"America First" as an Economic Policy (w/ Alan Tonelson)
ED HARRISON: I'm Ed Harrison here for Real Vision. I'm talking to Alan Tonelson, who is the founder of the blog, Realitycheck, and he's also a frequent guest on CNBC. Alan, great to have you here. ALAN TONELSON: Well, thank you so much for inviting me. ED HARRISON: Now, we're going to be talking actually about the idea of America First as an economic policy position. You're a public policy analyst, and you've been involved in trade policy for well on 20 years, more than 20 years. The whole concept of looking at America's interest first in terms of public policy before we think of America as a global champion, that's been around for some time, that predates Trump. ALAN TONELSON: Oh, sure. In fact, as those viewers who know their American history recognize the term America First actually predates World War II and was a big part of the great national debate as to whether to get involved in that great, great global conflict. It really didn't reemerge as such until Trump revived it, until President Trump revived it, but before that, you're absolutely right. For about 20 years starting in the early 1980s, I would say a small admittedly group of economic analysts began to question the trade policy orthodoxy that had prevailed really since the Franklin Roosevelt years when the United States embarked on what became the multidecade pre-Trump trade path. The term most commonly attached to their little school of thought was economic nationalism. The big difference between the positions that they were pushing and the status quo was their opposition to the idea that America's fate was so closely tied in and dependent on the fate of the broader global economy as such, that the United States needed to regularly subordinate its own short term interest for the sake of keeping the global economy in a sense of and running and, more specifically, even for the sake of maintaining the set of global institutions and rules that developed largely at America's behest, we should note, after the end of World War II to bring some order to that global economy and in particular, to make sure that the tragic mistakes of the Great Depression were not repeated. ED HARRISON: Then when you think about America First, we've talked about this before, you're not necessarily looking at Trump as the obviously not as the progenitor or the emblem of how it should necessarily be enacted, so for you, when you think America First, what are you thinking about? What's the purpose? ALAN TONELSON: The purpose of America First, and I think it's important to note that it's got both a foreign policy slash national security and an economic dimension. In fact, they're closely intertwined, but the whole idea is to figure out a way that the United States can achieve its essential International goals, which I think we would all agree would amount to adequate levels of national security, to adequate levels of prosperity, to adequate levels of political freedom, of national independence as we preserve the social and cultural institutions that we we've chosen. What the economic nationalists who are now called America Firsters have tried to accomplish is to figure out a way to achieve those goals in ways that are much less risky militarily, that are much cheaper militarily, and that we believe any way or much likelier to create the broad based and sustainable national prosperity that is frankly alluded the United States certainly since the late 1990s. ED HARRISON: Let's break this down first in terms that you talked about, because you're a trade policy expert and I want to go there first. Mentally, when I'm thinking about it, I'm thinking about it in three different spheres. I'm thinking about trade policy. I'm thinking about foreign affairs, and I'm thinking about domestic policy. We'll probably end up talking about the first two since that's your wheelhouse. To the degree, we'll talk about domestic policy at the end. On trade policy, what is it specifically that was happening before that America Firsters were against and what is it that you and people like you want to happen going forward? ALAN TONELSON: Well, once again, we saw a regular practice of subordinating US interests and actually sacrificing some very significant parts of the American economy for two goals that we consider to be pretty dubious. One was the goal of keeping the world economy running in a satisfactory way, by keeping the United States wide open to the rest of the world's exports. Second, was making sure that we could win and keep friends, largely against the Soviet Union during those cold war days, by granting economic favors. What the economic nationalists come America Firsters would argue is that that was an arguably acceptable and sensible strategy during the early post-World War II decades when the United States was so economically predominant, when it really didn't have to think actively about preserving its role and its status in the world economy, and when it could look at its economy as almost a medium of exchange that it could sacrifice in order to achieve these larger institutional goals and these larger foreign policy goals. We would argue that at some point in the 1970s, 1980s, that period came to an end. The sacrifices that were made, really began to cut very deeply into the country's wealth, into the country's strength. Among the arguments we made was that even advocates of the status quo should be worried about this because after all, even they would surely agree that an approach of regularly extending these favors and concessions couldn't last, could not