A good plan

Readers should not be surprised when I agree with American politicians who might be Governor_John_Kasichcompetitors for President Donald Trump. Thus, when Governor John R. Kasich, of Ohio, who is being touted as either a moderate Republic challenger to President Trump or as a potential independent candidate in 2020, says that  “many Americans—myself included—are increasingly coming to believe that our country suffers from a leadership vacuum. People are losing faith that their leaders will work to make all Americans better off and that they will rally us to join with our allies in order to craft cooperative solutions to the global problems that buffet us. Economic growth is delivering benefits for the few but not for the many. Political discourse has become poisoned by partisanship and egotism … [and] … American leaders should always put American interests first, that does not mean that we have to build walls, close off markets, or isolate the United States by acting in ways that alienate our allies. Continuing to do that will not insulate us from external challenges; it will simply turn us into bystanders with less and less influence,” I sit up and take notice.

Governor Kasich has written an essay in Foreign Affairs in which he lays out his prescription for American Foreign Policy in the 2020s. It is a moderate, principled and, I think, well reasoned proposal for America to, as the title says, reclaim global leadership.

First: the premise, of course, is that under all of Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump America has squandered or, more recently, renounced its claim to being the or even a leader of the  world.

Second: Governor Kasich lays our something of a full grand strategy: “On challenge after challenge,” he writes, “we are better off working together than going it alone. To secure our economic future, we must prepare our workers for the future rather than retreat into protectionism. To deal with global threats—from Russian aggression to nuclear proliferation to cyberattacks—we need to harden our defenses and reinvigorate our alliances. To fight terrorism, we must be more discerning about when to commit American power and insist that our allies bear more of the burden. To deal with the rise of China, we must strike the right balance between cooperation and confrontation. In other words, the world needs more American engagement, not less.

Governor Kasich turns a blind eye to the fact that the USA is one of the worst offenders in both subsidies and non-tariff barriers, especially the to often specious “national security” excuse but he gets it partially right, as “right” as it can be for a US audience when he says that “It is up to Americans to constantly innovate in order to remain competitive. Our international trading partners have to realize, however, that if they do not do more to eliminate government subsidies, dumping, and other anticompetitive behavior, support for free and fair trade will collapse even further in the United States. The result will be that everyone will suffer. That said, we should not have to resort to heavy-handed tariffs and quotas in order to get our partners to start taking our concerns seriously. To reduce jobs losses from trade, we need an expedited process, free of bureaucratic delays, to review trade violations and stop 83584177them when they occur. But we must also undertake new efforts that help people obtain the skills they need for the jobs of the future. Trade was not responsible for the majority of American job losses in the last generation; technology was. That trend will only accelerate.” I said, just yesterday, largely in jest, that we should take president Trump up on a true, bilateral free trade deal: “no tariffs and no subsidies” but such a proposal would cause riots in the streets in both countries.

I am sure that Governor Kasich is correct when he said that “Trade was not responsible for the majority of American job losses in the last generation; technology was.” He remains ‘on target’ when he says that “Traditional manufacturing will suffer the most from the technological tsunami. It would be foolish to try to spare ourselves the force of this wave by retreating. Instead, we must ride the wave. That means better preparing the U.S. work force—in particular, aligning our education and training efforts with the needs of emerging industries and improving the flexibility of labor markets. Educators must partner with the private sector to advocate the right curricula, develop the right skill sets, and make businesses a greater part of the educational system by offering mentoring, workplace opportunities, and on-the-job training. Real leadership is showing the courage to help people embrace change, find new frontiers, and adjust in a fast-paced world—not making false promises about returning to the past. The right leadership can draw out from Americans the characteristics that we need to flourish, ones I know we already possess: resiliency, flexibility, and agility, and a dedication to lifelong learning.” Those “traditional” high wage, low skill, ‘metal bashing’ jobs, one of which could last for life and support a middle class family remain at the heart of the America dream and of President Trump’s dream Filipino labourers work on a "skyway" along the south expressway in Paranaque, Metro Manilaof turning the clock back to the 1950s. The problem is that there are hundreds of millions, even billions of people all over the world who are equally as able as Americans to do low skill, metal bashing jobs and they will do so for a lower salary than is needed to raise a middle class family in Ohio or Pennsylvania. Those jobs are not coming back … not to America not to Britain and not to Canada, either.

So, Governor Kasich has the outline of a plan to “Make America Great Again” but it will require Americans to roll up their sleeves and change their attitudes, not to try to bring the world order crashing down to 1950s levels, again.

Peace and Security matter and Governor Kasich wants America to pick its fights with greater care. America and the US led West “must contend with not just the familiar conventional and nuclear threats from Russia,” he says “but also those posed by China, Iran, and North Korea; threats in space and cyberspace; and threats from nonstate actors. The new environment demands leaner, more agile coalitions to solve such problems swiftly.” He gets to a key point where he and I and President Trump are on the same page. The Western allies, he says “are no longer the poverty-stricken nations they were after World War II. They can and must provide for a greater share of their own defense and security, particularly in their own regions. These allies, along with the United States, need to take care to avoid overemphasizing any individual threat, such as terrorism, at the expense of longer-term challenges, such as Russian intimidation, Chinese expansionism, or North Korean nuclear proliferation. All of us must adapt our budgets accordingly, investing in efforts to deal with new cyberthreats and preserving our ability to project power and secure the open global trading system. And Washington must insist that its allies in Europe and the Pacific contribute more to joint efforts.” This is just about the only policy area where I believe President Trump is on solid ground … Canada and Germany and others are, indeed, “freeloading” off the USA.

