- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

Do Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, on the one hand, speak with Commerce Secretary Don Evans and President Bush’s political guru, Karl Rove, on the other? If so, they should have lunch.

Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Powell ought to explain to Mr. Evans and Mr. Rove how George W. Bush’s re-election-driven trade policies too often jeopardize U.S. national security. To satisfy parochial domestic interests, Mr. Bush’s neo-protectionism creates headaches for American soldiers and diplomats abroad. This counterproductive shortsightedness cannot stop soon enough.

Consider America’s ongoing efforts to pacify North Korea. China, an at least nominally communist country bordering North Korea, surely is Washington’s best bet to keep the unpredictable North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from going, literally, ballistic. Indeed, America, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea hope to meet with North Korea as soon as mid-December to encourage the Stalinist state to abandon thermonuclear dream. Given Mr. Kim’s habit of sharing strategic technology with Iran, Libya and Syria, few things are scarier than this dictator, with an atomic chip on his shoulder, furnishing glow-in-the-dark gifts to anti-American states and groups.

So, rather than keep China cool, calm and cooperative, the White House on Nov. 18 dropped a cup of wonton soup in Beijing’s lap.

Washington’s fresh import quotas on Chinese brassieres and nightgowns suddenly created tensions between the two capitals. Three days later, a Chinese trade delegation canceled plans to visit the United States and sign orders for American agricultural goods.

This flap could not be more ill-timed. With Asia at the crossroads between peace and re-armament, President Bush chose to wrestle with the Chinese over intimate apparel.

Not far from China, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has shared airspace, intelligence and military facilities with U.S. forces.

Pakistan has captured some 500 al Qaeda members and cracked down on the Muslim-extremist madrassas that too often turn little boys into walking explosives. Yet despite Islamabad’s valiance in the War on Terror, America still imposes tariffs of up to 16 percent on Pakistani textiles and quotas that also limit the supply of such items as pillowcases and dishrags manufactured there.

While such recklessness might secure the 23 electoral votes of the textile-rich Carolinas, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove should consider the much higher vote tally possible if an especially motivated Pakistan pointed U.S. Special Forces to the precise cave where Osama bin Laden sips his tea.

Conversely, the president and his Svengali should forecast the votes they might lose if a tariff-weary Pakistan snoozed while bin Laden successfully supervised, say, the dirty-bombing of Chicago’s Loop.

Finally, Andres Mejia sees cocaine and bombs as unintended consequences of U.S. trade barriers.

“Restrictions on access of agricultural goods to the United States, added to internal subsidies to U.S. farmers, have caused many small farmers in Colombia and similar countries to go bankrupt,” says Mr. Mejia, director of the free-market Development and Liberty Institute in Bogota and a participant in last month’s hemispheric trade talks in Miami. “In the case of Colombia, this promotes drug traffic and violence.”

Stymied by such things as U.S. orange juice tariffs and sugar price supports, Colombian farmers turn to producing coca, poppy and heroin. One needn’t be a Drug Enforcement Administration agent to see this frustrates U.S. anti-drug efforts.

Elsewhere, Mr. Mejia says, the barrier-propelled “impoverishment of certain rural, distant areas is fueling violence, too, since young kids with no other alternatives go to the guerrillas or the paramilitaries,” such as the FARC rebels, officially identified as terrorists by the State Department. FARC is believed responsible for bombs that killed at least 55 civilians this year alone.

“If we could export more fruits to the U.S.,” Mr. Mejia tells me, “that certainly would convince more people to stop growing coca and to stop joining violent groups.” For now, Mr. Mejia consider the FARC guerrillas “declared enemies of the United States. They hate the United States. They hate Americans. And if they had the chance, I have no doubt they would attack the United States.”

Steering America from Mr. Bush’s neoprotectionism back to the path of free trade would avoid these potentially deadly situations. The president’s steel tariff retreat on Thursday is a big step in the right direction. The perpendicular tracks on which U.S. trade and security policy operate should be made parallel, lest a truly nasty train wreck lie around the bend.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.

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