- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Some years ago in an editorial on U.S. trade policy which, under the wily Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, ran roughshod over U.S. foreign policy as conducted by Warren "mouse-or-man" Christopher, I indulged in a bit of irony. "Thank goodness someone is in charge of U.S. foreign policy" went the first sentence of my editorial. Later this not terribly pithy piece of writing came back to the editorial pages here among a stack of clippings from the Commerce Department, as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, with the handwritten notation "Is this good?"

Duh. Commerce officials thought we'd been paying them a compliment, which was not exactly the intention. So much for irony as a rhetorical device.

There is no doubt that under President Clinton, U.S. trade and international economic policy more often than not took precedent over national security. Not just the Commerce Department, but the National Economic Council and later the Treasury Department developed a huge role in setting U.S. foreign policy, depending, one might add, on which body Mr. Clinton's close friend and former Wall Street banker Robert Rubin headed at the time. (His successors Laura Tyson and Gene Sperling never pulled the same clout at the NEC.)

Clearly the Clinton administration was reckless in many of its decisions, for instance moving the approval process for satellite launches from the Pentagon to the Commerce Department (whose motto was surely adopted from Vladimir Ilych Lenin: We will sell them the rope to hang us). This was done at the strong suggestion of Michael Armstrong, CEO of Loral Corp., one of the companies whose satellites were being launched on Chinese rockets.

What's more, among the debris of Mr. Clinton's final rampage through the institutions and regulations of the U.S. government was a farewell present for Silicon Valley. On Jan. 10., Mr. Clinton again loosened export restrictions on super computers to potential enemies abroad, expanding the speed of the computers that can be sold, this for the sixth time in his presidency. Wisely, Mr. Bush has placed this among the executive orders under suspension until a thorough review of Mr. Clinton's profligate actions can take place.

Other decisions to intervene on the international economic scene have loomed very large during the Clinton years attempted bailouts of the Russian economy, lobbying for China's World Trade Organization entry, IMF assistance to South Korea and Mexico.

Whatever you think of the choices made by the previous White House, and there is room for a lot of disagreement here, in an age of globalization, we have moved beyond a time when international economics and national security could be considered two separate policy areas.

In actual fact, of course, such a separation probably was never really justifiable. Just think back on the deceptive CIA estimates of the Soviet economy, wildly inflated as they were. It would surely have been in the U.S. national interest to know just how weakened a Cold-War opponent we were dealing with.

While Mr. Clinton elevated the importance of economic advice in the White House by creating the NEC, President Bush seems to want to try out a new formula. The idea is to redraw the balance in the relationship between economics, trade and national security giving more emphasis to the latter. In and of itself, the idea appears reasonable and overdue. Whether the mechanism he has chosen is one that will work or whether it is one that will create unnecessary turf wars among his advisers is as yet an open question.

The two principal actors in this are economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The two will jointly run a staff that would deal with international economic policy and coordinated responses to financial crises like the ones we have seen in Asia and Russia. Miss Rice seems already to have won one bureaucratic victory, securing that this staff will be physically located within the National Security Council.

"It's a way to make sure the economic people dont run off with foreign policy and vice versa," Mr. Bush told the New York Times, apparently referring to the Clinton experience. "Globalization has altered the dynamics in the White House, as well as between the White House and the Treasury," he said. "We have to respond to that."

Even as his new administration is doing so, it is important that Mr. Bush does not undercut his trade and economic advisers. It has been reported that Miss Rice argued for downgrading the trade representative post, now filled by Robert Zoellick, to below cabinet level in order not to find herself outranked. (Mr. Bush decided to keep the national security adviser below cabinet level). This would have been a mistake, as Mr. Bush was informed by concerned members of Congress, given that the U.S. trade representative negotiates with cabinet secretaries from all over the world.

Needless to say with people like Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell around, one feels more confident that the new administration will have more respect for national security and military priorities. Yet, finding the right policy mixture will still be quite a challenge.

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