The second piece of evidence is our trade talks with China. Over the past few decades, the Western diplomatic community made a big bet: If we all behaved decently toward Chinese leaders, then they’d naturally come to embrace liberal economic and cultural values and we could all eventually share a pinot at the University Club.
The bet went wrong. Today’s Chinese elites are polite and coolheaded, but their economic, political and military behavior remains pure thug. Beijing throws its economic weight around with abandon, punishing foreign firms like Mercedes-Benz that don’t toe its line, cutting off Philippine trade over dubious geographic disputes, closing off its own economy to foreign investment and stealing hundreds of billions of dollars in American intellectual property each year.
The president has pushed back harder on the Chinese and has netted some results. After some Trump swagger, Xi Jinping promised to “significantly lower” Chinese tariffs on imported vehicles.
The third piece of evidence is Iran. I have doubts about the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the nuke agreement. But I do know that the argument that many of the Obama people relied on as predicate for the deal is wrong. They argued that, deep down, the Iranian leaders are worldly sophisticates who, if we just gave them the welcome mat, would want to join our community of nations.
This is the vanity of the educated class going back for centuries. Since we’re obviously so superior, everybody else secretly wants to be like us. It’s wrong. Thugs gotta thug. Religious fanatics gotta fanaticize.
The Iranian regime has continued on its merry way, pouring troops into Syria, lobbing missiles at Israel, propping up extremist armies across the Middle East. Maybe Trump is right to intuit that the only right response to a monster is to enclose it. Maybe he’s right that when you sense economic weakness in a potential threat, you hit it again.
Please don’t take this as an endorsement of the Trump foreign policy. I’d feel a lot better if Trump showed some awareness of the complexity of the systems he’s disrupting, and the possibly cataclysmic unintended consequences. But there is some lizard wisdom here. The world is a lot more like the Atlantic City real estate market