Not so fast Mr. Kagan: The emerging politics of trade

Published 7 years ago -  - 7y ago 16


In this rambling neoconish offering (Does he write any other kind?), Robert Kagan ties together two seemingly unrelated things, the US’s relationship with Colombia and Egypt, in his ham-handed attempt to make his neoconish point that America’s actions should be guided by both our interests and our “ideals.” (Apparently Mr. Kagan had two axes to grind and only one column to do it.)

While there is much wrong with Kagan’s column and much that could be responded to, one throwaway line struck me in particular. Among other things, Kagan is hectoring, as neocons are want to do, the Obama Administration for failing to advocate sufficiently on behalf of passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). According to Kagan’s logic, passing the long languishing FTA would be a sort of reward to Colombia for its progress in the area of human rights and democratization.

This is the line that got my attention:

But the administration shows no inclination to push the agreement forward, even with the new free-trade-oriented Republican House sure to pass it. (emphasis mine)

Not so fast there Mr. Kagan. Me thinks Mr. Kagan needs to get out more and quit talking only to his little circle of fellow neocons and other Establishmentarians. While FTAs are broadly supported by the Establishment and a certain element of free-trade ideologues that make up a part of the conservative coalition, the base of the GOP is generally hostile to them.

As things appear now, Congress intends to fast track the Colombia FTA, the Panama FTA, and the Korea-US FTA all at the same time. So while it is possible that these agreements could come up separately, as of now their fates are most likely tied together. As goes the Korea-US FTA, so goes the Colombia FTA.

Now ask yourself why would Congress want to minimize the number of votes it has to cast for these agreements? Could it be because they are politically unpopular and the battles over them are bruising? Why does Kagan think the FTA with Colombia has languished for five years and the agreement with Korea had to be renegotiated? If passing FTAs is such popular politics, wouldn’t Congress be falling all over itself to pass them and even split them up into multiple votes instead of one grand fast track? And if they are so popular, why would they need to be fast tracked in the first place?

It has long been recognized that the issue of trade is a problem for establishment Democrats like Obama because free-trade is generally supported by the big money corporatists who write the fat checks, but it is generally opposed by its labor union constituency that walks precincts. (Recall how Obama was caught during the campaign bad mouthing NAFTA to his union audience while his flunkies were reassuring the Canadians that it was just election year talk?)

Well the GOP has an emerging similar problem. Its Establishment and free-trade ideologues are increasingly out of touch with its base. A coalition of anti-free trade agreement forces is rising on the right and becoming increasingly self-aware and self-confident. This coalition is not monolithic and is made up of issues savvy free-trade purists who oppose the managed trade elements of the agreement, fair trade advocates who oppose free-trade in principle, and those who are very jealous of US sovereignty (which should be all conservatives of whatever type). But it also includes a lot of regular folks who simply see the dichotomy of massive unemployment and once active factories now shuttered all around them and just have a gut level feeling that something is amiss. You know, the kind of people who just voted in mass for the newly elected Republican House. I’m not so sure that all these “free-trade-oriented” Republican Congressmen want to go back home and tell their constituents that they plan to vote for the Korea, Colombia, and Panama FTAs because the corporatist shills in the Chamber of Commerce assure them it will be good for the economy.

So my advice to Mr. Kagan is not so fast. You know that old saying about not counting your chickens before they hatch. Passage of the three FTAs is by no means assured even with “the new free-trade-oriented Republican House,” and if they don’t pass it will be thanks in large part to a growing coalition of left and right that opposes these sovereignty trampling managed trade boondoggles.

(Hat Tip: Daniel Larison)

Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”

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