At his State of the Union Address, President Obama asked us in Congress to grant him “fast track” trade promotion authority so he can “write rules for the world’s economy.” I sat alarmed for America’s future should we expand this president’s authority given how he has extended executive overreach, fumbled our foreign policy, debilitated our defense and diminished our domestic tranquility. At least this time, the president asked to bypass Congress.
Regardless of the merits of trade partnership or the tactics of their negotiation, two fundamental questions loom: Why do we trust this president given his track record in foreign affairs, and what serious harm would come to the nation by waiting 23 months?
Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, would prevent Congress from amending as much as one word of the rules he writes, a sweeping agreement the White House has been working toward for the past six years. Even if parameters were set beforehand, violations would be subject to an up or down vote with no amending permitted. Unlike a treaty, a simple majority is needed to pass.
For Congress to cede oversight on such a sweeping agreement could have grave implications.
The American people must be at the table - and they can be, through their elected representatives in Congress.
In a balanced process, the full range of Congressional committees would hold hearings with experts, establish clear objectives, set the terms of the negotiation, and be regularly informed throughout the negotiating process. This would ensure trade deals are in the best national interest for the long haul, not designed to please small groups of well-connected insiders for some tempting short-term benefit.
While trade is vital in securing economic freedom and in strengthening our values and friendships, we must approach any ‘partnership’ with a comprehensive view of its strategic impact. Advocates have stated that a Trans Pacific Partnership will open trade involving 40 percent of global economic activity. This is a misrepresentation when one considers that six of the other eleven nations proposed for the partnership already have strong trade agreements with the United States and many of the remainder enjoy excellent trade relations, such as with Japan.
The president also claims a trade surplus without delineating the improvement will come from services such as financial, insurance and computing, not from manufacturing as he purports. Given Obama’s scathing treatment of financial and insurance investment overseas, one wonders if there is not some other hidden motivation.
Alarmingly, Obama uses containment language with regard to China as a major premise for obtaining fast-track authority. While we employ the economic instrument of our national power with regard to an ascendant China, we must ensure in tandem efforts with diplomatic and informational instruments as well.
Further, should a trade dispute result in impasse, nations historically have lashed back with their last remaining option - their military. Ours must be prepared as we explore these new frontiers. I have heard no serious discussion from anyone in Congress or the White House thinking comprehensively and strategically in this manner.
When John Hay ‘opened’ trade with China more than a century ago as a hedge on an ascendant Japan to balance European concerns, the achievement was heralded widely. Japanese society had rapidly embraced western science and technology since the days of Commodore Perry. A vibrant economy blossomed. Western ideas in manufacturing, banking, business and even military doctrine quickly transformed Japan into a formidable power. This was not without political consequence.
Japan had transformed her society, fought as an ally in a world war, imported goods to a demanding public, built ships together with the west and signed treaties. Their rapid transformation alarmed Japanese Diet hardliners who used anti-western sentiment to wedge political power.
Within a 15-year span, the lengthy embrace of the West gave way to competition for resources, distrust, the fall of Japanese government and the doctrine of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. In only a couple of more years, what was embraced was now disrespected, despised and attacked. Few ever saw it coming. That Japan and the United States are such strong friends today is a testament of our mutual commitment to the repairing of human tragedy.
We cannot allow this president to rush willy-nilly into a fast track Chinese hegemony without regard to strategic thinking. Given his dismal foreign policy record, it comes as no revelation but it does come with consequences. What serious harm can come by waiting 23 months? As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “nothing good can be frustrated by time.”
Russell has represented Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District since 2015. He sits on the Education and the Workforce and the and the Oversight and Government Reform committees. He is the author of We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein and served 21 years as a combat infantry officer in the U.S. Army.