Trump and “other people”

In the past, I’ve argued that Trump’s trade war with China is exactly what he says it is, an exercise in mercantilism. And for that reason it’s doomed to fail.

Others argue that Trump’s actual objective is to stop China from becoming a great power. Perhaps he’d like to do that, but I just don’t see the evidence that it’s a central concern of Trump.

Here’s Trump responding to the Philippines’ decision to pull out of its defense treaty with the US:

“I really don’t mind, if they would like to do that, that’s fine,” Trump said Wednesday during a meeting with Ecuador President Lenin Moreno at the White House. “We’ll save a lot of money. You know my views are different from other people. I view it as, ‘Thank you very much, we’ll save a lot of money.’”

Who are these other people that Trump refers to?  I’d guess they are the foreign policy establishment within his administration:

The decision to terminate the agreement was seen as a pivot by Duterte’s government toward China and could complicate U.S. efforts to contest Beijing’s influence in the South China Sea. The Pentagon has vowed to shift more resources toward the Indo-Pacific to help counter China as part of what it views as the coming “great power” competition with Beijing and Moscow.

The president’s remarks represented a sharp departure from the position of the Pentagon, with Esper telling reporters en route to a NATO conference in Brussels on Tuesday that “it’s a move in the wrong direction, again for the long-standing relationship we’ve had with the Philippines, for their strategic location, for the ties between our peoples and our countries.”

Trump says he cares about saving money, while the foreign policy establishment cares about the US having a lot of allies in East Asia to confront China.

Who’s right?

Who’s calling the shots?

Who knows?

All I know is that Trump and his administration are not on the same page, and Xi Jinping is very, very happy about that fact.



21 Responses to “Trump and “other people””

  1. Gravatar of Max Lybbert Max Lybbert
    13. February 2020 at 02:51

    I find the “thank you; you just saved us a lot of money” answer interesting given the answer the US gave Iraq when the Iraqi parliament tried the same thing.

  2. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    13. February 2020 at 04:44

    At least Trump is becoming predictable. He repeatedly says he would like to decrease US military involvement globally, including in South Korea (he has mused about pulling the troops out), Europe, Mideast and now the Philippines.

    Unfortunately, either Trump is simply sandbagged, or lacks the resolve, persistence and intellect to obtain results, or both.

    This de-globalization of the US military is one of the few refreshing viewpoints Trump has. It is one reason Trump won the GOP nomination, from a rank-and-file tired of endless globalism.

    I guess what they say it true. The Deep State or the Shadow Government, the Perma-State, the Iron Triangles, the Bureaucratic State etc, will outlast us all

    US troops are in S Korea 70 years after the war and still in Europe 75 years after WWII.

  3. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    13. February 2020 at 05:33

    Trump opposed the TPP because he thought it expanded China’s influence. Trump is such an ignoramus that whatever he does may be the opposite of what he actually intends. Now, one might argue that having a 50% chance of adopting what turns out to be a good policy is better than choosing policy based on the experts’ advice. Trump says he makes decisions based on his gut, and he has a large enough gut for making decisions with it.

  4. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    13. February 2020 at 06:23

    I think Trump’s primary objective is to appeal to voters, to make them think “Someone is finally standing up for the American worker,” etc. If he can get re-elected before it becomes clear to almost everyone that his trade-war antics have *not* helped the American worker, he will have succeeded.

  5. Gravatar of Market Fiscalist Market Fiscalist
    13. February 2020 at 06:42

    If Trump thinks that Duterte’s decision (which appears to have some opposition within the Philippines) is a bargaining ploy to get more stuff from the US government, then Trump’s expressed indifference to something that he has really to be quite concerned about is probably a counter ploy and not his real view.

  6. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    13. February 2020 at 09:11

    I agree it is bad if the Philippines seeks to switch orbits from the US to China. And I also do not know the answers to your questions. And if Xi is “very very happy” that Trump and the State/Defense Departments are on different pages—-he should be “very very very happy” if Trump’s views prevail. But, also, Xi is so overstretched, even before coronavirus, he will continue to have trouble implementing his policies.

    You leave out any information on how much our foreign policy establishment has been following this issue. Were they taken by surprise? Have you read or seen anything about this before? Was this a known threat? Of course, they will disagree with Trump’s statement. I do too. What I do not know is if they screwed up—and by disagreeing–somehow shift blame–but I digress.

    I am not one who believes Trump is some clever dude playing chess while everyone else is playing tic tac toe. And it would not surprise me in the least if he has not remotely been following the Philippines.

    But Trump is not bad at reacting. His off the cuff remark on Philippines may have been just that—off the cuff. My guess (and it is obviously just a guess) is he is now getting up to speed on this. Perhaps we will learn what our foreign policy gurus have been up to over there.

    And I will bet you—I don’t know—a public show of contrition—that we have not heard the end of this—and we will have a well established position–that moves Duerto at least somewhat back toward the US.

    The US is not going to walk away from the Philippines.

  7. Gravatar of cove77 cove77
    13. February 2020 at 09:12

    yeah that’s probably it…i’m sure Trump’s tapped out our intel, talked to a few policy wonks, hashed it out w/ our allies in neighborhood, game planned for Phil opposition and weighed repurcussions. Maybe we can ascertain his “real view” in a few weeks, months, yrs. i’m sure it will turned out as planned/divined.

  8. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    13. February 2020 at 09:19

    Name 1-3 things the Trump administration has done right—you sound like a guy who know a lot–educate me.

  9. Gravatar of Thaomas Thaomas
    13. February 2020 at 09:24

    It’s hard to know whether Trump is succeeding or failing without know what he wants to do. He’s failing at promoting US real income growth, but is that what he wants to do?