outlive the country's actual capacity to extend them. You couldn't grant favors past the point where you had favors to grant in the first place. ED HARRISON: Let me ask you because as you were saying that, the first thing that popped into my mind was the Soviet Union, how much of that was driven not just by the fact that America was preeminent in the post-World War II era, but also that the Soviet Union existed as a so-called menace to American interests abroad? ALAN TONELSON: There's no question that geopolitics and national security drove a great deal of US trade strategy, and actually, strikingly enough, this was a point that was made early in the Clinton administration by President Clinton himself, by his trade representatives, Mickey Kantor, as they as they tried to step up pressure on Japan, in particular, to accept a more equitable trade relationship and they explicitly said the days when the United States would sacrifice portions of its economy to keep friends like Japan in the anti-Soviet camp. Those days are over, the Japanese have to realize that and we, the Clinton administration, even though the phrase wasn't used, are going to go for a more America First focus strategy where we're going to concentrate on capturing more of those short term gains of expanded trade. ED HARRISON: Okay, so now, let's move forward to the present day. If you look at what you're saying in a present day context, obviously we're talking first and foremost about China. The general view of America Firsters is that of all the countries that are profiting from the existing status quo, China's the one that we have the most fraught relationship with regard to America First. What's your strategy on how to deal with China and to a degree, how has Trump done in terms of managing that specific relationship? ALAN TONELSON: Well first, if you don't mind, I think one fundamental assumption behind this America First economic nationalist approach to trade has to be laid out. That is that the United States has completely unique and matchless leverage when it deals with its various trade competitors, trade partners, whatever you would like to call them, by dint of its equally matchless capacity for economic self-sufficiency in virtually any sector of the economy you can think of, manufacturing technology, agriculture, energy, and-- ED HARRISON: Recently energy. ALAN TONELSON: Recently energy, and as a result of some pretty focused federal policies that of by the way brought us the tremendous advantage of being able to look at the frightfully chaotic Middle East with a much more relaxed attitude, which is a major gain for us. ED HARRISON: We'll get to that. ALAN TONELSON: Exactly. The feeling is that, in fact, continuing to expand trade and investment flows with the rest of the world is really not so terribly important to the United States as it is to most other countries who lack its advantages and that therefore, when we do engage in trade diplomacy, we have this enormous edge that we should capitalize on. We should recognize, and this actually gets us toward thinking about a domestic policy, we should focus more on building up the strengths we already have and possibly adding new ones, then increasing our exposure to the rest of the world and possibly vulnerabilities to the rest of that world. We have that capability. Can we go 100% self-sufficient? No, but certainly, that should be we, America Firster economic nationalists, would argue a much more important goal of US foreign economic policy than it had been pre-Trump. ED HARRISON: Okay. China? ALAN TONELSON: Okay, China poses, we think, a major threat to the American economy in particular to what we would consider to be its productive heart, the manufacturing base. We would insist that without a world class manufacturing sector, whose excellence is broad based, not only 5G and telecommunications equipment, steel and machine tools and chemicals and pharmaceuticals and aerospace and ball bearings and all sorts of high value industries need to be a prominent part of the American economy, need to be highly competitive, and as we-- ED HARRISON: Let me just interrupt you there. Why is that? Why is it not-- the existing status quo is basically that we live in a global world and according to economic doctrine, if these guys can do it better and cheaper then we're going to trade to get what they can do better and cheaper, and we're going to do what we do better and cheaper. If the Chinese can do that, let them do that. That's the theory. ALAN TONELSON: The first objection that we would argue as is that much and possibly most of China's progress, especially in these high value manufacturing industries, we're not-- most of us, I should say, are not terribly concerned that we've lost clothing and shoes and baseball bats because those are labor intensive industries that these days, things might change, but these days certainly don't make the contribution to broader prosperity than manufacturing does and when we say this, we're keeping in mind some very distinctive strengths that manufacturing boasts. First of all, it has long been-- although it's lost its lead lately, a major, a leader in US productivity growth. I think most mainstream economists would agree that robust productivity growth is a key to long term sustainable national prosperity. It also has a very impressive jobs multiplier. When you're talking about the employment effects of manufacturing's rising or falling fortunes, you're talking about effects that break into lots of other sectors of the economy, transportation, logistics, and also technology development because