BETRAYING FREE TRADE
Zedillo is the former President of Mexico (1994-2000) and is
Director for the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.
HAVEN: With the American election season upon us, fear once
again emerges as the most salable commodity for aspiring presidential
candidates. As the primary results show, the fear of trade has
emerged as the potent weapon in the hands of Democratic candidates,
much as fear of terrorism was in the hands of their Republican
rivals for the previous two election seasons.
in 2002 when American leaders began turning aggressively unilateralist
and preparing public opinion for eventual military intervention
in Iraq, I suspected that this stand had to do with short-term
electoral politics more than anything else. I sensed that political
strategists from the party in power in the United States had
detected an electoral gold mine in the American psyche brought
about by the barbarous 9/11 attacks.
concern was reaffirmed by their rhetoric and actions during
the fall of 2002 as the country approached its November elections.
Over and over again I tried unsuccessfully to understand whether
the steps being taken by the US government really made sense
from the perspective of the country's long-term interest.
the National Security Strategy (NSS) document released by the
US administration in September of 2002 reaffirmed my fear that
there was no coherent vision of strategic value for the United
that the NSS presented two mutually inconsistent views –
one unilateralist, the other emphasizing international cooperation
– on how to go about addressing the legitimate security
concerns of the US. While saying that "no nation can build
a safer, better world alone," it also threatened unilateral
preemptive action: "We must be prepared to stop rogue states
and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten
or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States
and our allies and friends."
as we know, in the struggle between these two doctrines aggressive
unilateralism won over, leading to the invasion of Iraq. This
decision has imposed huge human and material costs with no evident
benefit for the strategic interests of the US.
my belief that the fundamental motivation for the bellicose
policy adopted by the US had been an electoral one, I was appalled
by the attempts of many intellectuals who, after the fact, tried
to dress up that policy as a grand strategy to spread freedom
and democracy in the regions of the world recalcitrant to these
values. If there weren't so many lives lost and other tragedies
involved, the grand-strategy justifications for the faulty intervention
would be laughable today.
the unilateralist policy provided excellent electoral results
for its proponents not only in 2002 but also in 2004. Yet it
was just a matter of time – and of lives sacrificed –
before that policy would have negative political returns. Now,
the war's mounting costs and lack of patent benefits for the
American public's security have dramatically eroded political
support for President Bush. It is also clear that this burden
will constitute a huge electoral handicap for the clinched Republican
candidate, the respectable Senator McCain, who is a strong supporter
of the present administration's policies in Iraq. Even if the
present administration, and perhaps the next one irrespective
of party, genuinely recognized the mistakes incurred, US foreign
policy is now trapped in a predicament that doesn't have a good
solution. Every conceivable scenario out of this quagmire is
a nasty one. It is not about opting for the best course of action,
but about determining which one is the least worst.
over committed to a policy with far-reaching national and global
implications essentially only through the filter of short-term
electoral politics has proven, and will continue to prove, costly
and traumatic for many years to come for the US and the rest
of the world. I believe that failure to pay attention to this
lesson by the remarkable politicians competing in the US presidential
electoral process would be a terrible mistake. Unfortunately,
it seems to be happening already.
the competitors in the Democratic Party are also playing electoral
politics on another fundamental issue in a way that would prove
damaging to the interests of the US and the world at large.
That issue is trade. It has been truly disheartening to hear
statements from senators Clinton and Obama on their purported
trade policies. It is hard to accept that politicians of their
intellectual stature truly believe what they have said about
the effects of existing US trade policies on the well-being
of the American people. For example, they have submitted that
entire cities have been devastated by trade agreements alone,
that NAFTA has cost the US economy jobs and has meant a race
to the bottom on both environmental and labour issues, that
trade deals underlie the huge US trade deficit, and so on and
and their respective advisers on economic issues must know very
well that these statements are not warranted by any serious
study. Cherry-picked anecdotal evidence is not enough to validate
the protectionist oratory of the otherwise brilliant candidates.
years after Ross Perot's false claim that NAFTA would cause
a "giant sucking sound" of jobs fleeing to Mexico,
it is shocking to hear these candidates recycling Perot's political
is inevitable to find an unfortunate parallelism between the
Democrats' 2008 reliance on a fear-of-trade strategy to get
votes and the Republicans' reliance on fear of terror. In the
same way the latter has delivered less security, the former,
if materialized into policy, would deliver less prosperity.
Actually the fear-of-trade strategy would polarize the world
and alienate US partners and allies much as the fear-of-terror
strategy did. Indeed, to some regional partners and friends
of the US, policies stemming from the fear-of-trade rhetoric
would prove more poisonous than those arising from the fear-of-terror
based US foreign policy.
example, for Latin America the so-called war on terror has meant,
in practical terms, a policy of neglect on the part of the US.
Because of the US distraction in Iraq, Latin American issues
have only come intermittently and diffusely onto the US foreign
policy radar. What the Democrats are saying is that if they
make it to office, Latin Americans would be on the radar --
and that's the good news -- but not for the better on issues
of trade. That's the bad news.
trade, they are promising not to ignore Latin Americans; in
fact they offer to be active not only against further trade
liberalization, but even to cripple the already existing trade
agreements between the US and its southern neighbors. Were these
proposals to materialize into actual policies, they would destroy
jobs and reduce income in both the US and its Latin American
is a high price to pay for the support of some special-interest
groups in the current campaign. One would like to think that
the protectionist stance by the impressive Democratic candidates
will never translate into real policy.
both recent and past experience shows us that once the forces
of protectionism are unleashed, anything short of complete surrender
would fail to placate their proponents. It would then be evident
once again that votes won for the wrong reason are Pyrrhic victories.
with permission from
YaleGlobal Online - (c) 2008 Yale Center for the
Study of Globalization.