The TransPacific Partnership as war by other means

Update, June 12, 2015: This post has been updated in line.

Robert Reich writes on Facebook,

I’ve heard from several members of the House that your phone calls against the Trans Pacific Partnership have had an effect. The awful deal’s supporters don’t yet have the votes to fast-track it. Only 17 House Democrats (out of 188) have come out in favor so far; 7 remain undecided. That means House Republicans will have to come up with 200 votes in order to get the authority they need to push the deal through the House without public deliberation or amendment. Republicans may still succeed — and the White House continues to work furiously to corral additional Democratic votes (why the President wants this terrible deal is frankly beyond me) – but as long as almost all Democrats hold the line, it’s a toss-up.

Anyone who still believes there’s no difference between the two parties hasn’t been paying attention.[1]

I don’t know about Reich’s sources, but what he says about the vote count matches up with a story in the New York Times yesterday (May 31). And Reich need only to have read that story to find out why Barack Obama wants the deal: “The White House says, moreover, that the deal is an essential element in America’s strategic posture in Asia vis-à-vis the rising power of China.”[2] (Update, June 12, 2015: For more on the geopolitical implications of the TransPacific Partnership, see John Hudson’s article in Foreign Policy.[3]) Simply put, none of Obama’s other claims about the deal withstand scrutiny, even to the limited degree the deal is available for scrutiny.[4] So this is really about geopolitical advantage.

As for the difference between the parties, Reich neglects that Obama is a Democrat following his Republican predecessor’s neoconservative course. If this Democrat-in-Chief gets his way, the Democrats who opposed the deal will have proved every bit as relevant as those on the right who refuse to trust Obama even to achieve the end they desire.[5]

As to geopolitical advantage, the U.S. is punching above its weight, and has been for quite a while. We could have seen it with the draw in Korea and the loss in Vietnam. We certainly should have seen it with the doubtful outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Obama’s commitment to U.S. exceptionalism has been questioned.[6] And like many Democrats he makes the mistake of, as Michael Lerner put it, “tr[ying] to measure up against the criteria set by the militarists.”[7] Lerner explains further,

It’s a useless strategy for Labor in Israel or for the right wing of the [U.S.] Democratic Party to present itself as the “better militarists,” because people who want that will end up voting for the Right anyway. Obama should have learned that when, instead of ending the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as he had led his followers to believe he would do, he instead escalated those wars with “surges,” the result was not a victory for the Dems in 2010 and ever since, but rather a growing militarism in the U.S. and a consequent capture of Congress by the Right.[8]

Obama is attempting to accomplish with the TransPacific Partnership what he can’t accomplish militarily. One way or another, he’ll surely fail, and the only question is how badly he manages to screw workers in the U.S. in the process.

  1. [1]Robert Reich, Facebook posting, June 1, 2014,
  2. [2]Jonathan Weisman, “Obama’s Trade Deal Faces Bipartisan Peril in the House,” New York Times, May 31, 2015,
  3. [3]John Hudson, “Obama’s Trade Defeat Imperils U.S. Credibility in Asia,” Foreign Policy, June 12, 2015,
  4. [4]Paul Krugman, “The Mis-selling of TPP,” New York Times, May 19, 2015,; Paul Krugman, “Trade and Trust,” New York Times, May 22, 2015,; Michael Wessel, “I’ve Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Elizabeth Warren Is Right to Be Concerned,” Politico, May 19, 2015,
  5. [5]Jonathan Weisman, “Obama’s Trade Deal Faces Bipartisan Peril in the House,” New York Times, May 31, 2015,
  6. [6]Karen Tumulty, “American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle,” Washington Post, November 29, 2010,
  7. [7]Michael Lerner, “The Fantasy World of Benjamin Netanyahu: Responses to His Talk to Congress,” Huffington Post, March 3, 2015,
  8. [8]Michael Lerner, “The Militarists and Haters Win in Israeli Elections,” Huffington Post, March 18, 2015,

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