manufacturing today still generates nearly 70% of all of the funds that the American private sector spends on research and development. For those who would like the United States to become a high tech economy, that's going to be really difficult to do without a world class manufacturing sector. That's why we would argue that the importance of maintaining manufacturing has been grossly underestimated to the country's detriment. That's again, one- - that's one grievance. We would articulate against US-China policy. By the way, as President Trump has frequently stated, we would blame the American political system as least as much as we would blame China for this present situation. There's also a big national security problem here because China has emerged as a major challenger to the US role, which presidents from both parties for decades have insisted must entail a dominance of East Asian security. We need to be the national security kingpin of the East Asia Pacific region. China is clearly very dissatisfied with that. China is now steadily gaining the capability to mount very effective challenges and what's especially frustrating, I know to Trump administration officials and to a growing number of so-called policy experts who maybe were not so terribly aware of this beforehand, some very careless US policies toward technology transfer have been major contributors to China's growing military strength. There is now, in fact, a very impressive and growing consensus in Washington that the flow of US technology to China needs to be much more closely watched. In particular, because so much defense technology is so closely related to technologies that are widely used in the civilian sectors, the so-called the dual use phenomenon. It presents major challenges. It's hard to do in large part because there has emerged this web of mutual technology dependence between the two countries, but we would argue that a high degree of technology dependence on China, major strategic challenger, it's not such a great idea and that if those dependencies can be reduced, that's good. We should try to do this, even if some short term costs are involved. ED HARRISON: Well, we're going to get to that because that is very interesting, my next question to you was about how Trump was going about this. Let's just say that Trump is trying to enact that mentality in terms of our relationship with China, and so doing, he's engaged in tariffs, some people would call that protectionism. There are short term losses as a result of that, almost to the point actually where many economists are very concerned that the United States is tipping into a recessionary like malaise going into the 2020 election, something that could potentially make Trump a one-term president. ALAN TONELSON: If that happens, certainly, that would put a real damper on his political future. Although I have to tell you, I'm not really impressed with the country's growth performance pre-Trump either. I think the nature of the slowdown, whatever slowdown we have experienced, I think it's been really greatly exaggerated. ED HARRISON: Even to the degree that it has been exaggerated, he's going to get the blame, especially because he's out front with these policies. My question to you is, then how do you implement what these short term losses that you're talking about in a democracy in which you have votes every two to four years, two for the Congress and four for the president? That's a liability for thinking from a strategic long term perspective, if you believe what you're saying. ALAN TONELSON: Well, let me tell you, I always hesitate at offering political advice to someone who has won a US presidential election, where I haven't. I advanced these ideas with the greatest humility. I do think there's been something of a failure of presidential leadership here in the sense that not only has there not been anything like a consistent call for some degree of national sacrifice. He and his top lieutenants have started to mention, "Well, yes. We're going to have some short term pain, but it'll be worth it for the long term," but you're hearing that more from Larry Kudlow, from Peter Navarro. You're not hearing it so much from the President himself. Of course, he famously boasted early on, trade wars are good and easy to win. I would argue that they certainly can achieve vital goods, but easy to win was a big mistake. I'm struck by the fact that someone with his evident communication skills, even at the rallies that he staged, which I think have been extremely effective in mobilizing and maintaining support, this notion of all for one and one for all and there's this greater common good out there that we need to achieve and that if we have to endure a little bit of pain, it's well worth it because we're all patriotic Americans. This has not been a theme that's appeared in these rallies at all, at least as far as I can tell. Again, so I think that is a failure of presidential leadership. Because anytime you are trying to execute a major course change in policy, you're obviously going to generate some disruptions, some inefficiencies and some costs. It's inevitable. In fact, he is widely described as a disrupter. I'm not sure he's actually embraced that title, but he doesn't shy away from it. You have to accept that fact, you have to accept all of those consequences. A good politician tries to turn that sow's ear into a silk purse, and I haven't seen that. I would absolutely say there's been a very important failure of presidential leadership here. There is a distinct possibility that it will cost him a second term. ED HARRISON: