We have, sadly, become inured to Trump’s erratic, dramatic, impulsive moves that his staff must then find ways to back away from. This week the example concerns Mexico and the border. It shows why we need to keep paying attention.
The first announcement about Mexico came in the context of his announcement that he was going to suspend aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala (see my recent piece). In the same rant he said he would close the border with Mexico this week if that country didn’t do more to stop Central American migrants. And that he would impose tariffs on Mexican goods.
So now, with his threat to close the border and impose new tariffs, Trump is putting himself on both sides of the issue, effectively allying with Democrats trying to sink the new agreement, even as he keeps trying to get it passed.
This was very odd. Just last year, after long and difficult negotiations occasioned by Trump’s threat to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a revised agreement was signed and submitted to Congress for ratification. Trump wants it ratified, which is no sure thing because of Democratic opposition. On another occasion this week, Trump promised that he would make it harder for Democrats to oppose the new agreement by officially withdrawing from the old NAFTA (he hasn’t actually done this).
So now, with his threat to close the border and impose new tariffs, Trump is putting himself on both sides of the issue, effectively allying with Democrats trying to sink the new agreement, even as he keeps trying to get it passed. And this was particularly strange because the transparent motive of Democrats opposed to the new agreement is to deny Trump a victory.
Follow along here. Trump favors the new agreement because it will allegedly promote more jobs in the United States and more trade with Canada as well as Mexico. But he doesn’t like the fact that people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America regularly come through Mexico to get to the US border. So he’s threatening to punish Mexico by closing the border and imposing tariffs, even though both moves would do major damage to the US economy, would certainly violate both the old NAFTA (still in effect) and the new agreement, and would put him on the side of Congressional Democrats who oppose the new agreement. So he both favors it and wants to scuttle it. Got that?
Now the latest (Ivanka must have spoken to him): rather than doing all this now, he’s magnanimously giving Mexico a year to get their act together by controlling the refugee flow. Only then will the punishment kick in. Of course he or his minders are counting on the short attention span of the media and the public: they hope that nobody will remember a year from now, in the middle of the presidential campaign, how Trump put himself on both sides of this issue.
We may be forgiven our nostalgia for a coherent foreign policy.