President Bush’s announcement Tuesday that the United States will impose tariffs of up to 30 percent on most imported steel almost certainly marks the start of an international trade dispute. If so, the war of words has already begun. “Disastrous. Unacceptable. Deplorable. Regrettable. Wrong,” thundered a Guardian op-ed. Even Bush’s friends in the British press, including the staunchly conservative Times and Daily Telegraph, broke out the invectives. The Times’ foreign editor declared, “This is the worst decision George W. Bush has made. … It is contemptuous in its approach to foreign relations; in fact, it will fire up a new war, between the US and its closest allies. It is destructive of attempts to liberalise world trade, to the point where it disqualifies the US from claiming leadership in that crucial domain.” The Telegraph editorial sighed:
A lot has been written in Europe about the supposed dangers of American unilateralism in the war against terror, most of it entirely misguided. Unilaterally setting the world trade system at naught, however, is dangerous, even for as powerful and dynamic an economy as that of the United States. … [I]f President Bush’s decision does lead to a trade war, America needs to understand that it will be the loser by it, as well as Europe.
The widespread belief that President Bush put domestic politics—improving Republican chances in key rust-belt states in the mid-term elections—over international considerations was particularly galling to nations that have supported the U.S.-led war on terror. In Britain, the Guardian took a literary turn: “Tony Blair … has found that providing full-throated backing for the US in its fight against terrorism counts for nothing when set against the interests of powerful vested interests in America. The prime minister is like the faithful family retainer who, after years of service, asks for a day off to see a sick relative, and is greeted with utter disdain.” The Australian agreed, declaring Bush’s decision “a hypocritical, self-defeating, dangerous, discriminatory, economically damaging, kneejerk reaction to domestic political pressures. It’s also shocking timing for world trade liberalisation, a slap in the face for Australia, another case of supposed free-traders supplying ammunition to enemies of globalisation and a reckless snub to America’s allies in the war against terrorism.”
Le Monde of France also invoked the H-word. Its editorial Wednesday, headlined “Mr. Bush Hypocrite,” said “America chooses to observe only those rules that are convenient.” Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser attacked America’s betrayal: “At the moment we are doing more to support US policies than almost any other state. There are many who believe we have cuddled up so close that it is almost indecent. The US has also always insisted that economic and strategic matters should be kept separate. Of course it would; it gets the best on both sides of the coin.”