ourselves at home and abroad ... manifested themselves in other stories that have simply not gotten sufficient attention among the accusations and inflammations of the holiday season terror frenzy. Like unemployment staying at 10 percent. Or, over the weekend, like China passing Germany as the world's largest exporter. Or like the fact that our impending health care bill will still not actually fix the financial threats to our system posed by grotesquely under-funded health care liabilities. Or like the fact that the world is far away from solving the biggest security problems it faces from stabilizing Pakistan to stopping Iran's nuclear program (and thus the WMD proliferation that poses the one great terror threat) to reversing climate change or addressing resource disparities that will trigger many of the wars of the century ahead. (It is worth noting that for America today ... the greatest threats to the nation's future well-being don't involve things that explode ... always the favored topic of foreign policy elites ... but rather things that are imploding ... like our economy, about which most big time foreign policy specialists haven't a clue.)
If one terrorist can in one failed attempt distract America from addressing priorities and will almost certainly lead to further billions and billions being misdirected to the global whackamole game of trying to snuff out the geopolitical pipsqueaks who lead international terror networks it explains more about why terrorists will keep trying than any in-depth analysis of the conditions on the ground in terror-prone regions.
Thus, what this incident really reminds us is, terrorists only have the power we give them. And that the emotional, the shrill, the over-the-top, the self-promoters, the hyper-political, and the other tummlers responsible for the inside-the-beltway mob mentality are as complicit in the spread of terror as those who are too soft on it. If the president's rhetoric was slightly too weak for some tastes, he erred in the direction that also weakens our enemies rather than, as did his most vocal critics, the direction that turns operational failures like the one on Christmas Day into strategic successes for the bad guys.
P.S. I'd like to add that not only is the over-the-top nature of the terrorism debate of late done damage to U.S. interests, the appropriate response is not only not more spending, more programs, more rules ... but that complimenting the moderate response would actually be improvements to our anti-terror efforts all of which would actually be in the direction of narrowing, focusing and spending less. For example, want to improve Intel sharing? Let's start with getting rid of the Directorate of National Intelligence, a legacy of Bush's big government response to 9/11, that amounts to precisely the opposite of what we need: an additional layer of thousands of bureaucrats who actually do not enhance (apparently) our analytical capacity and undoubtedly reduce communications efficiency. The Central Intelligence Agency was created to do all the coordinating the DNI does and easily could do it again if sufficiently empowered? Want another step to improve our intel sharing? How about reducing and eliminating many of the unnecessary levels of information classification that make it impossible for policy makers to actually have access to all the information they need to make decisions? Want another? Heed the advice of former advisor to Dwight Eisenhower General Andrew Goodpaster, who laughed to me during our last intel "crisis" after 9/11 that Eisenhower would have had no patience with it because he knew -- from bitter experience during World War II -- that intelligence can be useful but expectations must be set at the right level. It was always an imperfect tool and one that could not be perfected. Want another? Let's get out of the unwinnable mess in Afghanistan and focus some of those resources on directly targeting terrorists, some on better tools for early warning and the rest on the domestic needs that are actually essential to maintaining long-term U.S. strength. I could go on. But it is clear ... when it comes to responding to terror, the lesson of the past decade is that we need to think a lot harder about proportionality and the unintended consequences of our understandable horror and outrage.
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The one blog I read every week is Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" at Sports Illustrated. King aficionados might recognize my weak (if unattributed) shout-outs to him which come in the form of not really worrying so much about the length of any post, covering a variety of subjects, and liberally blending in the pop culture references. They will also recognize that I am not in his league and that the subject about which he writes, football, is significantly more interesting than most of the subjects about which I write.
One of the things he does frequently is offer lists of rapid fire opinions which often come under the rubric of "Ten Things I Think I Think." Consider the following yet another tribute to him ... because that is a much nicer way of thinking of it than concluding I simply stole his title and format.
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In a world of self-help addicts who "just feel too much," the ultimate hero was Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy. Never mind that the guy was a few rounds short of a full clip of ammo. He is the man who held his hand over a flickering candle flame while his flesh appeared to roast and then, when asked how he did it, responded, "The trick is not caring."
