The Op-Ed History of America

The Op-Ed History of America

Mini Teaser: Many American policymakers and scholars believe they have learned the lessons of nineteenth and twentieth-century history for U.S. foreign policy. Three such "lessons" dominate discussion: the Lesson of American Development; the Lesson of the Pax

by Author(s): Michael Lind

If this sounds overdrawn, consider two recent examples of the polemical deployment of Smoot-Hawley. A pro-NAFTA editorial in The New Republic (November 29, 1993) confidently summed up the inter-war years thus:

There is an eerie familiarity about the forces arrayed against NAFTA: isolationism, protectionism, xenophobia. They prevailed after World War I. America turned inward, and the rest is history...How many in Congress knew in 1929 that passing the Smoot-Hawley tariff would help bring on the Great Depression? More to the point: How many knew in 1922 that passing the Fordney-McCumber tariff was the first step toward Smoot-Hawley?

Again, in the famous television debate between Vice President Gore and Ross Perot on NAFTA, the former gained a crucial advantage when he presented his opponent with a framed picture of Messrs. Smoot and Hawley. Perot completely lost his composure. The success of Gore's gambit depended entirely upon the assumption--shared by both participants and almost all the commentators on the debate--that the Smoot-Hawley tariff represented a disastrous deviation from American tradition. In fact, of course, it was entirely within that tradition.

The Lesson of Smoot-Hawley implies a Blame America First theory of twentieth-century history. We dare not retaliate against even the most egregious foreign mercantilism, for fear of crea

Essay Types: Essay