Guest Contribution: “Apology Tour d’horizon”

Today, we present a guest post written by Jeffrey Frankel, Harpel Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and formerly a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. A shorter version appeared in Project Syndicate.

American presidents are supposed to take America’s side when dealing with other countries. (“My country, right or wrong.”) When Barack Obama was (falsely) accused of starting his term with an “apology tour” in the Middle East, it was understood that apologizing to foreigners would have been a bad thing, if true. Now Donald Trump is receiving a lot of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for failing to take the side of his own intelligence services and law enforcement agencies when their findings ran counter to what his friend Vladimir Putin solemnly assures him to be the truth.

Even though US presidents are not supposed to apologize for their country, there is nothing that says that professors can’t. This column is an apology tour. The tour visits countries in alphabetical order.

Dear Rest of World: Presuming to speak on behalf of many Americans who pay attention to foreign affairs: we are excruciatingly sorry for inflicting Mr. Trump on you. We hope you will hold on to the view that America is better than this, that you will (like us) try to summon patience until this bizarre historical deviation passes (hopefully in 2020), and that when the time comes you will join with us in re-building a rule-based cooperative open world order.

Dear Africa: We apologize for Trump’s obscene remarks insulting your countries last January.

Dear Australia: We apologize for that January 28, 2017, phone call with your Prime Minister, including the now-familiar Trump combo of insults to immigrants, willful misunderstanding of the facts regarding an American commitment and concluding that he found it more pleasant to talk to Vladimir Putin.

Dear Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania): We are sorry that President Trump’s wavering support for NATO has made you fear that the US might not honor its treaty commitment to come to your aid if Russia were to invade your territory. But we would.

Dear Brazil: Sorry about those steel tariffs. Still, China is going to switch its imports of soybeans from the US and buy from you, so that may make up for it.

Dear Britain: While visiting your country July 12, our President thoughtlessly undermined the political position of his host, PM Theresa May, and her efforts to preserve British trade with the EU despite Brexit. Earlier he misrepresented and attacked the mayor of London, presumably judging that his religion (Muslim) outweighed the facts of what he had actually said.

Dear Canada: Sorry that Trump (falsely) said that Canadians invaded the US and burnt down the White House in the War of 1812; that he still hasn’t learned what the bilateral trade balance is; and that he insulted PM Justin Trudeau, host of the G7 meeting that he rudely left early June 9, calling him “very dishonest.” Trudeau apparently provoked the epithet by saying Canada would retaliate against Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum. Trump imposed these tariffs supposedly on national security grounds, against our closest ally.

Dear Central America: You are invisible to us… until a small number of desperate refugee families reaches our border whereupon we, unbelievably, separate small children from their families and lock them all up. How can we erase this stain? We could help your tiny countries, if we tried, making more progress and at far lower cost than the doomed efforts to bring peace and security to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Dear China: We are sorry for giving you mere piles of paper (Treasury bills) in exchange for all the neat merchandise you have been sending our way for years. It’s not fair. On the other hand, although you were running a current account surplus of 10% of GDP in 2007, it then peaked and is now down to a mere 1.3% of GDP (largely because you let your currency appreciate, as we asked). So you are now getting real goods and services in exchange for your exports.

Dear European Union: We are sorry that President Trump called you a foe and that he cheers on the forces trying to fracture the EU [for example urging Britain to sue you]. Sorry for acting to undermine your ability to stand up to Putin. And sorry for those steel and aluminum tariffs, and for any further tariffs on autos, etc. Oh, and sorry for all those refugees we unleashed on you when we destabilized the Middle East [in a deeply misguided reaction to September 11, 2001]. Apologies should go first to the refugees themselves, of course.

Dear France: Your President Macron made an excellent effort to befriend our President while sticking to principle. Sorry it did not get him anywhere and in particular that Trump subsequently reneged on the deal that has so far kept Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Dear Germany: Sorry that DT falsely claimed that his father was born in Germany and has repeatedly insulted Chancellor Angela Merkel (aka Leader of the Free World). He also complains about German trade negotiators, apparently not realizing that this occupation went out of existence when Germany joined the EU long ago.

Dear Iran: We are sorry that Trump has abrogated the US participation in the 2015 nuclear deal and is now reimposing sanctions, notwithstanding that you have verifiably abided by the agreed terms. Normally we try to keep our word. [Not everything is Trump’s fault. I am sorry that the US worked to help overthrow your democratically elected president in 1953, helped Saddam Hussein in his invasion of your territory in the 1980s using chemical weapons, and that we shot down a civilian Iranian airliner in 1988. On the other side, we did you the huge favor of overthrowing Saddam in 2003 and we really wish you would stop supporting terrorism in the Mideast.]