I'm reminded of this because as we contemplate this week's G20 Summit in Pittsburgh and reflect back on the breathlessness with which the entire world viewed the last two such summits, it is clear that the trick they've seemed to accomplish is that this time around we all don't seem to care so much.
That could, of course, be partially due to the fact that this event is in Pittsburgh and that not that much really exciting has happened there since Franco Harris' "immaculate reception" during an AFC Playoff Game in 1972. At least for me, even recent Super Bowl victories have lacked the gritty drama of those by-gone days as the town has become spiffier and blander. (Have you been to Pittsburgh Airport recently? It's a shopping mall where they happen to land planes.) It's not that the city isn't grittier than say, Santa Monica. It's just that I feel some of that special Pittsburgh "let's have a beer and then punch each other in the faces until we fall down" kind of charm is gradually being lost. We're not too far from the day when a little kid asks, "Why do they call the team the Steelers, Daddy?" and the father then has to explain that once upon a time the steel that went into American cars and buildings was made right here in America. (More on this last point shortly.)
Of course, the reason the meeting is in Pittsburgh has to do with at least one respect in which the region is still seen as pretty exciting to certain types of folks -- like professional politicians, for example. Obama needed Pennsylvania to defeat John McCain. And the people of Pittsburgh like our current Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney helped deliver for the president and the president is therefore regularly looking for ways to deliver right back. (This is not to suggest that Rooney might possibly have gotten his job as a form of political payback. His years of experience as the principal owner of the Steelers made him an obvious choice for an important diplomatic position. After all, what riddles could dealing with the Irish pose that would be more complex or challenging than say, former Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw's break-up with ice-skater JoJo Starbuck back in 1983.)
Rooney wasn't the only one who helped Obama, however. Which, not surprisingly, brings us back to steel again ... and in particular to the United Steelworkers. Because it is clear that it is not an accident that Obama will be using this meeting to call for new initiatives against global trade imbalances in the hometown of one of his favorite unions. Just like it's not an accident that he primed the pump for his efforts with the recent decision to impose duties on Chinese tires, an issue that was pushed most vigorously by the steelworkers. Just like it's not an accident that Obama's new manufacturing czar is Ron Bloom, who was most recently the special assistant to the president of the United Steelworkers.
Which is all by way of saying, the G20 is not in Pittsburgh either because it's beautiful (and it has its charms) or because it's boring. The G20 is in Pittsburgh because of the domestic politics of U.S. international economics. Just as Marshall McLuhan once said "the medium is the message," in this case the location is the message.
And so we return to the "trick" of this meeting. It is no small feat that while last November's G20 meeting and the one that followed it in London in April were hot topics as the world careened through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, that this meeting is viewed in a more relaxed matter. There is an emerging consensus that things are slowly getting better, that we are probably even out of recession even you read this. (Feeling better yet?) No doubt this is largely due to the market working through its fears and repricing accordingly, but the speed and scope of interventions in the United States and China and even some parts of Europe undoubtedly had some positive effect. To the extent we are not still "falling off the table" in the words of Larry Summers, the G20 leaders deserve some of the credit.
And if this turns into a sustainable recovery, none of us should begrudge them the credit they get. But the problem with tricks is that they often involve some form of well, trickery. In the case of Liddy, the (not very well kept) secret was that he was bonkers. But in the case of most sleight of hand the secret is misdirection. We look in one direction while what is important is happening someplace else.
I hope that's not what is happening with the global economy. I hope we are moving toward both a sustainable recovery and toward enacting regulatory reforms that ensure we don't make the same mistakes that led to last year's market debacle. I hope we are not looking at one set of indicators while ignoring another. But there are warning signs.
One is that while the G20 will agree on an expanded role for the IMF, national governments including our own are moving too slowly to address root causes of the recent crisis from opaque, often-illiquid but massive global derivatives markets to effectively controlling the risk appetites and exposures of large financial institutions whose failures carry with them a large risk of damage to the public at large. That's not to say some measures aren't being considered or implemented. It's saying that many of the steps-like creating more transparent markets in some derivatives -- don't go far enough. The biggest banks are bigger. New risky behaviors are being embraced. Old ones are creeping back into vogue.
