Trump Continues Playing Hardball with Canada, While Kowtowing to Putin

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Marco Levytsky, NP-UN National Affairs Editor.

While continuing to kowtow to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump is ratcheting up his trade war with Canada on several fronts. Back on May 31 he imposed tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum under the bizarre pretext that Canada constitutes some kind of “security threat” when it comes to the production of such materials. These tariffs have already been termed illegal by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and are estimated to cost the United States a net loss of 400,000 jobs in addition to the damage caused by the retaliatory tariffs imposed by Canada.

August 2 the U.S. Commerce Department announced it is going ahead with a tax on Canadian newsprint. Along with hitting the Canadian forestry industry, which provides key economic opportunities for Indigenous and rural communities, this also constitute a threat to the already-struggling American newspaper industry. But maybe that idea comes from the fact that Trump views the media as “the enemy of the people”.

Then there is the biggest threat that looms on the horizon. That’s the proposed tariffs of up to 25 per cent on automobiles and automobile parts. While the results would be devastating for Canada, they will also have a profound effect on the United States because parts manufacturing and supply chains generally are heavily integrated north-south. As a result, these tariffs are opposed by U.S. auto manufacturers, by Congress, by NATO allies, by economists, and by industry studies. A study released by the Center for Automotive Research showed the tariffs would cause a big hike in car prices and a big loss in American jobs.

As far as Trump is concerned, he is playing hardball in order to get a better deal for the United States. Trump is very good at playing hardball with Canada. He is also very good at playing hardball with the EU, with the G7 and with NATO. In other words, with all of the U.S. traditional democratic allies. But when it comes to dealing with dictatorships like North Korea and Russia, he turns into a total wimp.

In the last editorial before this paper went on its summer hiatus, we commented on how Trump decided to scrap the long-standing military exercises with South Korea, without even bothering to inform South Korea of his intentions, getting, in return, a very vague promise from North Korea to denuclearize – a promise which has already been proven to be empty. We also said the worst was yet to come with the July 16 summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Well, at least he didn’t recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as was feared following his earlier comments. But, in every other respect, it was disastrous. Not only was Trump’s refusal to accept the findings of his own intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and his obvious deference to Putin condemned by both Democrats and conscientious Republicans, the big question was what he actually told Putin during the private session, since no one else, save an interpreter was present from the American side. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer noted: “A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House: what could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States? Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”

What is truly amazing is that a CNN poll found that 68% of Republicans approved the way Trump handled this summit. This is a party that considers Ronald Reagan to be its modern-day icon. Let me point out that Trump’s policy towards both Canada and Russia is 180 degrees opposite to that of Reagan’s. Reagan termed the USSR the “Evil Empire” and set out to initiate an arms race the USSR had no way of keeping up with, causing the system to implode and leading first to freedom for the Central European satellite states, and then to the breakup of the USSR itself. And let us not forget Reagan’s immortal words: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Compare that with Trump’s comment on U.S.-Russia relations: “I think that the United States has been foolish. I hold both countries responsible.” Or on the indictment of 12 Russian officials for interfering in U.S. elections: “My people came to me, Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” He later said he misspoke. He meant to say “wouldn’t be”. That explanation is, frankly, hard to swallow.

And when it comes to Canada. Ronald Reagan firmly believed in free trade with Canada and initiated the 1987 Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA), which was expanded in 1994 to include Mexico under NAFTA.

Nevertheless, we can be encouraged by the fact that despite Trump’s attitude to Russia, members of both his administration and Congress take a much more realistic approach. On July 25, Trump’s own Secretary of States, Mike Pompeo issued a “Crimea Declaration” which, among other things states: ”The United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over territory seized by force in contravention of international law. In concert with allies, partners, and the international community, the United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored.”

And, on August 2, an influential bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a package of measures designed to protect “American security from Kremlin aggression,” including new financial sanctions and a “strong statement of support” for NATO.

However, this huge divergence between the policies of the president and both his administration and congress, insofar as relations with both Canada and Russia are concerned, leads to an incoherent foreign policy which the rest of the world is having great difficulty in dealing with. We can only hope that with the U.S. system of checks and balances, the U.S. Congress will be able to curb some of Trump’s perturbing foreign policy initiatives.