More Logic of Strategy
American Prospect: Steve Bannon, Unrepentant
Far from dressing me down for comparing Trump to Kim, he began, “It’s a great honor to finally track you down. I’ve followed your writing for years and I think you and I are in the same boat when it comes to China. You absolutely nailed it.”
“We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”
Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.
Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim.
“To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”
Bannon’s plan of attack includes: a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology transfers from American corporations doing business there, and follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping. “We’re going to run the tables on these guys. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us.”
But what about his internal adversaries, at the departments of State and Defense, who think the United States can enlist Beijing’s aid on the North Korean standoff, and at Treasury and the National Economic Council who don’t want to mess with the trading system?
“Oh, they’re wetting themselves,” he said, explaining that the Section 301 complaint, which was put on hold when the war of threats with North Korea broke out, was shelved only temporarily, and will be revived in three weeks. As for other cabinet departments, Bannon has big plans to marginalize their influence.
“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”
But can Bannon really win that fight internally?
“That’s a fight I fight every day here,” he said. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.”
“We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s like, every day.”
More than three years ago I wrote The Logic of Strategy: Yuan Devaluation and the Road to Trade War
The protectionists are ever so slowly gaining the upper hand thanks in part to negative social mood. 2008-2009 will probably mark the peak moment for Wall Street and the Treasury Department, even though there is as yet no sign of it in Washington. Changes can be seen in the form of issues such as immigration, which has turned the grassroots of the conservative movement against the Chamber of Commerce and large corporations (due to an attack initiated by the latter against the former). This has pushed the Overton window of acceptable debate among conservatives who can now take shots at big business. There is also the growing libertarian faction pulled together by Ron Paul that supports his son, Rand Paul, that consistently attacks the Federal Reserve and Wall Street. Put it together and it is not hard to envision an anti-Wall Street, pro-manufacturing political consensus emerging. This will cut across party lines, with manufacturing unions pulling in Democratic support if there are specific bills to vote on.
I also wrote:
Whichever path is chosen, the economic and geostrategic paths will line up. An economic crisis in China will add the economic component to the emerging geostrategic China policy. A geostrategic decision to confront China economically would set in motion an economic crisis that would propel the strategy forward since China would respond in kind.
Escalating tensions over North Korea is one way to increase support for Chinese sanctions.