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Trump Rolls Out 'Madman Strategy' For Global Trade War

On a Mercedes assembly line at the Daimler AG factory in Rastatt, Germany
On a Mercedes assembly line at the Daimler AG factory in Rastatt, Germany
Dominique Seux


PARIS — With his new sweeping round of protectionist tariffs on steel and aluminum, it looks like Donald Trump has decided to extend to the economic field the "madman strategy" he had already applied to the Korean Peninsula. That was the take last week from former CIA Director David Petraeus. Developed by the Nixon-Kissinger tandem during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, this approach consists of leaving opponents in a state of uncertainty and making them believe that anything is possible, and that nothing is forbidden.

Applied to the trade war, this translates into a tweet from the current American president: "... trade wars are good, and easy to win." In other words, "just you watch what I'm capable of." The White House's swaggering tone, the absence of technical details and the strength of a measure that affects the entire world (Europe, Canada, Japan, Korea, China, etc.) without distinction allow such an interpretation.

This decision has a political significance: It's a message sent to American workers and the steel lobby, which is very much represented in the government. But financially, it makes little, if any, sense. Though it's legitimate to punish countries that have applied their own protectionist measures — like China, which subsidizes its steel exports —, penalizing trade with countries that play by the rules is incomprehensible.

Anything is possible, and nothing is forbidden.

Why do so many rich New Yorkers drive a Mercedes-Benz, while so few Germans buy Chevrolets? That's what Donald Trump once asked, convinced that his question and its supposedly plain common sense would strike a chord among everyday Americans. In that case, the rest of the world could retort that Amazon, Google and Coca-Cola are everywhere. Each country scores points based on their comparative advantages and skills. It's equally clear that U.S. consumers will be the victims of higher prices on their cars or beer.

How can Europe react? Standing there with slumped shoulders is not an option. The American measures will have consequences for European exporters (6 billion euros) and the Old Continent cannot be relegated to the role of "global village idiot" once and for all. We should also capture American imaginations, making them fear countermeasures on flagship products without engaging in a game of tit-for-tat — i.e. jeans, Harley Davidsons or whiskey made in the U.S., as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU's Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström suggested.

The Old Continent cannot be relegated to the role of "global village idiot".

Beyond that, the most important thing is to close ranks against Donald Trump and his demagoguery. The most worrying is the lever he uses, a 1962 text intended to protect American interests in the middle of the Cold War. At a time when China's leader is giving itself a mandate for life and Vladimir Putin is going in full-scale in Syria, Libya and almost openly influences democratic elections in our countries, dividing the West like Trump does is worse than irresponsible. It's pure blindness.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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