Clinton will regret withdrawing support for TPP

John O'Neill

A century ago, in 1916, Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president on the slogan “He kept us out of war.” Later, in 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected to an unprecedented third term on the promise that America’s sons would not be sent to a foreign war.

Alas, both Wilson and FDR would be war presidents. Yet both are praised by historians as near great (Wilson) and great (FDR) presidents.

Having reversed her support for free trade, so as to appease isolationist sentiment aroused by Republican nominee Donald Trump and former Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton is might be mindful of Wilson and FDR. As president, she could again reverse herself on free trade and reap the kind of respect historians afford Wilson and FDR.

Clinton is hard to embarrass. Blatant as such political acrobatics would be, she would be apt to cite Wilson and FDR for having reversed themselves on America’s role in the world. But contingencies changed the situations for Wilson and FDR.

Wilson did not promise that he would keep the United States out of Europe’s war. He boasted only that he was able to keep the United States out of the war by the time of the election in 1916. The following year, Germany reneged on its vow not to target civilian passenger liners at sea.

Also uncovered the following year was the infamous Zimmerman telegram from Germany urging Mexico to wage war against the United States. These circumstances left Wilson with no other option than to declare war on Germany. Even the isolationists conceded that war was unavoidable and sided with Wilson.

The situation was similar for FDR in 1941. He had not promised during the presidential campaign the previous year that he would keep America out of the war. He only promised that he would keep out of any foreign war. And when Japan attacked the United States and Germany declared war on the United States a few days later, it was no longer a foreign war.

When she withdrew her support earlier this year for the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, Clinton’s excuse was that TPP contains no remedy for currency manipulation. But any member nation is already able to bring a grievance to the World Trade Organization to protest another country’s currency manipulation.

Moreover, when Clinton supported TPP (calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements), there was not then any remedy in the agreement for currency manipulation. Why make lack of a remedy a reason now to withdraw support for TPP?

Clinton is not an isolationist. But she is very much a politician and her recent courtship with isolationism is for reasons purely political.

Should she be elected, Clinton will soon regret withdrawing her support for TPP. She may also soon regret her newfound opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement. And circumstances neither real nor manufactured will make it easy for Clinton to again reverse herself on TPP and NAFTA. Her opposition to both has been made in unambiguous terms and she has left herself no mechanism to reverse her opposition.

Hillary Clinton is no Wilson or FDR. And running from a position of leadership as a candidate will hinder an embrace of leadership as president.

John O’Neill is a writer based in Allen Park.