With little fanfare at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on August 9th delivered a stirring defense of U.S. engagement in world affairs — and offered a sobering reminder of the heavy cost, in blood and treasure, isolationism has imposed on America in the past.
Secretary Mattis made the comments in response to a question from a young officer identified as Lieutenant English, who asked:
Secretary Mattis replied (from a Department of Defense transcript, with some edits for readability):
In addition to forging new alliances and a financial infrastructure for the global economy, the United States also took the lead in framing a global, rules-based trading system based on the principles of reciprocity, non-discrimination, and openness.
America’s investments in global security, economic development and international trade have paid off — and no country benefitted more from this expansion of trade than the United States. Overall, trade today supports 41 million U.S. jobs and has raised the income of the average American household by $18,000 per year.
America’s Greatest Generation established this post-war trading order because they knew the costs of protectionism. The disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 triggered a 66% decline in world trade between 1929 and 1934. This contributed powerfully to the Great Depression, which set the stage for war.
As Secretary Mattis explains, they vowed not to let history repeat itself. And for 70 years, trade agreements have fostered economic growth and good jobs, but they have also strengthened ties of peace, cooperation, and friendship between nations. The 40-fold increase in world trade over the past seven decades helped drive the dramatic decline in absolute poverty worldwide, which in 2015 fell below 10% for the first time.
Secretary Mattis continues:
Yes, sir. Yes, it does.
About the authors
John G. Murphy
John Murphy directs the U.S. Chamber’s advocacy relating to international trade and investment policy.