In fact, I can't help but wonder if the biggest problem with the recent crisis was that it wasn't painful enough. Or that perhaps it ended too quickly to deliver effectively the lessons we ought to have learned.
Further, on the macro level there's still plenty to worry about. First, recovery will be slow. Second, those who are depending on Asia to lead us out don't realize how limited their capability is to do that. Chinese consumers are many decades away from being able to make up for any substantial fall-off in demand from Americans. And there are risk factors out there ... relating to dollar or commercial real estate markets or simply a panic induced by an exogenous event ... that could lead to serious trouble...the dreaded "W."
And finally, there's Pittsburgh. Or rather the reason we are in Pittsburgh. I'm not sure the Obama team has irreversibly set a protectionist course. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the issue is still something of an open question. Summers and Geithner are certainly not protectionists by instinct and USTR Ron Kirk is still getting his legs under him. But many of these decisions are getting made on the political side. So it might be that we will add to the cocktail of inadequate reforms and questionable macro trends policies that can only make things worse: like getting a series of trade scrapes and scuffles that will impede recovery and make key relationships much more complicated.
Which is why, just as with Liddy's little trick, this one creeps me out a bit. The world is letting out a sigh of relief at a moment that has me holding my breath.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Like thieves in the night, the administration snuck out an announcement late Friday evening that President Obama had signed an order imposing massive duties on Chinese tires. The United States argued that a "surge" in sales of the Chinese tires indicated unfair pricing and resulted in the loss of 7,000 U.S. jobs. They did so at the urging of unions and despite a lack of support from U.S. tire manufacturers, many of which are already producing tires in China. Naturally, the Chinese erupted with cries of "rampant protectionism" and introduced their own twist on giving the United States the bird with threats of retaliation against U.S. poultry imports. Vehicles may also be targeted.
Why you might ask would they do it late on a Friday evening, after newspapers and evening news shows had seen their deadlines pass? And more saliently, why might the United States do this, in the first place?
Of course, the first question is easy. The Obama administration was trying to bury the story. You can hardly blame them. It's not pretty. It's pure politics. I'm all for using trade laws to ensure fair trade. But, the U.S. case here is weak and its timing is appalling.
Which in turn gets us to the second question.
Just one day earlier Russia's announcement of its desire not to impose sanctions on Iran in an effort to restrain its nuclear arms ambitions had U.S. officials scrambling for plan B. One very senior official mentioned to me this would mean an intensified effort to reach out to the Chinese. Eight hours later we imposed these duties on them. Now I understand that the secret to a successful "partnership" with the Chinese is the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time -- or more accurately to walk together while occasionally smacking each other around the head and face. But still, a little thoughtful coordination might be nice.
Given the central importance of China on Iran, of China on North Korea, of China on the global economic recovery, of China on climate and given the weakness of the case on tires and the generally lousy message it sends regarding our stance on trade (the Obama team's first big trade move is clearly a protectionist one), couldn't this have been tabled? Handled another way?
It should have been, of course. But it wasn't for two reasons. One is that the administration needs the unions to get out there and provide grass roots support on the health care bill. That's been commented on by others and is certainly an important piece of explaining this move which, at best, can be described as ill-timed and ill-considered.
But there is another undercurrent here. This was just one of several moves last week that suggest that the Obama administration sees another threat that is more important to its own survival than whatever happens in Iran or on climate or even on health care. What Iranian nukes are to Israel in the way of an existential threat, unemployment rates are to the Democratic majority in Congress in terms of next year's elections. You will see many offensives from this ambitious administration over the next 18 months but the most central from a political point of view will be a full-court press to show that not only do they care about jobs but that they have a plan for reversing the losses that have been the most painful dimension of this recession.
