Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trump and Canada: So Many Reactions

The Uncertainty Engine is operating at peak efficiency despite some arguing that Trump is now becoming more mainstream, more adult, and more learned.  Please.  Not happening.  The latest target of the Uncertainty Engine is Canada.

And it puts me in a strange position.  I have long been quite critical of Supply Management--otherwise known as the Dairy Cartel. So, I should be rooting for an external force that pushes Canada to liberate the consumers of milk, dairy and eggs (eggs count in this cartel) from the yoke of the cartel.  But, instead, I am feeling, dare I say it, a but of Canadian nationalism, as I am offended at how bluntly Trump is trying to bully Canada.

Of course, for me, it is less about wearing red and white (perhaps via a jaunty tocque) and more about my confirmation bias about Trump--that I hate pretty much anything he does.  And perhaps it is because it is not just about dairy but lumber--the softwood lumber dispute is the zombie issue of US-Canadian relations as it will not die--and energy?  Yes, Trump mentioned energy.  That has everyone confused since the traditional US stance is to prefer oil from stable, less problematic places than from the Mideast.  Anyhow, how dare he?!

Well, Trump doth dare because he read one story about a poor Wisconsin farmer and because key politicians come from Wisconsin (Paul Ryan, Reince Preibus) AND because Trump likes to bluster.  Last night, Trump issued a statement saying that he will not withdraw the US from NAFTA yet.  Within hours, the threat of pulling out of NAFTA went out and then was withdrawn.  I should be happy, and mostly am. But it speaks to a larger problem:

Trump is not just an uncertainty engine, but a bluffing machine.  He issues threats and hopes that folks give in.  When they don't, he retracts and moves on. This is BAD.  I don't want US foreign policy to consist of threats, but I also don't want American adversaries to think that all US threats are empty nor do I want all US friends to think that promises to help them are meaningless.  US foreign policy critically depends on many things, but credible commitments is at the top of the list. Extended deterrence--NATO and the alliances with South Korea and Japan--depends on making threats that both allies and adversaries view as real and believable.

In poker, if you face someone who always bluffs, then the strategy is to call their bluffs almost always (as long as one has a decent hand).  Maybe being known as a bluffer in poker can work as one can win big when one actually has good cards  However, in international relations, it means not only losing a lot of the time--when one has to back down--but it means war when you actually have to follow through on a threat because they didn't think you mean it.

So, yeah, this really isn't about Canada and my new citizen nationalism.  Although, for fuck sake, picking on Canada is just silly.  NAFTA has had costs and benefits for both sides, oops, all three sides.  The US-Canada relationship is supposed to be one of those easy ones that gets ignored while focusing on tougher problems.  The US is not exploited by "smart Canadians who have outfoxed us."  And despite South Park and despite Canadian Bacon and all the rest, I doubt that most Americans will rally around the flag over a dispute with Canada.  Americans like Canada, both because of the fun myths (are they all eskimos, does everyone skate everywhere, beaver!, etc) and the reality of two countries with similar values and interests.  Even Wisconsinians are rallying to the Canadian cause, saying that the milk thing is not that big of a deal.  Trump over-reacts to pretty much everything, so the best advice to give to Canada is to keep doing what  it has been doing. Pander to Ivanka (even if she is far less relevant than she'd like to think), appeal to Trump's ego, and don't react too much.  But also don't bend too much since Trump is likely to move on to another candidate for another bluff.

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