Trade has never been so misused, no longer merely the vehicle for market penetration, siphoning of natural resources, creation of informal political control of the “host” country; for under Obama with the Trans-Pacific Partnership we see trade as the internally subverting element–barely disguised since China is not part of the proposed 12-nation trade arrangement—which paves the way for the all-important military encirclement and consequent (hoped-for) transformation of China into a subject client-state of American global dominance. The trade provisions, bad to begin with, in favoring categorical US prescriptive norms for the protection and expansion of the American business system, free from all roadblocks to its destructive operations and conduct, and hence, a giant step in realizing the structure of monopoly capitalism, thus far have been criticized by Democrats because of their negative impact on US labor.
Fine, yet myopic and, if ignorance didn’t reign supreme in the discussion and criticism, cowardly on the opponents’ part. Not even capitalism per se is raised as a defining issue, and rather, outsourcing, the decline of manufacturing, and for some, environmental outlawry. The entire foreign-policy dimension of TPP is ignored, as though a restoration of labor’s rights, glibly and grossly sabotaged by Obama, is sufficient for the democratization of American society. It isn’t. Domestic and foreign do not a harmless bifurcation make, in today’s world the latter, with militarization, the abrogation of civil liberties, interventions, drones, etc. etc. destroys the civic fabric by which all rights, labor’s included, blacks included, women included, radicals included, dissenters of every stripe included, enjoy protection. Thus, militarization paves the way for fascism, whether an American variety, starting from corporatism and flagrant class discrimination, or the more familiar kind, the concentration camp for those who do not toe the mark.
No word on the danger; the collective gaze is averted. Think only, self-interest, regularity, let Washington do it. Do what? In this case, using trade—beyond customary market imperialism—as a disguise, a self-justifying goal for business with the advantages to be gained, but not a word on TPP’s significance as softening the way, part of diverting the gaze, for Obama’s own Pacific-first strategy (as elaborately worked out as the US-EU confrontation with Russia) placing US military “assets” in striking range of China. Carrier battle groups, long-range nuclear-equipped bombers, even coastal vessels, the whole Pentagon ball of death-wax, stand at the ready. Trade in this context is multipurpose, none of which, however, has positive outcomes for the home front, except the further habituation, including the cultivation of false consciousness among the working class, for war and more intervention. Instead, beyond enriching business, it creates the conditions for the more forcible kind of imperialism, war, that risks the annihilation of humankind.
Ideology run amuck appears to be trumping old-fashioned imperialism, while of course keeping it intact and if anything now more effective. That is the danger posed by Obama: present a measure seemingly of benefit to working people, oversell perhaps his own party on its virtues, while simultaneously contermplating what is far worse: the forcible expansion of American capitalism, domestic society be damned.
For timely clarification, I turn to Peter Baker’s New York Times article, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership and a President’s Legacy,” (June 15) which assumes a) Obama has a legacy worth saving, and b) TPP is the prime candidate or perhaps accomplishment. We know Baker’s privileged status within administration circles and NYT’s largely uncritical view of Obama (even when its national-security reporters blast him openly); yet there remains useful to good reporting from which critical analysis of revealed facts is possible. Here Baker, frankly, is of little help. Noting that “the short walk from the Oval Office downstairs to the Situation Room has all too often meant bad news or grim choices,” he practically confers sainthood on Obama, as though an innocent bystander to events: “Whether it was war in the Middle East, Russian aggression in Ukraine [true to NYT’s party line] or the hunt for terrorists around the globe, President Obama’s foreign policy has felt consumed by guns and drones.”
Not here, however; the trade deal is heartfelt, exceptional statesmanship:
“So the 12-nation trade deal Mr. Obama has been negotiating in Asia took on special meaning for a president eager to change the world. It was a way to leave behind a positive legacy abroad, one that could be measured, he hoped, by the number of lives improved rather than by the number of bodies left behind. And if the Pacific really is the future, Mr. Obama wanted to position the United States to lead the way.” (Italics mine)
There is no mention of the armed state of readiness in the Pacific, no mention of China’s exclusion from TPP, just that fellow Democrats “shot down legislation crucial to finalizing the trade agreement,” raising the danger that “the centerpiece of his [Obama’s] much-touted re-engagement with Asia will slip away along with one of the last chances he has to to leave his imprint on the world before leaving office.” With praise of that kind one doesn’t need teleprompters, public relations campaigns, the majesty of office itself to sway peoples’ minds. One commentator is quoted correctly though innocent of its damaging effect. Michael Green, now of Georgertown and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and former Asia adviser to Bush, writes: “’If the president cannot get [trade promotion authority (I assume he also means fast-track)] through Congress, it is a disaster for his Asia policy.’” Yes, indeed, for without the cover of trade policy, the military character of “his Asia policy” will stand out naked and clear. Green redeems himself with just the right touch of belligerence: “’The administration will be dismissed as lame duck at a time when China is flexing its muscles.’” One glimpses back to the fqlling-domino thesis, again alive and well. For Baker himself provided a now-or-never touch. Failure of Congress to approve TPP “would lead to Japan, Vietnam and other putative partners reversing course on economic reforms [think IMF, World Bank and US conditions as defining “economic reforms”] or tariff concessions required to join the multilateral trade zone”—Baker’s own giveaway in revealing the one-sided arrangements.
Jon Huntsman, former Obama ambassador to China, said it better: “’Domestically we tend to view trade through a political prism by way of winners and losers. In Asia, it’s seen as directly tied to our leadership and commitment to the region. A failed T.P.P. would create an influence vacuum that others, primarily China, would fill.’” (Italics mine) China must be ours (just as, in 1949, when Mao came in, Americans ranted that we “lost” China, as though it was ours all along). We are reminded here of what an earlier generation would have said about the present, namely, that Obama, being perfectly consistent with the past, was pursuing the policy of the Open Door, itself largely geared to China. Yet I suspect one must go further, not the Open Door per se, but its explicit militarization, changing its character from the famous Gallagher and Robinson thesis of “the Imperialism of Free Trade,” to free trade be damned, with both its forcible penetration and its wider context of more inclusive global hegemony the accepted goals. That is why TPP is so dangerous (and that extends to its proposer, Obama), its inseparableness, designedly so, from military conquest of all standing in America’s way, and due subordination of those nations willing to go along.
My New York Times Comment on the Baker article, same date, follows:
Obama’s legacy is war, drone assassinations, covert operations, on one hand, support–like not since Herbert Hoover–for corporate wealth and multinationals via the restructuring of global trade, on the other. “Legacy” grates on one’s democratic sensibilities, given his militarism and unified Rightist posture at home and abroad.
And yet, the whole discussion of the Pacific initiative. Of course, the shielding of corporations from environmental, environmental, and other wayward practices. Of course, gaining market penetration through enforced tariff reductions. Of course, outsourcing and consequent disadvantages to American labor. But these only scratch the surface.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), done for its own sake, is, more importantly, designed to accompany the military PIVOT to the Pacific, i.e., the containment of China, purposefully excluded from TPP membership, and from containment, ultimate isolation and, if possible, regime change and/or dismemberment. Obama is leading the US on a mammoth two front campaign, directed to both Russia and China, demonized with subtle hints of menacing communism, as though recalling the worst of the early Cold War.
Democrats don’t get it. They object to the obvious, mired in their own parochial mindset, when in fact Obama is close to waging a war for world supremacy bar none. Outsourcing is imperialism lite; Obama is into imperialism heavy, the militarization of the global design.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.