On our southern border and globally, the Trump Administration is playing a deft game, methodically advancing American security interests by linking resolution to America’s powerful economy and trading relationships. To be clear, this is no mistake. And it is generating results.
Exhibit one is the recent agreement with Mexico – secured last Friday – to help reverse surging Central American economic migrants. The agreement – benefiting both nations – came after President Trump boldly threatened to put a five percent tariff on Mexican-origin goods and raise that tariff by five percent each month until it hit 25 percent.
The pain was too great, even to contemplate. While a measurable but marginal impact would be felt from such tariffs in the United States, the impact in Mexico – would have been devastating. Mexico’s economy shrank by 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019. These tariffs would have caused some sectors to begin a long, possibly irreversible slide.
All that was averted, when Mexico agreed to serve their own security interests and ours by tackling this persistent, rising, regional threat. Specifically, Mexico committed to putting 6,000 Mexican National Guardsmen on their southern border, deploying more guardsmen nationally, accepting return of US asylum seekers, working with US law enforcement against drug and human traffickers, and continuing negotiations for the next 90 days.
While President Trump “suspended” imposing tariffs, the 90-day period is important. It gives both sides time to see if Mexico’s new efforts reduce the flow of economic migrants from Central America north, while allowing continued discussion of Mexico as a “safe third country” for fleeing asylum seekers.
The 90-day period also encourages candid discussion between big allies of how better to share information and tackle drug cartels, which continue to disrupt rule of law in both countries, fomenting violence in Mexico, death by addiction and internecine violence in America.
And one other issue: Both countries may now be able to talk turkey on getting rule of law, economic stability, and more foreign investment into Central America, where radiating crime, gangs, poverty, public corruption, fear in the present and for future generations is common.
With concerted effort, at times in the past, life in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras was not so dark. Creating conditions that encourage their people to stay, invest themselves, believe in institutions and trust in the future would be time, money and effort well-spent.
But none of this new energy was afoot, before President Trump used tariffs to refocus everyone. His tariff threat was an action-forcing event. The result was favorable for all, a renewed commitment to regional security – including at America’s southern border. Can there be any question?
Interestingly, leading Democrats refuse to give this president credit, the House Speaker blithely calling President Trump’s use of trade to boost security “reckless threatening.” This, from a “responsible” House leader who, just days earlier, told America’s allies as our President celebrated D-Day ceremonies, she wanted him “in prison.” Why? Forget reasons, she is just against.
Now pivot to a larger issue. If the President’s thoughtful application of progressive tariffs, that is, use of America’s economic power in a deliberative way to increase US security worked to re-set priorities with Mexico, where else?
In just eight days, the President turned a major page with a major ally, ironically creating a favorable inflection point in our relationship. Mexican leaders now have good reason – in the context of domestic politics – to refocus energy on security. Information sharing goes up, along with rule of law, public health and safety, border security and dialogue in both countries.
Moreover, new life may be breathed into the US Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which benefits the three countries, is favored by industry and labor in all three, and which Congress continues – not to ratify.
The longer-term impact of President Trump’s successful Mexico deal, and linkage of trade and security negotiations – is easily overlooked. By refusing to play the game – accepting the idea that security and trade are not related – Trump is calling the world out.
The positive effect is an infusion of new truth into international relationships, foreign policy and future security relationships. Next up is China. A final accord would cement longer term cooperation, placing the relationship between the world’s number one and two economies and number one and number three militaries on a firm foundation for decades.
President Trump knows this, and so does President Xi. That is why both continue to negotiate, and neither is interested in a flip, near-term, hit-and-run political agreement. They both understand trade and security are linked. Ignoring that is a fools’ paradise – and neither is a fool.
More broadly, think about allies and adversaries, all now wrestling with a new reality – an American president who says what he thinks, does what he says, refuses to be cowed, is ready on both the trade and military fronts, and worse – has linked trade to security.
The overt linkage of trade and security may not usher in a “new world order,” as many thought the end of the Cold War would, but is likely to instill new respect, focus, and realism into global negotiations of all sorts with all parties.
Trump’s straight-forward linkage of trade and security may help reorder a perennially fraught, opaque, even duplicitous and dissembling world, causing people to think harder about solutions, and less about avoiding them. That just happened. Let’s see what comes next.