Dear Iraq: We are sorry that we took what was a tyrannical, but stable, political situation in your country and made it far worse by our 2003 invasion (which was an astounding non-sequitur response to the events of September 11, 2001 – initially supported by Trump and still defended by his current national security advisor).

Dear Ireland: We are sorry that our President apparently believes that you are part of the UK and that you like him. We know you aren’t and don’t.

Dear Japan: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is one of many foreign leaders to learn that cozying up to Trump can only buy his goodwill for the period of time when he is standing next to you, and is worth nothing thereafter. In fact, Japan was the only major US ally that was not granted even a temporary exemption from Trump’s 25% steel tariff. (Trump is mentally stuck in the 1980s, when Americans feared that the Japanese economic juggernaut was surpassing the US.) Also, we are sorry that Trump apparently pays little attention to the issue of North Korea’s military ability to strike Japan and South Korea.

Dear Mexico: What can I say? We know that “criminals” and “rapists” are in fact far less common among the immigrants we get from Mexico and elsewhere than among domestically-born Americans. We know that you are not going to pay to build a wall. We know that re-negotiating NAFTA in a way that would satisfy Trump is not an option (particularly the sunset clause that would impose maximum uncertainty on businessmen by requiring periodic renewal). (Though most trade is beneficial, we are sorry for the burden imposed on your society by our illegal cross-border supply of guns to you and demand for drugs from you.)

Dear Philippines, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, etc.: We understand the historic attraction of a strong leader who claims to get things done even while cutting some corners. But your “strongmen” are not helping your countries in the long run. We fear that Trump’s disdain for the rule of law helps give them an excuse for their sins, from failing economic policies to extra-judicial killings.

Dear South Korea: We are sorry that Trump’s eagerness to match Kim Jung Un insult-for-insult last year (August-September 2017) ratcheted up the risk of a catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula. That must have been scary. Your President Moon Jae-In deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for skillfully ratcheting back down again the conflict between the two school-yard bullies. Unfortunately Trump didn’t consult you before announcing discontinuation of joint military exercises, and got nothing from Kim Jong Un in exchange for it and for legitimizing his country at the Singapore meeting this June.

Dear Sweden: We are sorry that the Trumps used to claim to be Swedish and that on February 19, 2017, he fabricated a terrorist attack “last night in Sweden.”

Dear Ukraine: We are really sorry that Trump’s historical memory may not go back as far as 2014, when Russia invaded you. Or if it does, he says it’s okay because many Ukrainians speak Russian. Under this logic the British invasion of Washington in the War of 1812 would have been justified after all. And sorry that Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, now in jail, worked for the pro-Russian side in Ukraine.

Dear Venezuela: We are sorry that Trump is prolonging the life of your awful government by threatening invasion and giving the leaders an excuse on which to blame their disastrous economy (including hyperinflation).

I also apologize also to the countries I left out of this apology tour. Trump’s tearing down of the rule-based truth-based mutually-beneficial pro-trade world order hurts everyone. Please keep our seat warm, at the WTO, UN, NATO, G7, TPP, etc.

This post written by Jeffrey Frankel..

52 thoughts on “Guest Contribution: “Apology Tour d’horizon”

  1. 2slugbaits

    You left out the OECD. I have an in-law who is an American economist at the OECD. Even living in Paris has to be too high a price to pay for the daily beatings one gets from other OECD countries.

    You also forgot to apologize to President Macron’s wife for the clumsy comment that Trump made about her nice shape for a woman of her age.

  2. pgl

    “Dear Ireland: We are sorry that our President apparently believes that you are part of the UK and that you like him. We know you aren’t and don’t.”

    Hey I’m Irish. And we got rid of the damn UK 102 years ago. And as much as we hated British rule, we like the Brits a hell of a lot more than the moron in the White House.

  3. PeakTrader

    Trump deserves an apology for the Trump bashing and hating, which make his job harder.

    I guess, liberals would rather apologize to communist, socialist, and corrupt regimes instead.

    1. PeakTrader

      Unlike other politicians, no matter how much biased reporting or propaganda is thrown on the tracks by leftists, the Trump freight train rolls on, if not strengthens.

    2. Menzie Chinn Post author

      PeakTrader: When reporting accurately what Mr. Trump says, does, and the consequences thereof, is considered Trump-bashing/hating, then we are truly in an Orwellian world.

