President Donald Trump accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the JW Marriott Hanoi in Vietnam, February 28, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)
President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have worked the U.S. into an advantageous position with a consistent policy toward bad actors.
We are now at a point that even left and right agree that China’s rogue trajectory had to be altered. And while progressive critics of Beijing now are coming out of the woodwork without ever uttering the T-word, nonetheless the subtext is that Trump has pulled back the Chinese curtain and what is exposed is pretty ugly — from reeducation camps and mass incarcerations to cheating Silicon Valley out of billions of dollars in research and development, currency manipulations, bullying allies, and international commercial roguery.
More to the point, the U.S. does not need China as much as it needs us, whether defined as trade and accounts surpluses, intellectual and technological transfers, the strange obsessions with buying U.S. properties or sending a third of a million students into the U.S. In all these areas, there are vast asymmetrical relations. The U.S. can find low-cost assembly plants elsewhere if that is its want, and American investors are not dying to buy Chinese properties or American companies to steal Chinese technological breakthroughs, or California parents to send tens of thousands of their teens to Chinese universities.
Iran is similar. Getting out of the Iran Deal and ratcheting up the sanctions remind us not just about what was surrendered when the Obama administration caved in 2015 and resuscitated that odious regime, but that Tehran is increasingly fragile — economically, politically, and socially — and in its fourth decade of bankrupt theocracy cannot survive long-term maximum-pressure strategies, especially vis-à-vis the world largest economy and natural gas and petroleum producer. Had it nuclear weapons as it had planned, the present face-off might have had different consequences.
In other words, Iran’s current pathetic efforts to disrupt international maritime traffic are slowly reminding the world why it always was an outlaw state and yet how weak its provocative efforts really are. In contrast, the U.S. needs only to keep the pressure on and sit back, while Iran continues its frenzied nihilism. And if Iran gets too desperate to the point of attacking U.S. ships and assets, there are lots of tit-for-tat, quite disproportionate one-off responses on our part that would not lead to a general war and yet would maintain deterrence at little American cost while hurting Iran a great deal. Again, the key is not to be goaded into a war and not to ignore an Iranian attack on a U.S. vessel.
Mexico and Central America follow a similar pattern. The flood across the border and the cynicism of Latin American governments are now utterly transparent, in a global climate in which Western publics are tiring of open borders and being lectured by the cynical and conniving failed states that it is somehow inhumane not to welcome in illegal entrants with the wink and nod of their own corrupt governments. With over a $70-billion trade surplus with the U.S. and some $30 billion in annual remittances (much of it from illegal aliens who rely on state subsidies to free up cash to send home), Mexico, for example, is in no position to dictate anything to the U.S., especially when the optics of green-lighting hundreds of thousands into the U.S. are so incriminating.
Again, we need only explain to Mexico and Latin America to stop it or else see their present one-sided relationships radically erode. And we have a lot more assets to bring if pushed, from taxing all remittances sent south of the border to deportations to tariffs.
The key in all these crises is to be patient and not let the tensions coalesce into acting precipitously when our positions are both the morally right and more powerful. We can allow the narratives to develop as the bad actors become even more hysterical — as they learn finally that someone has called their bluff that systematic trade aggression and espionage, or subsidizing terrorists or undermining U.S. law, is not in their own interests but will now cost them far more than any advantage they have in the past accrued.