Barely two weeks ago, Canada and the U.S. were actually on the brink of agreeing to new NAFTA terms. Prime Minister Trudeau offered to come to Washington to put the finishing touches on the agreement with President Trump. Then Trudeau got a phone call from Mike Pence.
The Vice President told the Prime Minister that the meeting was contingent on Canada acceding to one additional provision: a sunset clause on NAFTA, opening it to renegotiation every five years. Trudeau dutifully informed Pence that no prime minister worthy of the office would ever accept such a condition. (Nor would any Mexican president.)
The meeting fell through, and now we stand on the brink of a trade war.
If Trump were sincerely concerned about American trade deficits, as he claims he is, picking a fight with Canada would be a stupid place to start. The US actually has an overall trade surplus of some $8 billion with Canada. We can quibble about the details of this or that sector — dairy subsidies, for example — but you would think the underlying numbers would spare us from Trump’s prepubescent rage.
When Mike Pence picked up his phone and called Justin Trudeau to insist on a NAFTA sunset clause, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was scuppering an agreement that had been patiently, painstakingly renegotiated in good faith — at least on Canada’s part.
The Trump administration couldn’t care less about the subtleties of trade agreements. It cares about the uninformed current of popular isolationist rage that swept it improbably into power, and it will tend that flame no matter the cost to American allies or Americans themselves. This is pure political theater (note the American spelling of that word).
By beginning the G7 summit by proposing that Mr. Putin be readmitted to that body, Trump made it even clearer that he is more oriented toward Moscow and Beijing than toward Ottawa, London, Paris, or Berlin.
Whether Trump colluded with Russia or not, whether Putin has kompromat on Trump or not, the president is, for some reason, deliberately driving a wedge between the U.S. and the other advanced democracies.
We’re witnessing a willful, brazen attack on the international order that has maintained relative stability since the end of World War II by the president of the country that has traditionally been its leader. Supposed trade inequities are merely a pretext.