      I didn’t know Germany, France, Sweden, Australia, Britain, European Union, were communist/socialist/corrupt regimes. But the fact you do speaks volumes.

      1. PeakTrader

        Menzie Chinn, characterizing his statements in the most negative way is not accurate reporting.

        1. PeakTrader

          And, Trump shouldn’t apologize, particularly to China, Venezuela, Iran, and countries with socialism in the economy. The fact you don’t believe there isn’t communism, socialism, and corruption in those countries speak volumes.

    3. baffling

      “Trump deserves an apology for the Trump bashing and hating, which make his job harder.”
      i suppose you should apologize for the obama bashing and hating of the previous 8 years? and faux news should also apologize? or is that not applicable to a black president?

      1. PeakTrader

        Baffling, you need to look at the Harvard study on media bias.

        I don’t recall one-third of the opposing party in the House voting to have Obama impeached for no reason.

        Anyone, who believes Trump has been treated fairly is living in a bubble.

        You can apologize now or later 🙂

        1. pgl

          “you need to look at the Harvard study on media bias.”

          Once again – no real reference or link. Are you just too stupid to do some so basic? Or is it that if one actually read whatever you are referring to – we would see you once again are lying.

          Provide links if you want to be taken seriously (snicker).

        2. baffling

          peak, i saw your hostility towards everything obama. you are such a hack.
          “Anyone, who believes Trump has been treated fairly is living in a bubble.”
          if komrade trump could stop lying for one week, he would probably be treated more fairly. how should we treat a liar, with fanfare and flowers? loser.

  4. Steven Kopits

    ‘Dear Mexico: What can I say? We know that “criminals” and “rapists” are in fact far less common among the immigrants we get from Mexico and elsewhere than among domestically-born Americans.’

    Black markets, including those in marijuana, hard drugs and illegal labor, generate vast amounts of crime.

    At the link, for example, you can see our estimate of the share of illegal border crossers carrying drugs, which in the heyday of drug smuggling was perhaps as high as 2/3, and probably not less than a majority.

    With the creeping legalization of marijuana in the US, marijuana smuggling has collapsed, down 86% since 2009 and expected down 40% yoy in FY 2018 alone. Thus, the share of border crossers bringing drugs, to the extent that we can rely on CBP data and our estimates for apprehensions and drug seizures, has fallen from about half to roughly 10% over the last decade. Marijuana smuggling from Mexico will be all but finished by the early 2020s.

    It is critically important to understand that black markets create criminals. That is, prohibitions create economic incentives which will continue to grow until they reach a sufficient magnitude to induce people — notably those with low educations and incomes, low respect for authority, a high appetite for risk, and a certain comfort with physical violence — to participate in the business. (I will write up the theory in ‘Prohibitions, Gangs and Institutionalized Racism’.) But note that with the end of a prohibition, the violence disappears. Thus, black markets are not absolute measures of morality, but rather represent bidding markets for morality. Put another way, the question is not whether one is a criminal, but rather the risk-reward threshold necessary to induce the necessary labor force to turn criminal. Black markets can be considered, from one perspective, financialized markets in morality.

    In border smuggling, the payment for male economic migrants has included the willingness to carry drugs. For women, it has included the willingness to yield their bodies for sexual services. In neither case should we consider these crimes of opportunity or convenience. Rather, they are intrinsic to the logic of the smuggling business. They are the deterministic effects of a prohibition in drugs and migrant labor. They are not some sort of side effect, they are literally the way the business will operate — which could be forecast using standard business analytics, for example.

    Such crimes will disappear with legalization, as we already see with marijuana, and which could easily be achieved by legalizing and taxing migrant labor (and within just a couple of years). Given that marijuana has historically constituted more than 99% of the drugs smuggled across the open border by weight, the effect of legalizing both marijuana — already in progress — and migrant labor — the focus of our efforts — would be to effectively close the border without need for a wall or aggressive enforcement.

    Some links:


    Drug smuggling spreadsheet:

    Migrant predation and victimization spreadsheet (update pending): (This contains the ‘Menzie Counter’, currently at 128,400 cases of migrant predation and victimization since May 14, when Menzie told us he was too preoccupied with grading papers to consider the plight of migrants.)

    Effect of US drug and immigration policies and Mexican war on drugs on Mexico homicide rate:

    1. PeakTrader

      Steven Kopits, I’ve already explained with lots of supporting data why your immigration and drug plans will do much more harm than good. Obviously, you completely dismissed it all.