So last week there were several early steps in this regard. Positioning themselves as a champion of job preservation to unions on tires was just one. Moving car czar Ron Bloom to become the "manufacturing czar" was another. And, buried in today's announcements of financial reforms you will find announcements of continued financing supports for small businesses that were retained despite reported resistance from the Fed. These are just minor tactical moves. But taken together you are seeing the first volleys in a battle to position the administration as activists on job creation. Climate legislation may falter, but rest assured there will be an energy bill that is positioned largely as a green jobs bill in any case. There may not be another stimulus package in name, but next year's budget will contain one within it and the focus will be jobs.
There's no harm in this, in principle, of course. Indeed, it makes sense and one hopes that the administration's economic team gets in front of this story in a way they did not on health care, defining goals and principles clearly and early. But the administration needs to be careful. Exports are a leading U.S. job creator and triggering global protectionism and trade wars worldwide while simultaneously hanging back from getting FTAs approved or making progress on a global round of trade talks is a proven way of losing jobs in the name of creating them.
And if you are losing jobs through protectionism and losing vital partners internationally at the same time, well, that's a formula for trouble that can't even be hidden by quasi-clandestine press announcements late on a Friday night.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama is now coming to the end of the candyman phase of his presidency. That's the part where he can play to core constituencies and those whose support he would entertain with big gifts -- stimulus money, tax cuts, and promises of policy changes. It's the part where the booty of an election win is spread around -- jobs are given to loyal supporters, and foreign policy victories are scored simply by telling a once-disgruntled ally what they've long been waiting to hear.
But now starts the hard part. Now, the president must grapple with the tough part of leading -- where friends don't get what they want, where allies are pushed and prodded and threatened and punished if they don't fall into line. When force is required, and all eyes are on the United States and the policy initiatives that are under fire can no longer be blamed on the last president.
To help prepare for this period, here are 10 tough decisions that Obama will face in the very foreseeable future.
Will he soon be forced to sacrifice putting a price on carbon for political expediency? Will he actually be willing to trade cap and trade for health care as current conventional wisdom would have it...and then enter into a midterm election year when doing a cap and trade deal may be even harder? Will he be willing to use the classification of carbon as a pollutant as a regulatory bludgeon on this issue hard... and necessary... as that may be on many industries?
2. Failing economy
When the U.S. economy underperforms estimates in the next few years, will he be willing to increase taxes on middle class taxpayers... or exacerbate class tensions by continuing to place all the burden on the most affluent Americans? Where is he willing to make meaningful cuts? Defense? Entitlements?
3. Necessary roughness
He won't use force in Iran to stop proliferation; that already seems clear. But will he use it to stabilize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal should it come under siege? Or to stop massive slaughter in Central Africa? Where will he be willing to use force in a place that the U.S. is not already engaged in a conflict?
4. Walking the walk
Europeans love hearing a U.S. leader talk multilateralism, but they don't yet seem to realize that when he talks the talk, they have to walk the walk. Will he be willing to confront and pressure them to step up in a way they did not at the last NATO meeting?
5. Open trade vs. U.S. jobs
How and when will he reconcile his promises to the world to maintain open trading systems and his promises to unions to protect American jobs? Since he can't, who is he willing to anger when he backs off his competing pledges?
6. When the bailouts only go so far...
What will happen when it is clear that GM can't be saved in its present form and the resulting dislocation will knock tens of thousands of people out of work?
7. An uncooperative Israel
What happens when ultimately his desire to mediate in the Middle East and to reduce tension runs up against an ally, Israel say, who is not cooperative? Is he willing to pay the political consequences of confronting the Israeli government? What if they are in the right and Hamas or Iran is clearly the problem? Is he willing to pay the political consequences of getting tough on them?
8. China & Russia
Is the United States willing to accept growing Chinese or Russian influence in the Western Hemisphere due to their engagement and our disengagement? What happens when resource pressures force the United States to say no to big international aid programs at precisely the moment when he and his team want to give more? Is he willing to be unpopular overseas to maintain support at home?
9. Wall Street
If it is clear that Wall Street firms can't recover without paying Wall Street salaries... or that the administration can't function without actually hiring lobbyists... is he willing to back off his completely understandable but perhaps impractical populist stances on these issues, admit he was wrong and defend a course of action that is unpopular but necessary?
