Yesterday, the House of Representatives failed to approve Vietnam's permanent normal trade relations, which is a pre-condition for Vietnam's entry into the World Trade Organization, by a vote of 228-161. Because the vote was held on the "suspension calendar," it required a 2/3 majority to pass, and the bill will likely pass when re-voted on during normal proceedings later this week.
What's disturbing is that the bill, which Democratic leaders had referred to as a "slam dunk," was so widely opposed by Democrats. While Republicans voted 2-1 for giving Vietnam PNTR, Democrats split almost evenly on the issue. As I blogged about yesterday, the prospects of anti-trade Democrats scuttling international free trade is bad for many MANY reasons. It's bad for the domestic economy, it's bad for developing countries, it's bad for the poor here and abroad. But it's also bad on larger issues as well. Free trade and the international economy is a critical element of the logic of the democratic peace, and manifests itself in, for example, the current policy of engagement with China. Free trade is critical for institutionalizing international relationships, which helps states escape the anarchic pressures of the international system that creates security dilemmas, arms races, and raises tensions. Free trade is a vital asset of soft power. Free trade is so important to so many aspects of national and international security that undermining it could be said to be, without exaggeration, disastrous.
Things are likely going to get worse when the newly-elected nationalistic illiberal Democrats take their seats. Will President Bush expend his precious (and limited) political capital to advance free trade? Not likely, given the other issues on his plate. However, none of those issues, Iraq included, are likely as important to the economic health of this country, the international system, and international peace and stability as free trade. A Democratic Congress must not be allowed to block the spread of trade.