- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Whoever said that victory has many fathers and defeat is an orphan, surely had never heard of the World Trade Organization (WTO). In the case of the hapless multilateral trade body and its long-suffering representatives, the total failure of the opening meeting of the so-called Millennium trade round has lots of people boasting of their role in the melee. Well. That’s just brilliant. They are proud of being part of a movement that wants to wreck the most important engine of economic growth, prosperity and overall global rising living standards we have the freedom of trade and movement of people and goods between nations.
The 135-member WTO is composed of sovereign governments wishing to further this goal and ease the settlement of international trade disputes. From the sounds emanating from Seattle, though, it would now seem the WTO has now replaced the Trilateral Commission and the Freemasons as candidate No. 1 to take over the world.
Everybody has his favorite Seattle story. The city’s police chief will have plenty of time to think about his, having now resigned in disgrace over the loss of control of downtown Seattle. The Seattle business community may be more inclined to brood over theirs; the poor fools invested $9 million to attract the meeting to their fine city. What stands out more? Friends of the sea turtles? The local coven of protesting witches? I would nominate the union of steel workers who were marching in protest with a phalanx of topless lesbians. It’s an image that will boggle the mind for years to come.
The debate now is over just how effective this anti-globalist coalition of socialists, coercive utopians and Luddites will turn out to be. (Democrats the protesters surely were not, representing no one but themselves.) In the heat of the moment, it always looks as though the world as we know it is coming to an end. But the overwhelming likelihood is that we have not actually seen a replay of the anti-Vietnam War movement, which had much clearer focus, obviously, though its consequences were far-reaching. How long, after all, can you protest against cheap imports when those same imports are all over your house?
No, the real reason for the disaster in Seattle is political, and reports coming out of the meeting point to President Clinton as a major culprit. Which may be both good and bad. Taking the long view, other trade rounds have had difficult beginnings, too. It took years to get the Uruguay Round under way, which finally happened in 1986. Thankfully, we will soon be electing another president, and it should be someone whose actions match his rhetoric.
Still, it is a disgrace that the world’s greatest trading nation, i.e. the United States, is currently led by a man whose motivations are so narrowly political and egocentric that he has now wrecked any chance of entering the history books as a champion of free trade. And this time, Mr. Clinton’s shenanigans may have severe consequences, stalling free-trade momentum at the dawn of a new millennium.
Not only did Mr. Clinton fail to lay the groundwork, waiting to the last minute to invite foreign leaders to a meeting that still had no agreed agenda. In the middle of it all he decided to side with the protesters outside, endorsing labor and environmental demands on Third World members, telling these countries last Wednesday that “we have a right to say we will help you on a different path to growth.” Needless to say, they went through the roof. He infuriated the Europeans by refusing to allow discussion of U.S. anti-dumping regulations endorsed by the AFL-CIO. And he pulled the plug on his own negotiators Friday, as they were preparing for another long night of talks to have something to show for the meeting.
Jumping to the bidding of core Democratic constituencies (to whom Vice President Gore is also beholden) Mr. Clinton has no right to accuse Republicans of isolationism. He basically inherited the North American Free Trade Agreement from groundwork laid under Republican presidents, and the same is true of the WTO. His administration has failed signally to press for passage of fast-track negotiating authority with congressional Democrats. What happens when Congress reconvenes to consider permanent Most Favored Nation trade status for China’s entry into the WTO is uncertain at this point. It is hard to imagine the administration going to bat for Charlene Barshefsky’s hard-won agreement.
What we saw in Seattle was what happens when the irrational meets the unscrupulous. It will take some time to sort this mess out.
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