On specific strategic issues Governor Kasich says:

  • A number of issues have soured U.S. relations with Russia, including the Kremlin’s violent intervention in Ukraine, its support for Syria’s brutal dictator, its disinformation and destabilization campaign in the Baltic states, its penchant for assassinating political enemies at home and abroad, and, of course, its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Nonetheless, we will have to work with Russia on arms control, because with around 7,000 warheads, the country remains the world’s largest nuclear power. Where we have common interests, we should cooperate, while never closing our eyes to the nature of Russia’s leaders, their intentions, and their disregard for our values. Where we cannot cooperate, we must hold Moscow at arm’s length until there is either a change in behavior or a change in leadership.
  • North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons remains another major concern. Until we have a definitive, verifiable treaty that formally ends the Korean War and denuclearizes the Korean Peninsula, we will need to keep up the pressure on Pyongyang to relinquish its nuclear weapons. Additional sanctions can and should be put in place. That includes sanctions on large Chinese companies that enable North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. North Koreans who are working overseas to earn the regime the hard currency that funds that program should be sent home on an expedited basis. The United States and its allies should also put in place a much tighter counterproliferation regime on shipments going into or out of North Korea. Ultimately, however, it will take peaceful regime change in Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear threat North Korea poses in Northeast Asia. The country best positioned to facilitate such a change is China, provided it can be sure that the United States, South Korea, and Japan will not exploit the situation.

I think his positions on both issues are well considered, fully and properly nuanced and quite comprehensive … both should be at the centre of US and Western policy and diplomacy.

I am less certain about his (or anyone’s) prescription on the ill-named Global War on Terrorism; he is quite right that it needs to be rebalanced but I’m not sure that there is an American or Western solution. Eventually the North Africans, Middle Eastern peoples and the West Asians (basically Morocco through to Pakistan) need to have a conversation with themselves about how to balance their own cultures and values and the 21st century. That may need to be a long and violent ‘conversation,’ in which we, the US led West, may best serve by being disengaged, detached and ‘silent.’

 The biggest challenge to America and the US led West is China and, as Governor Kasich notes, our hopes have ben confounded because “China’s regime has managed to deliver economic growth without being forced to democratize.” He once again advocates a balanced and nuanced approach: “We should,” he says, “acknowledge our rivalry with China more frankly and prepare our country to compete more vigorously. This does not necessarily mean embarking on a path of outright confrontation. Rather, it means putting hopes of a peaceful political evolution in China on the back burner and incentivizing Beijing to play a constructive role in the international system. It also means being prepared to decisively counter Chinese moves that threaten the United States and its allies.” He advocates a return to professional diplomacy to replace the currently popular “leader to leader” techniques which, I agree, have not worked well for Western leaders vs Xi Jinping. He also sees another dimension tot he problem posed by China: “Deterring China,” he adds, “also has a military dimension. The U.S. military should forward-deploy greater numbers of forces in the western Pacific and continue to challenge China’s illegal attempts to expand its territorial control there. Washington should make it clear that there will be a significant price to pay for any attack on U.S. assets in space and expand our regional allies’ missile and air defense capabilities. In the long run, however, the best chance for peace lies in a China that itself chooses reform. To kick-start that process, we will have to support efforts to give mass audiences in China better access to the unvarnished truth about what is going on in the world.” Note, please, that he wants to deter and to engage not, just, to confront.

Governor Kasich concludes by saying that “The United States needs a national security doctrine around which a consensus can be built—both between the Democratic and the Republican Parties and with those who share our interests and values overseas. As we continue the search for that, we should work together to secure our economic future, reimagine and strengthen our defenses and alliances, and focus on the prime challenges to our national interests. Rather than pulling back and going it alone, America must cooperate and lead … [and, he adds] … That is true whether the country in question is China, Iran, or Russia and whether the issue at stake is nuclear proliferation, cybersecurity, or counterterrorism. But to achieve any of our foreign policy goals, we will have to rededicate ourselves to civility and compromise at home. Without doing so, we cannot hope to lead by example. Nor will we be able to pass the fiscal, educational, work-force, and other reforms needed to restore Americans’ confidence in international engagement … [and he says, in what sounds almost like a campaign speech] … I have faith that our deeply held values will guide us down the right path. As we look back at history, Americans can take pride in the fact that we have made the world a better place time and time again. We can draw strength for the future from our past achievements. Working together in the spirit of bipartisan compromise, idealists and realists can help the United States

I hope my American friends are waking up to the fact that President Trump is a weak and foolish man who is driven, it seems to me, by his deep seated fears and anxieties about his and America’s failings. I think that President Trump is beyond redemption but America can, as Govern Kasich says, “rediscover optimism” and shape its and the West’s destiny and guarantee its and our security. For now, America has decided to renounce its claims of leadership and it is, like Russia and Iran and North Korea, an impediment to global peace and prosperity … all because it has chosen fear over hope and hard work.

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