Jobs-jobs above all will lose U.S. leadership

November 16, 1995|By William Pfaff

SEVILLE, Spain -- It is a season of alliance discord. The American-sponsored proposal for a trans- Atlantic trade agreement was buried here last weekend as neither realistic nor desirable.

The idea's supporters, mainly American but including Sir Leon Brittan of the European Commission, undoubtedly would hope that their proposal has merely been placed in cryogenic suspension, like frozen Californians, awaiting reanimation. But events are likely to prove, as usual, that death is permanent.

Most of Western Europe's governments are preoccupied with unemployment and social tension, and do not see in the North American Free Trade Agreement's ambiguous results in the United States, Mexico and Canada, evidence that they should plunge into a newer and bigger American-sponsored globalization scheme.

Follow the leader

This same weekend Mexico's central bank had again to counter speculative pressures against the peso. And the United States is engaged in yet another gratuitous government shutdown motivated by political advantage-seeking. Following the leader is not as appealing as it used to be.

The weekend coincided with Japan's unprecedented reaction to the revelation that the administration launched the CIA on the allied government there, to spy on Japanese officials and businessmen in connection with last year's trade talks. The Japanese government spoke Friday of its newfound ''distrust of the United States,'' but Winston Lord, Mr. Clinton's assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, offered only silence in reply.

Both affairs have fed resentment of what the French daily Le Monde characterizes as America's new and ''extraordinary pugnacity'' in trying to have its way in commercial as well as political matters. Of course, there is no reason why it should not pugnaciously pursue its interests. France, Germany, the Dutch -- and certainly Japan -- put forward their own interests with no great scruple about American commercial concerns.

Yet what does Washington want? Cooperation or domination? Clinton administration officials say they want cooperation, but driven by Mr. Clinton's politically motivated jobs and exports priorities, the administration is attempting to achieve trade and commercial domination by political and even espionage methods.

The effort is curiously irrelevant. American business can look after itself; it is extraordinarily dynamic in export markets. Trade in any case is much less important for the U.S. in the advanced industrial world than is investment. Production by American companies in Europe now is worth some $850 billion a year. Job-creating European production inside the U.S. is worth $650 billion, which means that Europe and the U.S. have a $1.5 trillion economic relationship even without trading any goods -- a figure which dwarfs the trans-Pacific trade total.

There is a long-term loss for the U.S. in what it is doing. The Seville meeting between American and Spanish businessmen was followed Sunday by a forum in which the political and social concerns and conditions of Americans and Europeans were considered with mutual sympathy. Frequent reference was made to the generous American policies of the past, which fundamentally contributed to Europe's unification and to Spain's own emergence into the European mainstream from the isolation and introversion of its years under Francisco Franco's dictatorship.

This fundamentally benevolent, if not disinterested, American support for what has been most constructive in the postwar development of Europe -- and of Japan as well, working to integrate Japan into the international alliance of the democracies -- is responsible for the international leadership the United States has enjoyed since the 1940s.

The Clinton jobs-jobs emphasis reverses priorities. Narrow American commercial interests now outrank political considerations. This is most dramatically demonstrated in the assignment of the CIA, an agency of cold war, to commercial spying on the allies. Washington cannot simultaneously claim the benefits of political alliance while treating its allies as commercial enemies.

The policy paradox

This is the paradox. America's embassies abroad now make economic war, but in doing so they are spending the political credits earned during four decades of international political leadership in the Cold War.

Those political credits will sooner or later be gone. There will have been no economic gains commensurate with what is lost. That is why the commercialization of American foreign policy is a fundamental mistake.

8, William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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