10. No more Mr. Popular
On what issues is he willing to actually be unpopular? Thoughts? (This is only a partial list of course, and your suggestions are welcome.) Personally, I'm willing to bet that he rises to the test and sooner than you would think.
One good sign from my perspective: the apparent decision to hire Harold and Kumar, Van Wilder and "House" star, Kal Penn, to join his public liaison team. After all, who better to get down into the weeds of an issue or to help the president achieve the high highs promised in the campaign than Kumar? Next up: Neil Patrick Harris for surgeon general (why put all that valuable Doogie Howser experience to waste?)
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Imagine, if you can, that you are me. I wish I could give you a taste of what it's like. Perhaps you have some idea. That throng of 10,000 models wildly stampeding in New York over the weekend? Despite what you may have heard or read, it was all over a completely unsubstantiated rumor that I was in New York to visit my poor brother who was suffering with the fact that his beloved Orangemen had once again choked in a big game...this year, on his birthday. There they were, thousands of semi-literate stick-figure women hurling their eighty-six pound frames into one another just for a glimpse of me, pushing, shoving, hungering as though I were that forbidden extra slice of tofu that they would later barf up when no one else was looking. Oh, I know, the news said they were all there to audition for the latest season of "America's Next Top Eating Disorder Victim" but seriously, don't you think that even the modeling community is sick to death of Tyra at this point?
And I understand it. She was a trail-blazer once: a breath of fresh air with a bright smile and an agenda to help others. But, now after an endless series of episodes in which chain smoking high-school drop-outs steal each other's hair products, we realize that this show isn't about helping people. It's all about Tyra all the time. The winners, the losers, they hear her pep talks, they get the benefit of insights from her hand-picked staff of fashion-world superstars, the crème de la crème of the world's narcissicists, but none of them actually win except Tyra who gets to keep her career going (and of course, the fabulous J. Alexander, who only actually exists inside Tyra's mind... as a kind of idealized image of what she would be like if she were actually a woman.)
Come to think of it, though, there is absolutely no fair analogy that I am willing to make between that show and anything currently going on in Washington. So, back to my weekend...which, of course, did not actually involve throngs of stampeding models. (Although my brother actually was devastated by Syracuse's loss, suffering that will only grow worse when North Carolina once again wins the NCAA Championships in a couple weeks.) Instead, it involved tramping through the mall trying to get Verizon to fix my daugher's cell phone, dealing with their special brand of customer service that puts a capital UCK back into the expression F YOU, and spending hours more switching her over to AT&T. Meanwhile, all the while I am actually thinking, what kind of a blog posting will I write on Monday morning?
I even put myself through the torture of watching of all the Sunday morning television talk fests. There the administration rolled out its economic spokespeople -- Austan Goolsbee on Fox, Larry Summers on "This Week" and Christina Romer on "Meet the Press" to say, in unison, "we hate AIG but other than that everything is under control." Of course, especially frustrating was the AIG rant which was certainly too little too late much as the time Tyra failed to move quickly enough to rein in Bre after she wrongfully accused poor Nicole of stealing her granola bars during Season Five. ("The Girl Who Retaliates.")
Also the focus on the AIG bonuses was a distraction from the much bigger and more offensive component of the AIG story that unfolded over the weekend thanks to the fact that they finally released the names of the counterparties who got made whole by tax-payer dollars. For example, Societe General, Deutsche Bank and Barclay's alone got over $30 billion (we'll leave aside the over $12 billion Hank Paulson's Goldman Sachs got because that is a story that is so breathtaking offensive that apparently no one wants to write about it). While much of this happened last year, let's face it, Tim Geithner was in the middle of it all from the outset, so was Ben Bernanke, the Obama team was looped into this from November on and they could have done plenty from the moment they got into office but they didn't. Of course, they could have done more had they actually made it a priority to hire a team at Treasury at some point during the past five months of knowing they were going to take over the country in the middle of the worst crisis since the depression or the Black Death of the 14th Century or the time Tyra was shown in an unflattering one-piece and accused of being fat in early 2007. (I'm not minimizing this. I am merely trying to track the Obama administration's move from the talking points produced by their initial economic spokesperson, Chicken Little, to those produced by their most recent hire in the press office, Alfred E. Newman.)