  10. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    13. February 2020 at 10:23

    People want easy answers and easy solutions. China is an easy scapegoat for Trump supporters just like America is the “Great Satan” to millions in the Middle East. The positive is that China is an “existential” threat and Trump’s solutions border of innocuous.

    So past “easy answers and easy solutions” might find an internal group and set out to cast them as the scapegoat and that can be very destructive to a country. So the one that comes to mind is the South and Jim Crow. The South was defeated in the Civil War and backwards and so the former slaves ended up being the scapegoats for their dysfunctional culture. And then the South was forced to integrate, and one thing that made that process slightly easier is we had a shiny new existential threat—communism. So luckily John Tower and George HW Bush saw communists as the bigger threat than their black neighbors and the southern senators became the biggest Cold Warriors…and unfortunately we invaded Vietnam based on the Domino Theory.

  11. Gravatar of Richard A. Richard A.
    13. February 2020 at 10:59

    Trump has always been a protectionist since the 80s.

    Trump’s solar tariffs:
    Tariffs on solar have caused 10.5 gigawatts of solar installations to be cancelled, enough to power 1.8 million homes and reduce 26 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

  12. Gravatar of cove77 cove77
    13. February 2020 at 12:51

    Hey M Rulle i was actually responding to mkt fiscalist and never saw your comment. The point i was making is that there is no Trump policy/doctrine…it’s all seat of the pants/trust me i know what i’m doing.

    Trump “is a man who doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather says ‘this is what i believe.'”-Rex Tillerson

  13. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    13. February 2020 at 14:09


    I did not think you responded to me—I was responding to you—that is funny.

    As it relates to my question, I often find that people who make ad hominem criticisms, particularly about Trump, cannot agree that any of his policies or actions were purposeful and good. You think that as well, apparently.

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    13. February 2020 at 14:46

    Duterte had made up his mind. Duterte’s poor decision concerns one of three agreements, and from what one reads, the one agreement that is least important. Neither Duterte nor Trump want to touch the other two agreements so far, so basically one could conclude that it’s much ado about nothing.

    I like Trump’s reaction so far. It’s a classical Trump reaction. Trump makes it immediately clear that Duterte cannot push him around. The tail should never try to wag the dog. If you criticize the reaction, you must also explain how he should have reacted relevantly better.

  15. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    13. February 2020 at 21:38

    @Michael Rulle- “The US is not going to walk away from the Philippines.”- but they did, Google ‘Subic Bay’, after the Filipinos voted the US out (and against the PH own interest, as the PH was getting good rent money from the US base; most of the Subic Bay locals to this day rue the decision). Filipinos like US culture (such as it is) but dislike the US military. They probably remember Vietnam IMO.

    @Christian List – I agree. Rumor in PH is that Duterte, (foul mouthed lout with reputed drug lord family ties), who is a ‘proto-Trump’ (elected six months before Trump was on a similar ‘rock the boat’ platform) was bribed by China with cash. Same rumor applies to Greek pol Alexis Tsipras, ex-PM, who was bribed by EU businessmen to stay in the EU despite his country voting twice in referendums to exit the EU and his own party advocating exiting the EU. Money trumps principles.

  16. Gravatar of jay jay
    14. February 2020 at 02:24

    First of all, Duterte’s decision to leave the VFA is lawful. The Philippines is an autonomous country. They have the right to choose their alliances. Every year the Philippines takes millions of dollars in aid money, and almost all of it gets funneled into private bank accounts.

    Secondly, the USA is bankrupt. You would never win a war with China now. It would be total annihilation for the USA, so spending millions to partner with a shitty country like the PH doesn’t make sense. Trump is rational, and smart. He knows this. And obama knew it before, which is why he didn’t interfere with spratly islands.

    Thirdly, the USA is a debtor nation, and is for the most part a poor nation. Just look around. The buildings are practically falling down. Its disgusting. NYC is a little baby compared to the power of Shanghai. So if one country is going down, and the other is going up, and you have to choose a partner, then yeah it makes a lot more sense to partner with China. Duterte is not a dummy, and neither are filipinos!

    And finally, if you didn’t ship all your jobs to China and become fat and lazy – and I do mean extraordinary fat – and if you didn’t sell your interests to corporations who consolidated into giant mega companies who make it impossible for startups to get off the ground without VC help, then you might be in better shape economically. But you are not. So don’t cry when another country sees no value in a partnership.

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. February 2020 at 09:37

    As usual, almost everyone missed the point. This post was not about the wisdom of our defense treaty with the Philippines.

    As far as Jay’s comment, I’m speechless. The Philippines is an autonomous country? Who knew?

  18. Gravatar of Thaomas Thaomas
    15. February 2020 at 07:52

    “Trump opposed the TPP because he thought it expanded China’s influence.” That’s a new one. Does anyone even pretend to know what Trump’s objectives are in restricting trade?

  19. Gravatar of sarah sarah
    16. February 2020 at 00:13

    This link is to help Dr. Sumner understand fundamental economics. It’s difficult for him to grasp, and so many others, hence the downward spiral of our economy for the past 30 years. Hopefully, he will try his best to read it carefully so we can stop hearing about how wonderful ricardo and smith are. zzzzz……

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. February 2020 at 09:09

    Sarah, Yeah, I discuss Ricardo all the time in this blog. LOL.

    And the first paragraph of that link is so silly I stopped right there. Economists discovered market failure in the 1970s? Really? Which ones?

    (Actually, the 1970s were the high point of efficient markets theory.)

  21. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    17. February 2020 at 21:19

    The funny thing about this is that fundamental economics is actually Scott’s strength, along with other market monetarists. They have the cleanest dirty shirts among economists.

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