Afraid of its role in the globalized world Donald Trump perverted the US role as economic global cop

Always the real estate man, Trump views the economic agreements supporting global trade as inconvenient zoning laws

By Edward Goldberg

Published April 13, 2019 10:00AM (EDT)


Uncertain and afraid of its role in the globalized world the United States under Donald Trump has perverted its role as the global cop, a position it has held since 1945.

Moving from the so-called leader of the free world into isolationism and withdrawal, the United States has gone from being the cop that patrols the whole neighborhood with the same rules to the rogue cop who is willing to ignore the international rules for very short term and often-irrational gain.
You can see this best in the little things that don’t make banner headlines.

Two weeks ago as an example the U.S.  recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in direct violation of international law which does not recognize territory taken from another country in war. The Golan which has been out of the international spotlight for some years, is the strategic Syrian plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Because it is justifiably important for Israeli security needs, was not populated by Palestinians and even Netanyahu had discussed giving it back, the United States had up until two weeks ago been willing to apply the let sleeping dogs lie theory of international relations to Israel’s Golan occupation — Basically letting the world know that the U.S. wouldn’t recognize Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan but would not pressure Israel on this matter.

Now this has changed. And it has changed not because the strategic importance of the Golan has changed. Netanyahu previously even had negotiated with Syria about returning the Golan. It has changed because Trump felt he needed to solidify his domestic political base of right wing Christians and Jews.

Just think about it, the principle of international law that the Trump administration has now chosen to disregard in the Golan is the reason the United States is sanctioning Russia over its annexation of the Crimea. It was also the reason George H. Bush went to war when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Is the US now saying it will look the other way if China goes into Taiwan or Pakistan moves into Kashmir or Russia increases it pressure on eastern Ukraine?

Is the United States officially green lighting the idea that international law can be broken in order to pacify a domestic political base?

The Trump administration has gone rogue not only when it comes to upholding international law regarding territorial disputes. Take a look at their actions in regards to the World Trade Organization.

The WTO was developed as an outgrowth of the 1944 Bretton Woods conference to prevent the disastrous late 1920’s trade problems that help jump-start the great depression. The WTO’s purpose is to liberalize trade under a system of internationally recognized trade rules. It sets up a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements and to settle trade disputes. Think of it as a peacekeeping institution for international trade.

As an organization the WTO is clunky and bureaucratic, essentially an organization that was built on compromise. But it basically works. International Trade disputes have not turned into war or lead to any posturing towards war. Historically it has been an institution that supported the U.S. view of world trade. As an example, during the past 16 years the U.S. has brought charges against Chinese trade practices 23 times to the WTO. The WTO found in favor of the U.S. 19 times with four cases still pending. Just recently the WTO found that China’s agricultural subsidies are inconsistent with WTO rules.

Trump however sees the WTO not as a way of adjudicating trade disputes but solely as an anti-American institution. As with so many issues Trump sees the WTO solely through the eyes of an old real estate developer. If the zoning laws prevent one from building a condo in a specific area than there must be something wrong with the zoning laws. Never acknowledging that the building could be harmful to the neighborhood, block all the sun going into the neighboring park or cause overcrowding in the transportation system of the area. And just like a builder fighting the zoning laws, Trump said, “The WTO was set up to benefit everybody but us. We lose the lawsuits, almost all of the lawsuits in the WTO."
Currently, working as the self-serving rogue cop, the Trump administration is in the process of paralyzing the WTO’s judiciary function. It is blocking appointments to the WTO’s appellate body, which is the arbiter of trade disputes. The appellate body now has only three judges. That's the fewest with which it is allowed to operate. The full complement is seven.

Isolationism and withdrawal however begets withdrawal. If the American democracy makes the determination that its interests are better served by significantly narrowing its role as the hegemonic cop it implicitly sanctioned the rights of others to disregard the rule of law.

And by doing this the global landscape will change the most since the end of World War II. Creating a more dangerous world, very similar to the world of pre-World War I economic nationalism.

Edward Goldberg

Edward Goldberg is a professor of international political economy at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and author of "The Joint Ventured Nation: Why America Needs A New Foreign Policy." His new book, "Why Globalization Works for America: How Nationalist Trade Policies Will Lead to Ruin" will be published this winter by Potomac Books. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardGoldberg.

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