Of these performances by the way, I give Romer and Goolsbee each Cs, (able to translate complex ideas into simple English sentences, unfortunately obligated to tap dance around tough issue like just what exactly we are going to do about the financial crisis) and Summers an A (calm, thoughtful discussion of issues). Summers conversation actually contained a really important nugget: that the administration was working on moving derivatives transactions to an exchange setting which would regularize them and make them more transparent. This would be a big breakthrough and could in fact, be one of the most important steps of fixing what is broken in the financial world. Needless to say no one has picked up on it (that I have seen) since he said it. The "balance" on these shows was provided by the likes of what appeared to be cardboard cutouts resemblng Senators Mitch McConnell and Bob Corker and Representative Eric Cantor. Corker outshone his colleagues by seeming to actually think about the issues and gets a D. The other two get Fs only because I can't give anything lower. Reflexive, barren of ideas, purely partisan. America could do with an opposition party but truly, I think we may be heading into a period in which the relevant and defining political division in the U.S. is between moderate and liberal Democrats. McConnell and Cantor make us yearn for the refreshing relevance of say, John Bell, last candidate to run for president under the Whig banner. (As a reminder to all who do not think that political parties in America can come and go as swiftly as did Janice Dickinson off the judging panel at America's Next Top Model as soon as it was realized that she was both a psycho skank from hell and, at the same time, ten times more interesting than Tyra.)
Anyway, not only did the superficial discussions of the Sunday talkers drive me as crazy as usual (I was particularly infuriated with CNBC's Steve Liesman of CNBC who when asked about whether the media dropped the ball on the financial crisis responded by saying he was all over the mortgage backed securities risks in 2006...as though that were a good record given that these problems had been brewing for a decade and that the bigger issues of problems in the derivatives markets, Wall Street's failure to assess risk properly, the regulatory breakdown in Washington, the problems of mark to market financing, the corruption associated with Wall Street's revolving door in DC, and the wrong-headed decision to bring down Glass Steagall were more or less ignored), but I was also tormented by what they weren't covering. They let the Obama administration set the agenda by who was being made available. They bought into the Obama administration's theme of the week story packaging the way viewers bought into last year's heart-warming but completely fabricated ANTM victory of plus-sized model Whitney as she demonstrated that in the end "inner beauty" always trumps a love of Kit Kat bars.
Meanwhile, back in the real world you could feel America's Next Top Crisis brewing off camera. Soon, I couldn't help but sense, Obama's, Q-rating, his smooth talk and his desire to have it both ways (spend but lecture about responsibility, offer conciliation with the world but talk tough, declare the end is nigh but encourage everyone to cheer up) would no longer help. Tough issues that will pose tough choices about America's willingness to use force, to confront friends, to show political courage, were emerging.
Zardari's last days in Pakistan are once again producing the specter of a meltdown in that nuclear nation of 170 million. Russia is announcing plans to establish bomber bases in Cuba or Venezuela (and the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is shrugging it off). The left's victory in El Salvador extending Chavez's Axis of Bluster even as keen observers recognize that Mexico's war on its drug cartels is pushing them into Guatemala where, at the moment, the government is doing practically nothing. Meanwhile, the Chinese are announcing their discomfort with U.S. Treasuries (which Larry Summers fairly glibly dismissed as Chinese political posturing). The G20 ministerial revealed real divisions between the United States and Europe and between the United States and the BRICs. And the press entirely missed the subtext of President Lula's visit to meet with Obama over the weekend. While all was sweetness and light for the cameras, and while the two men genuinely did have a quick rapport, rumors among Brazilian officials suggest that Lula came away concerned about Obama's attitudes toward trade and what was characterized as a sense of Obama's naivety. Obama gave off signals in their talks that he was not going to push hard to get the Doha Round done and that fixing the distortionary U.S. tariff on Brazilian ethanol would have to wait. You've got to love it...and also, um, hate it...when an old-school leftist labor leader comes to Washington and comes away disappointed that the U.S. president is not going to do enough to liberalize the trade agenda or fight off protectionist forces at home.