Well, how about this? The concept, maybe he's not even someone who is a true America Firster, meaning that President Trump is much more concerned about the short term than he is about the long term. That is, is that the reason that he's talking about both sides in his mouth, and the fact that he actually hasn't engaged in affordable policy? You and I were talking about this before that he did it with regard as far as I could see, in terms of trade policy, until basically a year and a half into his administration. Maybe he doesn't believe in these policies over the long term, because he doesn't have a strategic vision of that nature. ALAN TONELSON: I'm not a mind reader. I think we will all agree that his mind might be especially difficult to read, but I would agree that the execution of this policy has been very ragged. It's been apparently inconsistent. There have been numerous stops and starts. There have been threats made, threats lifted. There have been tariffs imposed. There have been tariffs threatened. There haven't been tariffs actually rolled back, but there have been tariffs whose imposition has been suspended. I would absolutely agree with critics who say this is really darn confusing and possibly inconsistent to the point of incoherence. I would make two responses, though, in the President's defense. The first one is that even with all of the stops and starts and all the inconsistency, there are now significant US tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of Chinese products that each year, head to the United States. Most of those tariffs so far have been on the high value products that are not found on Walmart shelves offered for American consumers to buy, but they are various inputs to manufacturing and to technology industries, they're parts and components of things. They are sectors of the economy that the Chinese are working very hard to develop, they are key parts of the so-called Made in China 2025 program. Those goods, most of them are quite heavily tariffed. Second point that I would make is that, even though the course of Trump trade diplomacy has been very uneven and very difficult to understand, lying underneath the headlines generated by the trade talks has been a very market trend toward decoupling the two economies. That's a phrase that's become quite current among people who think a lot about China and US-China relations. I think that that decoupling is a central piece of an America First trade strategy. I think that even if a president who're not thinking along those broader lines, I think there's a strong case that he or she would want to see more decoupling rather than less. It's clear to me looking at the actual numbers on trade flows, investment flows, flows of human beings back and forth, scientific exchange programs, students, etc., that the two economies are disengaging, and I fully expect that this engagement to continue at its current pace and possibly at a faster pace, no matter what happens in the trade talks over any length of time, whether a trade deal is concluded or not. ED HARRISON: Two thoughts on that in terms of pushback. One is, is that positive? For instance, if you think about PhDs from China come United States, staying in the United States, not going back to China, they are a positive addition to our knowledge base and also, other foreigners who might come here and add to the knowledge base. Then the second thing is are tariffs even good over the long term? What are they going to achieve in terms of outcomes that are favorable to the United States over the longer term? ALAN TONELSON: Well, first regarding that issue of intellectual capital, which is obviously very important, and it's been a long standing US policy goal to attract the world's best brains, and no thinking person could possibly object to that in principle. I think when we come to China-- and I don't feel comfortable at this point getting into the broader immigration policy questions regarding H-1B visas, etc., but I think that when we're talking about China, some real problems have emerged with these exchange programs with the use of Chinese nationals providing access to America's cutting edge research and development facilities, both in the public and private sectors alike. There were Chinese scientists working at NASA for a while. Of course, NASA specializes in designing and building things that look a lot like ICBMs. Maybe that wasn't such a hot idea, because there is a lot of evidence, unfortunately, showing that many of these Chinese nationals were engaged in the actual espionage or that they're not so interested in staying so much anymore. Not because the US environment has become less hospitable so much, but because it's now Chinese policy that they come back. In fact, China has actually implemented a so-called thousand talents program. It is actively seeking to send people overseas, very much like Japan did back at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries to learn from abroad to bring back the knowledge to strengthen China. Now, that's a perfectly understandable goal from China's standpoint, but given the current Chinese regime and given its current policies, I think the United States needs to take a very serious look at how much of that student exchange, scholarly exchange we really want to engage in. ED HARRISON: Then the second point about tariffs, whether or not they achieve long term goals? ALAN TONELSON: The tariffs have really done a very impressive job so far of A, causing companies around the world to rethink their China sourcing strategies. We've had any number of surveys of business