Free Trade and the Devil in the Details

Rarely do we find ourselves in agreement with President Barack Obama, but the finite range of political options and the law of averages and that old saw about even a stopped clock being right twice a day have led us agree with him on the need for a free trade pact with Asia. We agree with the basic idea of free trade with Asia, at least, although we’d very much like to know what devilish details might be in the pact he intends to negotiate.
The administration has been suspiciously tight-lipped about those details, to the point that even such administration-friendly media as Politico are reporting that even the most administration-friendly Democrats in Congress are complaining about it. So far as we can tell the administration’s explanation is “trust us,” which of course we don’t, especially after the gymnastic capitulations in its negotiations with Iran, not to mention every other foreign policy move the administration has made, and we are heartened to see that this time around a solid majority of the congressional Democrats are also suspicious. A solid majority of the congressional Democrats is predisposed to oppose any sort of free trade, a result of the party’s fealty to protectionist labor unions and those black-masked and brick-hurtling anti-globalist types who are somehow impeccably multi-cultural and cosmopolitan, and they have plausible arguments about a lack of pressure on China’s currency manipulation, even if it’s made slightly less plausible about all the money-printing the Fed has done to keep Obama’s economy above water, but it’s still good to hear them adding the administration’s characteristic lack of transparency and trustworthiness to their gripes.
A solid majority of the congressional Republicans seem willing to go along with it, which we hope has more to do with a sensible predisposition to support free trade than any newfound trust in the administration’s competence in negotiating such matters, so if the whole deal falls through, as it very well might, at least Obama won’t have his usual scapegoats. Some Republicans are also reluctant about approving Obama’s “fast track” authority to negotiate a deal, which we hope has more to do with their doubts about his negotiating skills than any aversion to free trade, but if there’s no deal it’s because of Obama and those darned Democrats that he couldn’t get to trust him.
A stopped clock is only right twice a day, and the law of averages dictates that the Obama administration is right far less often than that, so it’s a shame if one of our rare agreements should come to naught. A certain paranoia born of previous experience makes us wonder why Obama has settled on such a sensible policy as free trade with Asia, though, and we suspect that some sense of colonialist guilt isn’t why, even if none of the nations involved have ever been American colonies, and that it might all be some sort of multi-billion dollar reparations scam, so maybe we don’t agree with the administration after all. Perhaps a free trade act with Asia is a good idea whose time won’t yet come for another 18 months or so, or until however it long it takes to administration that can be trusted to negotiate a deal in America’s interests. As of now a solid majority of Democrats don’t seem to trust this administration, and although they’ll be predisposed to oppose free trade and distrust any Republican on the matter, but perhaps in another 18 months or so there won’t be enough of them the block a better deal.

— Bud Norman