The blind spots in Trump’s foreign policy

Javier Corrales writes: President Trump’s “skinny budget” might be a misnomer, because in foreign policy, at least, it is actually giving us fat nationalism. The biggest winners are the military, the Homeland Security Department and, of course, the wall. The biggest loser is the State Department and thus diplomacy. Mr. Trump is all about intimidating more and negotiating less. This is the hallmark of xenophobic nationalism.

Mr. Trump is also blending xenophobic nationalism with protectionism. The jury is still out on how protectionist the Trump administration wants to be. But in relation to Latin America, even before revealing his budget, Mr. Trump already showed a clear preference for protectionism.

He walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was as much about United States trade with Latin America’s rising Pacific economies as it was about trade with Asia. He has trashed Nafta, a trade agreement that is more important as a symbol of the reconciliation between the United States and Mexico than it is as a change in the economic fortune of the United States. His administration has expressed reservations about trade normalization with Cuba and the peace accord in Colombia, a nation with which the United States has a major trade agreement and a history of close cooperation.

One problem with nationalist protectionism is that as an ideology, it is prone to double blindness: It is blind both to its exaggerations and to its consequences.

Xenophobic nationalists exaggerate the extent to which the outside world takes advantage of the nation. The Chinese are manipulating their currency, Mexicans are taking jobs away, military allies are free-riding, and the rest of the world is misbehaving because it doesn’t fear you enough. And all of this happens “while we sit here like a bunch of dummies,” as Mr. Trump has tweeted.

Nationalists thus exaggerate both the relative gains that others make at their expense, and the relative costs their own nations incur. They are blind to the concept of mutual gain; they see only abuse. [Continue reading…]

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