groups that say and that report very high percentages of member companies saying either we're planning to leave China, or we're thinking seriously about it and by the way, we're not so keen on putting a lot more investment advancement into China these days. Although much of that diverted investment isn't likely to come to the United States, I would argue that it still benefits the US in two very important ways. One, anything that weakens China's economy, or that prevents it from growing stronger, I think is ipso facto good for United States. Second, to the extent that the investment can be diverted to low cost countries in the Western Hemisphere. That is, to me, a clear benefit to the United States, because we obviously have such a strong stake in making our hemispheric neighbors more successful so that the Trumpian goal of reducing immigration flows might actually be achieved, might actually be achieved. In fact-- ED HARRISON: You're thinking like Central America is an example. ALAN TONELSON: Also Mexico, quite frankly. In that vein, I would criticize USMCA. The NAFTA follow on the green for not creating enough incentives for companies to relocate production from East Asia, particularly to Mexico, Central America. I think that the so-called local content standards could be much higher and should be made much higher with the explicit aim of creating more of a Western Hemisphere trade block because that's where our vital interests, our most important interests in third world economic development really lie. ED HARRISON: We're talking a lot about China and we're talking about China in the context of trade policy, I actually want to make a transition over to foreign policy because I think there are linkages between trade and foreign policy that we can make explicit when we think about China and South Korea. For instance, South Korea recently made some foreign policy pact with China, who you were telling us is, in East Asia in particular, potentially a rival of the United States. How is it if we're going to go America First in our best interest to allow things like that to happen? Isn't it true that the fact that we are engaged in a general now-we're-doing-the-things-for-ourselves policy, both on the trade front but also in the foreign policy front? Isn't it true that that is leading to these link ups? ALAN TONELSON: Well, here is certainly where the raggedness of the Trump presidency has extended into the foreign policy field because the pursuit of an America First foreign policy, which is talked about explicitly, has been just as inconsistent, I would even argue more so than the pursuit of his America First trade policies. To understand that, it's important to become acquainted with the fundamental assumption of an America First foreign policy posture. The fundamental assumption is that acceptable levels of US national security and sovereignty, and all the other foreign policy goals that are traditionally pursued are pursued much more safely and much more cheaply by capitalizing on America's on the intrinsic built-in advantages that the United States approaches international affairs with. Advantage number one, geography. We're located very far away from any potential adversary. Advantage number two, we have a very highly developed economy that is capable, as we've seen, of fielding a world class military that is in turn, fully capable of repelling, at acceptable cost, any conceivable risk to the American homeland. That as a result, the best US approach is capitalizing on the strengths, building them up as opposed to the pre-Trump so-called globalist attempt to secure American prosperity and security and sovereignty. By doing nothing less than creating a much more congenial world environment, the idea being that if the world wasn't so threatening, that would be a big net plus for American national security. Now, there's a certain logic to this, let's not deny that, but when you think about it, practically speaking, it's been an extremely difficult objective to achieve. It's been very difficult to achieve ever since it was articulated by President Woodrow Wilson back in 1919. ED HARRISON: Well, let me stop you there for a second, because there are a lot of different threads on that. The first thread is that, as you were saying that, I was thinking again, just like when we were talking a few minutes ago about the Soviet Union. The reality is, is that that strategy was built because our allies, people like South Korea, places like Germany, they were a bulwark against the Soviet Union, a country that doesn't exist anymore. To the degree that-- we know what the reason is for that. That's number one. Number two is that there's a term isolationism that people throw around. What's different about an America First policy to the pejorative isolationism? ALAN TONELSON: Well, if you take isolationism seriously, that term suggests that the United States has nothing to do with the rest of the world whatever. We don't deal with the rest of the world, not only militarily, we don't deal with them economically, we don't travel over there, we don't read about them, we just hermetically seal ourselves in this hemisphere and go about our national business. That's obviously ridiculous. In fact, this label isolationism, it's I think used as a pejorative, as a way of shutting down debate, precisely because it's so absurd, but it's certainly become popular. I would argue that the goal should be a country that is capable of whatever engagement with the world is needed on terms that are favorable to the United States. Now, that doesn't mean ipso facto, they're unfavorable