funny thing happened this week: the Bush administration,
with its aggressive unilateralism, and its
contempt for diplomacy and international institutions,
suddenly staked its fortunes on the kindness
the world knows about the Iraq about-face:
having squandered our military strength in
a war he felt like fighting even though it
had nothing to do with terrorism, President
Bush is now begging the cheese-eaters and
chocolate-makers to rescue him. What may not
be equally obvious is that he's doing the
same thing on the economic front. Having squandered
his room for economic maneuver on tax cuts
that pleased his party base but had nothing
to do with job creation, Mr. Bush is now asking
China to help him out.
of course, that Mr. Bush admits to having
made any mistakes. Indeed, Mr. Bush seems
to have a serious case of "l'état, c'est moi":
he impugns the patriotism of anyone who questions
you ask why he diverted resources away from
hunting Al Qaeda, which attacked us, to invading
Iraq, which didn't, he suggests that you're
weak on national security. And it's the same
for anyone who questions his economic record:
"They tell me it was a shallow recession,"
he said Monday. "It was a shallow recession
because of the tax relief. Some say, well,
maybe the recession should have been deeper.
That bothers me when people say that."
is, if you ask why he pushed long-term tax
cuts rather than focusing on job creation,
he says you wanted a deeper recession. It
bothers me when he says that.
course, nobody says the recession should have
been deeper. What critics argued - correctly
- was that Mr. Bush's economic strategy of
tax cuts for the rich, with a few token breaks
for the middle class, would generate maximum
deficits but minimum stimulus. "They" may
tell him it was a shallow recession, but the
long-term unemployed won't agree.
the fact that even with all that red ink the
recovery is still jobless should lead him
to wonder whether he's running the wrong kind
Instead, however, he's decided to plead with
the Chinese for help.
it didn't sound like pleading. It sounded
as if he was being tough: "We expect there
to be a fair playing field when it comes to
trade. . . . And we intend to keep the rules
fair." Everyone understood this to be a reference
to the yuan, China's supposedly undervalued
currency, which some business groups claim
is a major problem for American companies.
the way, even if the Chinese did accede to
U.S. demands to increase the value of the
yuan, it wouldn't have much effect unless
it was a huge revaluation. And China won't
agree to a huge revaluation because its huge
trade surplus with the U.S. is largely offset
by trade deficits with other countries.
even a modest currency shift by Beijing would
allow Mr. Bush to say that he was doing something
about the loss of manufacturing jobs other
than appointing a "jobs czar." And so John
Snow, the Treasury secretary, went off to
Beijing to request an increase in the yuan's
he got no satisfaction. A quick look at the
situation reveals one reason why: the U.S.
currently has very little leverage over China.
Mr. Bush needs China's help to deal with North
Korea - another crisis that was allowed to
fester while the administration focused on
Iraq. Furthermore, purchases of Treasury bills
by China's central bank are one of the main
ways the U.S. finances its trade deficit.
is quite sure what would happen if the Chinese
suddenly switched to, say, euros - a two-point
jump in mortgage rates? - but it's not an
experiment anyone wants to try.
may also be another reason. The Chinese remember
very well that in Mr. Bush's first few months
in office, his officials described China as
a "strategic competitor" - indeed, they seemed
to be seeking a new cold war until terrorism
came along as a better issue. So Mr. Bush
may find it as hard to get help from China
as from the nations those same officials ridiculed
as "old Europe."
transit and all that. Just four months after
Operation Flight Suit, the superpower has
become a supplicant to nations it used to
insult. Mission accomplished!
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