      1. Steven Kopits

        Disagree. The analysis is sound. The interrelation between migrant labor and drug markets is understood. We have a clear and successful template in marijuana legalization which has reduced marijuana — and thus total drug smuggling — over the border by 40% this year! You may consider that a failure. I do not.

        My advice: Go through the spreadsheets.

        1. PeakTrader

          Steven Kopits, my advice, study and piece together the extensive data, evidence, and history I provided before.

          Then, you’ll learn your ideas will create a flood of poor immigrants, into the U.S., millions of U.S. drug users and addicts, and make foreign criminal cartels stronger.

          1. pgl

            “my advice, study and piece together the extensive data, evidence, and history I provided before.”

            BS. Total BS. Your make false statements routinely based on alleged reports you never bother to identify or link to.

        2. Steven Kopits

          How does collapsing marijuana imports make the cartels stronger? Did Repeal make the gangs of Chicago stronger? Doesn’t Trump want to take credit for marijuana smuggling down 40% this year?

          A market-based system can lead to higher levels of immigration, or lower. To my mind, the key is to find the market-clearing level, which will be 8 m undocumented Hispanics, of which 6 m work; and a rotating cast of, say, 450k coming over the border for seasonal work, pretty much along the lines of Goodlatte I (Securing America’s Future Act). The equilibrium level can be found by iteration, and thereafter managed by a a simple revenue optimization program along the lines of an airline reservation program, with the proviso that such a program will deliver a monopoly price, rather than a competitive market price (ie, migrants will be overcharged), so you have to compensate down a bit.

          On the other hand, if you use a fixed price program and the price is below the current equilibrium price (call it $2.50 / work hour), then the number of migrant workers will expand until the market clears. So I agree with you, it’s possible to do the system badly, but it’s no great challenge to get it right. The reason I use the phrase ‘market-based’ visas, is that we are looking for the lowest volume which causes the black market to disappear and set and manage the price around that level. We want the Mexicans to set the price, not us.

          Honestly, I am not terrified by the prospect of Mexicans mowing lawns and cleaning houses. We will need several million more Hispanics to care for our rapidly aging population. Look at the Federal budget deficit for the next ten years. It’s pretty clear that FICA will have to go up to around 23% from the current 15.3% by the mid-2020s. So you better start thinking about lower cost health care solutions, and extended home health care based on low cost immigrant labor is arguably one of the best options on the table.

          1. PeakTrader

            Steven Kopits, you want to make marijuana as popular as alcohol, creating many more drug users and addicts. Unlike alcohol, marijuana grows like a weed. Also, you may not get drunk on a glass of wine, but get high on little marijuana. You want to increase demand for drugs substantially, which benefits foreign criminal cartels (unless, perhaps, you legalize all illicit drugs). With eventual marijuana regulation and higher prices (particularly, from the inevitable and enormous economic damage), consumers may prefer stronger and cheaper marijuana from the foreign criminal cartels.

          2. PeakTrader

            And, teens can mow lawns and clean houses rather than a 35 year old poor immigrant with a 7th grade education willing to work for much less. There are already too many poor immigrants in the economy. We need more rich immigrants to absorb them.

          3. PeakTrader

            Sure, you’re not “terrified” of many more “Mexicans” doing menial work, but why limit them to low skilled work? Sounds like you want to run a plantation.

            We need rich immigrants to invest in poor immigrants. And, there are plenty of American citizens willing to go back to work when wages are decent.

          4. PeakTrader

            And, open borders where anyone can freely enter or leave the country is the craziest idea I’ve heard.

            It’s like eliminating laws to eliminate crime.

          5. PeakTrader

            It should be noted, bourbon and scotch are substitutes.

            Marijuana and alcohol are complements.

            And, a powerful combination.

          6. Steven Kopits

            Actually, my personal preference would be to keep marijuana illegal, ceteris paribus. I am not giving you my personal preference, I am giving you my policy advice.

            I have little doubt the price of marijuana will far farther and its social acceptability will increase. The question is whether the harm this creates is greater or lesser than the current system. To date, we have not seen terrible results of marijuana legalization. You need only consult the spreadsheets about to count the horrific costs of prohibition.

            The collapse of the price of marijuana of course hurts the cartels, as does the collapse in marijuana smuggling. Indeed, current border controls could be interpreted as infant industry protection for America’s developing cannabis business, ie, imports are illegal but domestic production is not. Not that’s a non-tariff barrier for you!

          7. Steven Kopits

            “And, teens can mow lawns and clean houses rather than a 35 year old poor immigrant with a 7th grade education willing to work for much less. There are already too many poor immigrants in the economy. We need more rich immigrants to absorb them.”

