In an astonishing turnabout on the world stage, it appears to be Vladimir Putin and the Ministry of Commerce in China who are advancing the cause of reason and common sense into the chaos of Trumps’ meanderings. Consider:
In a startling series of tweets and off-hand comments, Trump topped almost ten months of confusing and contradictory statements about his approach to nuclear weapons on Thursday by releasing a tweet which declared an intent to “greatly strengthen and expand [U.S.] nuclear capability, until such time as the world comes to its senses….” In the firestorm of comment that followed, Trump’s staff and hangers-on tried to circle quickly to explain that he didn’t really intend to restart the cold war. What he really meant, they suggested, was the continuation of the program to modernize the existing nuclear launching systems.
Under the START treaty, both the United States and Russia are on track toward reducing their total number of missile launchers and deployed warheads, but are engaged in modernizing the existing nuclear weapons systems – some of which are more than 50 years’ old. Sean Spicer, recently named as Trumps’ press secretary, suggested that this was what Trump was talking about, rather than any total increase in nuclear capability.
But Trump stepped back in and promptly doubled down on his original tweet, declaring that that starting a nuclear build-up was exactly what he meant. On Friday’s
“Morning Joe,” Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough quoted an off-air telephone conversation with Trump where he said he was fine with the country taking part in an arms race if it puts the U.S. in a stronger position against foreign adversaries. Rachel Maddow tried her best on her show to pin Kellyann Conway down, but received nothing but double talk. Although expressed in bumper-sticker tweets, the Trumps’ declaration has the entire world on edge.
Vladimir Putin, speaking at his annual marathon news conference, promptly released word that Russia had no interest in getting into an arms race with the United States. According to the New York Times, Putin said that Russia would continue to modernize its nuclear weapons, but would not seek new arms or develop new nuclear warheads. Any new Russian nuclear weapons would stay within the limits of existing treaties. Although Moscow and Washington have taken to rattling sabers more than in the past, the architecture of previous nuclear arms treaties has so far has seemed to have held.
Concerning China, Trump has named an economist with strong, controversial views on trade with China, to be an advisor to a newly formed trade council. Peter Navarro, an economist on the faculty of the University of California at Irvine, is the author of a number of books including the gloomy “Death by China: How America Lost its Manufacturing Base,” which appears to blame the loss of all manufacturing jobs in the rust belt and elsewhere on unfair trade practices and currency manipulation by China. The T.V. documentary proclaims in broadly stated and oft repeated generalities that nothing but woes and evil are in store for us unless we mend our ways in trade with China.
Navarro’s views are not widely shared among economists, most of whom opine that the shifting of labor intensive manufacturing resources away from the United States is caused by many factors, including expanding markets, dramatically improved shipping capabilities, automation and high technology, labor costs, and consumer demand. The concept that the singular problem of job loss in a given industry can be fashioned into a two way street between the United States and China, and thereby brought under control with a simple traffic device or toll both is a simplistic, naïve approach to a vastly more complicated set of interrelated circumstances.
Navarro’s book and the video ignore completely the actual statistics and overall burgeoning wealth of the United States. While there are certainly problems to address, and it is essential that trade with China be maintained with a wary eye, the gloomy, dystopian picture painted by Navarro is difficult to translate into reality. Worse, the clear indication from Navarro is that a trade war is inevitable, and needs to come sooner rather than later if American manufacturing is to survive.
The reaction from China has been immediate. Shen Danyang, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce, said. "Regardless of what changes happen in the U.S. government - president, commerce secretary, trade representative - common interests (between the United States and China) are greater than differences." Reuters quotes a Chinese editorial: "The new administration should bear in mind that with economic and trade ties between the world's two largest economies now the closest they have ever been, any move to damage the win-win relationship will only result in a loss for both sides."
Our fervent hope, once the reality of Trumps’ election settled in, was that in the area of foreign policy at least, his bumper-sticker statements and late night tweets would subside during the transition; that Trump would take advantage of this time to assemble some individuals with knowledge and experience, particularly in the area of foreign policy, to guide him in these critical time. This prediction has gone the way of every single other prediction we have made so far.
Instead, Trump continues to confound and astound as he crashes and stumbles towards his formal inauguration, ignoring history and tradition and with no apparent concern for the immediate and potential consequences of his actions.
Who in their wildest dreams would imagine that we would look to Russia for solace?