Donald Trump understands something that has eluded U.S. residents at least since Ronald Reagan — the American economy is a potent weapon.
Reagan wielded that weapon to win the Cold War. He understood that defense spending was expensive, and the higher tech the weapons system, the greater the expense. He didn’t particularly like spending American money on military technology, but he knew that the U.S. could sustain the investment far better than could the economically moribund Soviet Union.
Trump faces a very different world. No single power comes close to matching American military or economic capacity. No single power threatens American interests with anything close to the completeness or the ferocity of the Soviet Union.
That’s not to say that American interests go unchallenged.
Rather than a single overwhelming foe, America today faces many significant challengers: Chinese expansionism, North Korean nukes, global Islamism, free-riding allies, Russian revanchism, Chavistas destroying Latin America, and a nuclear-threshold Iran seeking to export its revolution top the list. These threats are neither subtle nor partisan.
The Obama administration recognized all of them, and organized its foreign policy around accommodation rather than confrontation. On the flip side, there is no shortage of American hawks willing to deploy the U.S. military in whichever theater dominates their particular interests.
Much to the chagrin of these two dominant schools of American elite opinion, Trump has embraced neither approach. He is rebuilding the American military while deploying our economic weapon — broadly.
The president has taken a page from Reagan's playbook, adapted, and improved upon it.
Unlike Reagan, who began outspending the Soviets with the American economy still mired in the malaise he inherited from Jimmy Carter, Trump pulled the country out of the Obama doldrums before deploying. Trump emphasized growth from day one.
He focused first on the regulatory thicket strangling American innovation and investment, before championing a broad tax cut tailor-made to promote employment and growth.
As a result, the American economy took off like a shot.
With growth restored, employment booming, and the future looking bright, Trump had replenished the arsenal of American economic might. Then — and only then — did he begin to brandish his weapons: sanctions and tariffs.
Trump’s message to the world was simple: We believe that the American economy is so vibrant that everyone wants to enter it. That’s great. We welcome competition from all of our friends. But we will not open our doors to those who seek to undermine American interests.
Simple. Straightforward. Want to do business in America? Play by the rules. Don’t like the rules? Good luck making due without us.
The rules themselves hardly seem onerous: Don’t expand into the territory of others. Don’t export revolutions. Don’t sponsor terrorism. Don’t be a rogue state. Don’t proliferate nuclear weapons or missile delivery systems.
Don’t subsidize your own industries to take American jobs. Don’t place barriers in front of Americans seeking to do business with your people. Don’t undermine American interests in international organizations. Pay for defense benefits you desire.
Trump has deployed tariffs to discipline minor offenders, saving the sanctions only for the most grievous violations. In his first eighteen months, he has sanctioned Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Turkey, while aiming tariffs at China, Canada, Mexico, and the EU.
In each case, his goal was the same: Telling international players that accessing the U.S. economy requires a commitment to peaceful, even-handed competition. For those unable to hear the message amidst the cacophony of the press, Trump spelled it out in his "National Security Strategy."
The U.S. seeks a world of strong sovereigns peacefully pursuing their own interests.
Many — including President Trump — have termed his approach a "trade war." The term is instructive, though few seem willing to draw the obvious inferences.
War is always expensive. A military war requires investments in personnel and equipment. People die. Governments spend millions of dollars building weapons they use once.
Viewed strictly as an expense, the expenditures seem irrational. Risking the lives of your bravest young people while purchasing multi-million dollars single-use objects? Bizarre!
Unless, that is, you also consider the goals of the war.
Precisely the same is true with a trade war. Yes, as we deploy our weapons, some Americans will suffer. We will lose some business and some jobs. We may lose some economic skirmishes. America will feel some pain. But with the economy roaring and employment at an all-time high, we’ve never been better positioned to withstand it.
The strength of our Trumpian economy guarantees that no world power has ever been better positioned to win such a war. And the ultimate costs are guaranteed to be far lower than anything we might have paid had we had to deploy the military in any of these theaters.
Therein lies the brilliance of President Trump’s trade wars: Peace through strength —American economic strength.
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic, a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union's Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy, and an advisor to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. To read more of their reports — Click Here Now.
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