Then, after all this, I ended up having to be up late at night sitting up while my high school senior age daughter -- who by the way deserves all the blame for making me watch "America's Next Top Model" -- worked on a creative writing assignment that was supposed to be stream of consciousness. So now, in retrospect, it is clear to me that even the structure for this post was not my own idea. But after such an enervating, mind-numbing weekend, there is a part of me that considers any consciousness at all to be something of an achievement.
Scott Gries/Getty Images
One of Barack Obama's great innovations as a campaigner was to have not one but two trade policies. There was the quasi-protectionist, let's-undo-NAFTA one he offered on the stump to placate the unions and the Huffington-posties that make up an important part of the Democratic base. And then there was the "just kidding, I didn't really mean that" policy his advisor Austan Goolsbee offered to the Canadians when they started getting nervous about the future of the world's largest trading relationship. Many campaigns have been two-faced in the past. But Obama deserves extra credit for giving the practice what should be its name going forward: a Goolsbee. It reminds me of the old practice by Czech dissidents when they were prosecuted in show trials by the Soviets. Compelled to confess, they would read the remarks handed to the prosecutors and then say "ozer" which meant, "whatever I just said, I really meant the opposite."
Listening to USTR nominee Ron Kirk yesterday and reading the Washington Post's lead article about the emerging Obama trade policy, I naturally immediately began looking for hints as to which of Obama's trade policies might actually be implemented.
For the unions there was use of the tried and true code language of placing "social issues" at the center of trade negotiations and of focusing on "enforcement." For those of us who think protectionism is just the last thing that we need in the middle of a global crisis that has taken a one third bite out of global trade flows, there was the comforting hint of a Goolsbee.The Post's Anthony Faiola wrote:
[T]he administration still appears to be toeing a line saying it will move to address the concerns of American workers while also carefully avoiding words and deeds that directly smack of protectionism."
Unfortunately, I think Faiola was being a little charitable on that last point. There were after all the "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus. And Kirk and the administration have essentially parroted union positions re: Colombia that the country has not done enough on the issue of violence against labor leaders when in fact, they have done a lot and the real reason Colombia is not progressing is that the country is the stuckee in a deal Democrats on the Hill cut with the AFL-CIO and friends to give them some kind of a trade victory post the Dem takeover of the House. And slow walking Doha and making threatening noises about NAFTA also do seem like words and deeds that smack of protectionism.
That said however, there is another part of this story that shores up my belief that at a core level Obama & Co. may well have their hearts and heads in the right place. Because if you really wanted a trade policy for the 21st century what you would seek is one that helped make American workers more competitive (through education), made American cities more attractive to investment (through enhanced infrastructure), made American companies more competitive (through cutting health care costs) and restored American leadership on the competitiveness issues of tomorrow (through promoting a green energy revolution, for example). And of course, these policies are the centerpieces of Obama's budget and his vision for America's future.
There's more we could do, of course, and a host of new trade issues with which to grapple -- from dealing with the subsidy issues associated with all these national stimulus measures to planning for the trade complexities of an era in which some but not all countries have set a price for carbon. (For more good ideas see the excellent op-ed also in the Post from smartest-USTR-ever Charlene Barshefsky.)
But the critical question for an Obama administration that can no longer pull a Goolsbee once it actually starts implementing policies (there are other names for that kind of behavior...schizophrenia is one of them), is which of its policy impulses will it follow? The vision for a more competitive America laid out in the budget speech was very encouraging. In fact, one could argue that it was the boldest set of moves on competitiveness an American president has made in memory. Yesterday's testimony by Kirk and most of today's lead article in the Post were more on the unsettling side of the spectrum. And that's why this is one instance in which I am firmly rooting for the Obama administration to overcome one of its worst potential enemies -- the Obama administration.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.