Friday, October 9, 2009

Our President, The Laureate (or "How Obama Could Learn A Lesson Or Two From Fellow Winner Cordell Hull")

The blogosphere is alive(!) with some funny and unfunny things to say about President Obama's rather, ahem, unexpected Nobel Peace Prize.  First, the funny, from the good people at ReasonTV:

Now the unfunnny, first from Reuters James Pethokoukis:

The complete abdication by the Obama administration on trade should disqualify him from the Nobel Peace Prize. Free trade has lifted hundred of millions out of poverty worldwide and promoted a closer global society. But the Obama White House has been as protectionist as any in memory. Free trade is that the core of foundation of the post-World War II economic order.
Then from Club for Growth's Andy Roth (via Twitter):

How is Obama creating a "new climate in int'l politics" by practicing protectionism with China, Korea, Colombia, Panama, & other countries?
And finally, from me (several months ago, actually):
The president speaks of a renewed internationalism and multilateralism in foreign policy, yet his trade policy whiffs of nationalism and unilateralism. That won't help restore America's image abroad, where most countries regard U.S. trade policy as the face of U.S. foreign policy....

If he really wants to bring his party into the 21st century and is truly committed to economic recovery and diplomatic fence-mending, he must ditch the flaccid rhetoric and launch an unabashedly pro-trade agenda now.
Well, I guess I stand corrected.  In all seriousness, Pethokoukis hints at a really important point here: free trade has been absolutely critical to world peace for the last 70 years.  For a whole host of reasons (economic, cultural, etc.), nations that trade together generally do not attack each other, and nations that don't trade, well... not so much.  Indeed, global free trade policy has diplomatic, rather than economic, roots.  It was Secretary of State Cordell Hull (a Democrat, by the way) who, stung by the protectionism that he believed caused WWI, ushered in the modern American free trade movement (embodied in the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934).  Hull's reasons were basic and rooted in national security: "unhampered trade dovetail[s] with peace; high tariffs, trade barriers and unfair economic competition, with war."  And his ideas set off an avalanche of free trade policies around the world, leading to the establishment of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in the 1940s, the WTO in the 1990s, and decades of (mostly) uninterrupted peace and prosperity.

Cordell Hull received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945.  Barack Obama received it today.

I strongly hope that, starting tomorrow, the President will do a better job following in his fellow laureate's free trade footsteps.  Maybe then, he'll have earned the prize, and the praise, that the Nobel committee prematurely bestowed upon him.

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