to anybody else, but the highest priority has to be that the net benefits to the United States flow to the United States in some finite time period and are not indefinitely postponed with promises of well, eventually things will turn out for the best. ED HARRISON: Well, look at the Middle East as an example. Let's use Israel and Syria as two examples there. Is it in America's national security interests to be an ardent defender of Israel left, right and center or under an America First platform economic nationalism, would we reconsider how we defend Israel? ALAN TONELSON: We absolutely would. I'll preface this by saying, I'm a strong Zionist. I admire Israel tremendously. I wish for it the very, very best. I'm quite aware of the threats it's faced to its security throughout its history. From a purely selfish American standpoint, I cannot buy the argument that Israel these days is a major strategic asset to the United States. There was a time when you could make that argument very compellingly when the United States was highly dependent on Middle East oil. Even though clearly Israel's existence complicated the US' relationships with the major Persian Gulf and the Muslim, whether they were Sunni or Shia oil producers, the fact was that it was good to have a democratic, stable, pro-western country that, by the way, generates a lot of really impressive military technology that we use. Again, I think there was definitely an argument to be made for supporting Israel strategically. Now that the importance of the Middle East itself has receded so dramatically, in large part because the United States has made such amazing progress toward fossil fuel independence and overall, energy independence, I don't think that argument is really so compelling anymore. To me, the intellectually honest approach that advocates of Israel should take is that Americans should support Israel's existence pretty much as is and Israel's security, because we admire it and we choose as a society, as a political system to support something that we admire, because we want to do it. I think that's an entirely legitimate way to conduct foreign policy, provided it's financed in a responsible way. I certainly would not advocate spending the entire National Treasury to support Israel's existence but certainly, if the American people want it, they are sovereign. It is their right. It's completely legitimate. I do think the foreign policy argument has become a lot weaker. ED HARRISON: Interesting that we were talking about oil. That's why I went to Israel and Syria in particular. The reason I-- because Donald Trump, when he talked about pulling out of Syria, he was talking about we're only there for the oil after all, irrespective of whether or not that itself was a problem the way that he said that. The thing that I find interesting is the, what I would call incoherence of the post-pullout situation that is, is that once we as a country, the United States, have committed to a specific policy, let's support South Korea, let's support what's happening in Syria to contain ISIS. When you unilaterally just move out like that, suddenly, there's a vacuum. How do you deal with that? ALAN TONELSON: You're being too polite. You use the word incoherence, I would say idiotic, and it was idiotic from an America First perspective, because when we're talking about ISIS, obviously we're talking about the clearly important objective. I would even argue vital objective of preventing jihadist violence from attacking the US homeland or even US assets overseas. Because we have seen that and we should take every step that we could take to prevent that. When you think about what's the best way to keep the US homeland, the US assets safe and especially, the homeland, safe from jihadists? Is it to continue to maintain sizable American military forces running around the Middle East, trying to stamp out movements that keep reviving under different names-- al Qaeda, then it's ISIS, then it's God knows what will come after this. Because after all, these movements are rooted in the region's dysfunction, which is not going to end anytime soon, and doesn't make a lot of sense to try to create serious alliances with local countries that are manifestly unable to function as reliable allies because they are so unstable themselves. They face such profound internal divisions and weaknesses that they really can't act in the decisive ways that you need allies for because after all, the most important value of having allies is that if you're in a fight and push has come to shove, you can rely on them to help out and help out as much as you need them. That is not the case for any country that the United States is currently working with in the Middle East, even Saudi Arabia, terribly conflicted. Is the best way to keep jihadism away from New York and the World Trade Center and Washington, is it to keep running around this region trying to stamp out this movement, which is rooted in chronic dysfunction, and working with regimes that are always going to disappoint your expectations or is it to try to control something that you plausibly can control which is entry to your own country, i.e. your own borders? I would argue that it makes much more sense to choose the latter course to improve border security to the point where you're not letting people in with really checkered records from countries that can't vet or that don't want to vet and you institute a much more restrictive policy toward coming into the United States. Trump has certainly made moves toward that effect. I don't think they've gone far enough. I don't think