Monday, March 03, 2008

There's Got to Be a Mornin' NAFTA

I'm glad Fareed Zakaria pulled together some anecdotal evidence for something I'd suspected: That the Democrats' protectionist and anti-NAFTA rhetoric, no doubt meant to pull in primary votes from the union workers, is a serious threat to their simultaneous promise to make America popular again.

For the rest of the world—particularly poorer countries—nice speeches about multilateralism are well and good. But what they really want is for the United States to continue its historic role in opening up the world economy. For a struggling farmer in Kenya, access to world markets is far more important than foreign aid or U.N. programs. If the candidates think they will charm the world while adopting protectionist policies, they are in for a surprise.

Already the mood is shifting abroad. Listening to the Democrats on trade "is enough to send jitters down the spine of most in India," says the Times Now TV channel in New Delhi. The Canadian press has shared in the global swoon for Obama, but is now beginning to ask questions. "What he is actually saying—and how it might affect Canada—may come as a surprise to otherwise devout Barack boosters," writes Greg Weston in the Edmonton Sun. The African press has been reporting on George W. Bush's visit there with affection and, in some cases, by contrasting his views on trade with the Democratic candidates'. The Bangkok Post has compared the Democrats unfavorably with John McCain and his vision of an East Asia bound together, and to the United States, by expanding trade ties.

Which is why I'd think more, not less, of Obama if his people really did tell the Canadians to not take all that talk too seriously:

Barack Obama's senior economic policy adviser privately told Canadian officials to view the debate in Ohio over trade as "political positioning," according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press that was rejected by the adviser and held up Monday as evidence of doublespeak by rival Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama is right to get grief for this, if it is true, however. Not for saying it, but for communicating it so amateurishly and having the cat get out of the bag in 10 seconds or less. Not a good sign for a wanna-be swimmer in the global diplomatic shark tank.

Meanwhile, Daniel W. Drezner has the three things Americans need know about Canadians to understand all this.