            You’re trolling me, right?

            My friend Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies just did a report on this, here.

            It is certainly true that states with higher immigrant levels have lower teen labor force participation rates. It is also true that there are plenty of jobs to go around. If your teen is not working in the summer, it’s not for a lack of work.

          8. Steven Kopits

            Personally, I would migrate the H1-B (skilled worker) visa program to a market-basis. That could be a $100 bn profit center for the government, and it would get rid of a lot of red tape. Ever hired an employee on an H1-B? I have hired several. It’s absurd.

            For now, I would like to try in on one market: those coming across the southwest border, ie, Mexicans and Central Americans. If we can solve that, then we can bring a quick end to current cold civil war in the country, generate a profit, and make conservatives happy. Let’s see if it works. Marijuana legalization — which is much more complex and messy than market-based visas — is doing exactly what we anticipate: killing the smuggling business and closing the border — without a wall or egregious enforcement. We can do much more in a much shorter time with market-based work visas.

          9. Steven Kopits

            And, no, I am not terrified by Mexicans. The ones I know, including some illegals, are hard-working people hoping for a better life. That’s not a crime for me, and never will be.

            On the other hand, I am the one writing about 100,000 rapes in the desert. I am the one showing that half of border jumpers smuggled drugs. I am the one writing about how long-term undocumented migrants are likely to cost us $2 trn after 2030. Right now, I am the guy doing the serious policy analysis work. The difference between me and Steve Camarota, a solid analyst and a decent guy, is that all he has is complaints about teen labor force participation rates in a full employment economy!

            What I have, and neither CIS nor FAIR nor any other immigration think tank has, is a solution, one grounded in theory and proven in practice, not only with Prohibition and Repeal, but with marijuana legalization today. If you want stunning levels of predation and victimization, just establish a prohibition across a lucrative market. You will get crime levels of surreal proportions, just as I document in the spreadsheets above.

            Want to get rid of it? Easy. Legalize and tax.

      2. Steven Kopits

        If Trump paid me by the word, policy would be a lot farther along. There is a huge amount of creative conservative policy to be done.

        By the way, you have any tricks other than the ad hominem stuff? What do you want to discuss about Rodrik, specifically?

      3. Steven Kopits

        By the way, I did not dismiss the demand suppression stuff. Along with liberalization of hard drugs, it is one of the two plausible approaches to preventing the half million opioid deaths we are likely to see in the next decade.

  5. ilsm

    Professor Frankel,

    Your unaddressed grief because US did not get a second Clinton neoliberal administration does not excuse this rant.

    You ought to go out and apologize for Yemen and al Qaeda aid in Syria, then move on to Libya, the military junta running Egypt, and the whole reversal of ‘decorum’ under Arab Spring…. you could work your way back to Korea 1950 where US hauled in Park from Alabama.

    In regards to Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia, and the other [new] NATO cling-ons (you know the ones the US president before the neoliberals moved in said would never partake in NATO surrounding Russia),,,,,,,, and all the US citizens in the centrist war party who won’t go fight in any event.

    Why do you think US must perpetrate organized murder on your behalf against a nuclear power doing to you what the US does to anyone it does not see as “fit” or who ARAMCO management needs out of the way since 1947?

    Good luck on expecting a Cuban missile crisis level of support from me and the non war party citizens of the US.

      1. ilsm

        If the Clintons/DNC were not merely closet neocons I would say neocon, but their economic stance is a faux liberal approach.

        What I think in this, what I see as the no longer “soft on war” Kagan-Nuland strain neocon centrist war party (example my NH democrat senator Shaheen on the congress’ ‘NATO Observer Group’ advocating more little NATO clingers on surrounding Russia), it is the neocon world view wrapped in a democratic leadership approach that we have to “feed the war machine and wait for the ‘right time’ for progressive social agendas from them”.

      2. pgl

        Uh oh – encouraging this guy is not going to work out the way one would hope. He has been on some weird mission for a very long time.

        1. ilsm


          “when I discover the crooks I decide to change my affiliations, what, sir, do you do?”

          Do you stay with the crooks. As the lesser of evils.

          That remains an evil affiliation.

  6. Not Trampis

    Can I just say if you the transcript of Trump with OUR Pm you will see what a dope ( a highly technical term) Trump is.

    Clinton was an economic liberal as opposed to Trump

    1. PeakTrader

      Trump is a man of action, not a polished politician.

      Trump has the whole world dancing to his tune.

      Here’s a highly technical term for you:

      You’re fired 🙂

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