After nearly two decades of strategically aimless military action in the Middle East, the Trump administration has apparently decided upon a new and smarter way to fight: employing resurgent American economic power in the forms of tariffs, sanctions and trade deals.
Starting with the oil embargoes of the 1970s, foreign adversaries have routinely employed economic warfare against the US. The rampant inflation of the Nixon, Ford, and Carter years were exacerbated by soaring gasoline prices that threw a monkey wrench into the American economy. But instead of pushing back against the Gulf States, which soon grew obscenely wealthy on the backs of the American consumer, presidents from Reagan on did little or nothing except coddle them.
Glittering new cities arose across the Gulf and in China while American manufacturing and jobs went overseas. In March 2002, in the wake of widespread steel-company bankruptcies, George W. Bush slapped tariffs on imported steel, but by year’s end he had reversed course after European threats of a major trade war. Obama tried a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires from 2009-2012, which saved some 1,200 American jobs and resulted in a sharp increase in tire production — but economists complained that they raised prices for consumers and cost retail jobs in the long run.
With the most recent jobs reports to back him up — the president boasted Friday about 400,000 new manufacturing jobs since he took office — Trump has decided that the benefits outweigh the risks. He has history on his side. Tariffs were once a staple of our domestic and foreign policy, employed judicially by Washington, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. “The tariff makes manufactures profitable,” wrote TR in his 1902 State of the Union message.