they've been well thought out enough. I don't think they've been effectively sold enough-- ED HARRISON: Children in cages, you're saying that-- ALAN TONELSON: Children in cages? No, although it is striking that you're starting to see and have been seeing for several months now coming into northern Mexico, from Central America, not only Central Americans, but people from West Africa from North Africa. Again, I think this raises questions. You can no doubt criticize the actual implementation of these policies, you can criticize the allocation of priorities or I should say, the allocation of resources but you can't reasonably criticize the idea that if you're worried about jihadism, try to control what you plausibly can control, your own borders, rather than trying to control something that clearly cannot be controlled at any acceptable level of cost and risk. Now that policy, by the way, because it can't be put into effect overnight, because change can't be made like this. There is no doubt that as it's being phased in, as the transition is being made, it absolutely makes sense to have small teams of US Special Forces, whatever, chasing jihadists, keeping them off balance and preventing them from being able to create the quasi-terrorist state that could launch a 9/11 type attack. That makes sense. This is the maddening irony of the recent Trump moves, and that is that the pre-Trump Syria withdraw US military posture in the Middle East was that. It was very small scale. We were keeping ISIS off balance. Why on earth the remaining units had to be removed is frankly, beyond me. ED HARRISON: When we got into the immigration thing, we were starting to get into domestic policy, and we're not really going to talk about that because that's going to be very much a political issue. That's not in your wheelhouse, anyway. ALAN TONELSON: Not that I don't have deep thoughts. ED HARRISON: Right. What we've talked about so far, is basically the tie between trade and foreign policy. One thing that came to mind though when you moved into the domestic front and when you were saying that foreign policy make a strong domestic policy with regard to immigration has to do with the who's going to implement this? Immediately my thought was that we were already just talking about a oneterm presidency for Trump. Maybe two, but that's eight years. Now, what Trump is-- what I saw with regard to the impeachment hearings, as an example, was a collective, what I would call consensus that, for instance, supporting Ukraine was in America's foreign policy interest, that is, to a certain degree, not in alignment with where you're going. ALAN TONELSON: Not in the slightest. ED HARRISON: What I'm thinking is when you have a whole cadre of people who basically are saying, that's not where we want to head or that's not the policy that we're looking for once someone like Trump is gone, how does that even get implemented? ALAN TONELSON: The American political system faces a real challenge here because there are signs and the polling on this is really, it's all over the place. It's really difficult to draw conclusions from it. There are signs that there are big differences between the foreign policy priorities of foreign policy professionals and US politicians in both parties, as you just suggested on the one hand, and the foreign policy priorities of the American people. ED HARRISON: What are those differences? ALAN TONELSON: I cannot imagine that public opinion would support a US policy of defending Ukraine from Russian designs at all costs. Most immediately, because that involves a commitment to defend Ukraine against a powerful nuclear arm neighbor that can do tremendous damage to the American homeland if still these actually break out. I'm also struck by the fact that I can't think of too many of the Trump critics on the Democratic side who have so recently emerged as strong champions of Ukraine sovereignty. I don't remember too many of them being especially strong supporters of the much higher levels of US military spending that you will need to actually carry out that policy, not to mention stationing substantial numbers of US troops on the ground, boots on the ground in Ukraine. Because if anything is likely to give the Russians pause, it's going to be the possibility that when their forces cross that border, they're going to bloody American lives. That's been actually an approach that we've used that we used during the Cold War in Germany, the heart of Europe. We're using it today in South Korea, it's what the Eastern European, new members of NATO, want very much and that Trump is actually moving toward gradually but definitely moving toward. It's a policy however, that increases the risk of nuclear attack on the United States. ED HARRISON: You think that most Americans are not behind that, if they think about it to its logical conclusion? ALAN TONELSON: I would have a very difficult time accepting that proposition. The reason is really very simple. It was one thing to promise to defend, at nuclear risk during the Cold War, countries like Germany and Japan and going back to Europe, France, Britain, because as George Kennan, the so-called Dean of American post-World War II diplomacy, famously put it, these words major centers of global military, industrial and technological potential, and it was vital that they be kept out of the Soviet camp. It was arguably strongly in the US interest to run the risk of nuclear war to maintain an acceptable global parlance of not only military but economic power, etc. Not only is the Soviet Union gone, but when you look at Europe, there are two