It was a vivid demonstration of Obama’s take on a political conflict that spans both the US and Europe. The fight is between the globalizers, of which Obama has emerged as a key spokesman, and nationalists, represented by a host of right-wing parties and populist politicians with whom Obama has no truck.
Obama and the globalists believe in the primacy of multinational agreements refereed by international organizations and rules which, once in place, are beyond democratic review by national governments. On his two European stops, Obama went out of his way to campaign for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a mega cross-border deal he wants to work out with the European Union. Details of the negotiations are secret so to be kept out of the public eye–and debate.
Nationalists, on the other hand, long for a revival of state sovereignty and control they consider crushed by complex multinational agreements and liberalized world trade. For nationalist Europeans, the chief bogeyman is the European Union, whose opaque commissions and plush bureaucracy set the rules of the economic game for Europe, especially in the Euro currency zone. German domination of policy is a factor in fueling Euro-nationalist passions. It turns out EU rules pretty much match Germany’s policy preferences for stable currency and depressed wages to make economies more export-competitive.
And so the battle was on.
In London, Obama lectured Brits on their need to both stay in the EU and embrace the TTIP. Britain is voting on keeping EU membership or not in June. Obama went so far as to threaten Britain with second-class status in the eyes of future American policy-makers if they pull out.
He said the country, for a century America’s staunchest ally, would be put a the “end of the queue” (which translated into Chicago English means ‘end of the line’) of future trade deals. That’s because, you know, the State Department would be just too busy to write up a separate pact with the UK.
This was odd reasoning considering that the US has worked out piecemeal free trade treaties with 13 countries, none of whom have gross GDPs as large as Britain’s. Most in fact are dwarfed by comparison. Why is there enough time to work out free trade with Peru and Costa Rica, but not enough time for the UK?.
As might have been expected, British nationalists struck back. The anti-EU bloc, which includes prominent members of Cameron’s own party, told Obama to bug off. Boris Johnson, the Tory London mayor, said that Obama, as half-Kenyan, dislikes the Brits for their imperialist past.
Soon after in Hanover, Germany, Obama promoted both free trade and openness to immigration. The latter was because Obama considers German Chancellor Angela Merkel to be on the “right side of history” by welcoming massive numbers of Syrian and other refugees last year. (The-Right-Side-Of-History is the location for stuff Obama favors: for instance, his Middle East policies; health care reform; his battle against terrorism; promotion of gay rights; and also Harry Reid, the Nevada Senator, for some reason).
So if you’re European and uneasy about floundering EU economic policies and the arrival of more than a million migrants last year, unrestrained by either vetting or border controls, you’re a retrograde nativist and consigned to Obama’s equivalent of Dante’s sixth ring of hell. That’s the one for heretics.
Yet on the very day in Hanover that Obama told Europeans they needed to embrace the proposed TTIP, around 30,000 Germans protested against it. Several hundred miles south, Austria put a far-right, anti-immigration politician in line to be president, pending a run-off election in May. Germany is ringed by burgeoning nationalist movements. And of course, German citizens gave unusual support to a Donald Trump-like anti-immigration party in regional elections this year.
Given Obama’s tariff-free export of advice, you would think that, unlike in Europe, there’s a consensus on economic globalization and immigration policies in the US. Not so. His administration only agreed to admit 10,000 Syrians for the year that began last September. The American bureaucratic process is so laborious that, as of February, less than a thousand had been let in. Applicants for refugees status must navigate a process that stretches out for months and even years.
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee, is currently against the yet-unratified Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which is similar to the TTIP but for Asia. Although it should be noted that in the near future, Clinton might well be for it. When she was Secretary of State, she called the TPP the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Hillary is, however, all-in for more immigration.
Trump, the Republican frontrunner, calls global trade agreements “stupid” because he thinks they siphon good-paying jobs from the US. He wants to build a wall to keep migrants out, in case anyone was unclear about where he stands.
GOP dominated Congress opposes everything Obama wants.
It’s telling that Obama is not meeting face to face with any Eastern European leaders, many of whom are ardent nationalists who oppose both unbridled immigration and Germany’s economic tutelage. He is sticking to globalists Cameron, Merkel, France’s President Francois Hollande and Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. That’s because they agree with him and also want Obama to bolster their cases for skeptical home audiences.
Instead of badgering Europe, maybe the president ought to think of lecturing his own skeptical home front. He can start with himself on refugee policy, with Hillary Clinton on trade and especially with citizens who feel they have lost out on globalization and been shoved aside in the interests of liberalized immigration.