European countries that have pretty impressive nuclear forces of their own, Britain and France. The European Union is the largest economic actor in the world when you add up all the economies. Why on earth can't Europe "defend itself"? It's got the means to field conventional forces adequate to the task. It's got the means-- it has a very satisfactory nuclear deterrent right now. I'm wondering, why on earth are US troops in harm's way? Secondly, to bring it back to Ukraine, why would the United States run these risks for a country that has never been treated as a vital American security interest? Precisely because its military situation was so hopeless, because it was located so far toward the centers of Russian military strength, so far away from the centers of US military strength, which is why former President Obama said to the Atlantic magazines Jeffrey Goldberg back in 2016, there's really no way that the United States can prevent Russia's military domination of Ukraine. He was right. ED HARRISON: Well, let me ask you, what about the analogy that you made between Israel and supporting Israel because of their being wanting to be democratic and the United States supporting Ukraine's purely for a democratic purpose. Meaning that if we think about Maidan and EU accession, that was all about the fact that, yes, we want this country to be in the same mindset that these other countries within the EU are. We as the United States, we support that. ALAN TONELSON: That's an entirely fair question. If the American people had enough experience, reading about Ukraine, learning about it, as they have to, I think, at pretty large degree concerning Israel, and had a chance to make up their minds over a respectable time period that this is a choice they wanted to make and they were willing to run those risks. Again, a totally legitimate choice for the American people to make. I see no signs that that choice has been made or that it's even been presented to them in any explicit systematic way because Ukraine's alleged vitality has only surfaced very recently. It's only been headline news for about a month or so. I think we're a long way away from making a genuinely legitimate political decision, but intrinsically speaking, it would be totally acceptable. Totally acceptable. Let's also keep in mind one very important factor in terms of both of these countries so far, neither one has yet asked, explicitly, to my knowledge anyway, for a US troop presence. Now, various other former Soviet Bloc countries currently NATO members have, they asked for it every day. American policy, like I said, in total contradiction to America First principles has been moving steadily toward that, we've been keeping more troops there. Under Trump. We've been keeping them for greater lengths of time so the troop presence is getting less rotational and less temporary and more permanent and turning into the trip wire that could trigger a nuclear attack on the United States. That's the last thing we should want to see. ED HARRISON: Let me wrap this up by going back to the first thing that we talked about, which is the purpose of America First slash economic nationalist policy. We've talked about, to a certain degree, domestic but not that much, foreign policy and trade policy. In particular, we're talking about Ukraine at the end. How would you describe it now that we've talked about it in terms of why, is this the way forward for the United States at this particular juncture? ALAN TONELSON: It's the way forward, and of course, it's got to, although it can't be put into effect overnight, it's got to be put into effect in a coherent way, which is not the case presently. We certainly have a president with some pretty pronounced America First instincts, but not a lot else. You need a steady transition and that's very difficult for any democracy to put into effect, absent crisis. Very difficult to do, but I would argue has to be done because the current US national security policy is exposing this country to the risks of nuclear attack on behalf of foreign allies, as strategists would say, foreign assets, whose faith is simply not as important as preventing the nuclear destruction of Los Angeles, i.e. South Korea and in theory, Poland, Ukraine. Secondly, because the pre-Trump trade policies of viewing vast chunks of America's wealth creating productive economic sectors as prizes that could be awarded to prospective friends and current friends for staying loyal to us geopolitically or as sacrifices we had to make for the sake of some larger global trade system and system of global commercial rules replacing the so-called law of the jungle with a genuinely rule of law system. Those policies were in great danger of sapping the strength that even they needed to succeed over any length of time. Again, you need assets to give away in the first place if you're going to have a policy of giving away assets. I viewed the foreign policies, the so-called globalist foreign policies as being recklessly dangerous. I viewed the globalist trade policies as being completely unsustainable economically. I'm glad that we have in place an administration that recognizes these imperatives to some extent but I worry, again, that the implementation has been so inconsistent and so subject to legitimate criticism that it won't be able to stay in office long enough to make the progress we need toward a prudent and responsible America First posture in world affairs today. ED HARRISON: Alan Tonelson, it has been a pleasure. Thank you for explaining. ALAN TONELSON: It's been a pleasure for me, too. Thank you so much, Ed.