Growing up near Vancouver and the Canada-U.S. border, my friends and I often hopped over to the U.S. in search of a bargain. During one such trip, some pals were caught with dozens of cheap American chocolate bars hidden in the glove compartment of the car. Instead of paying the duty, they chose to consume all of the chocolate on the spot. Believing that they were sticking it to those customs officials, they really just made themselves violently ill.
That episode was not unlike a scenario currently playing out in the U.S. -- just substitute members of Congress for my buddies and Russian President Vladimir Putin for the customs officials they think they're sticking it to.
Last week, the Senate sent the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act to President Donald Trump's desk. The White House has suggested that Trump will sign it because there's enough support among legislators to overturn a veto. Someone needs to explain why the Washington establishment wants to upchuck all over America's best interests with this piece of legislation.
The bill is meant to hold Russia responsible for the anti-Russian psychosis currently afflicting much of the establishment. It does so by explicitly targeting any person who "sells, leases, or provides to the Russian Federation, for the construction of Russian energy export pipelines, goods, services, technology, information, or support."
Where is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO, on this? You'd think that Tillerson would have a lot to say, given that earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department fined Exxon $2 million for violating sanctions through a joint partnership with Russian oil company Rosneft under Tillerson's leadership. You'd expect Tillerson to say, "Hey, guys, I'm secretary of state and even I've been nailed by this."
Instead, Tillerson turtled, saying: "The near unanimous votes for the sanctions legislation in Congress represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States."
Yeah, sure. That's exactly what the establishment had in mind when it included Russia in a punitive sanctions bill with Iran and North Korea -- two other countries with whom the establishment wants warm relations, right?
The act would also punish anyone who "engages in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation." How are American defense and aerospace companies supposed to do business with their Russian partners and suppliers when the industry is intricately linked to the defense and security establishment?
Take Boeing's Russian partner, VSMPO-AVISMA, which makes the titanium forgings for Boeing's commercial jets. Boeing's largest aerospace design center outside of the U.S is located in Moscow. The company also has a technical research center in Moscow and has benefited from the innovative work of more than 600 Russian scientists and information technology specialists, according to a Boeing document.
U.S. sanctions harm not only American companies, but also European companies that have any sort of U.S. presence and are engaged in joint ventures with Russia.
Germany's economy minister, Brigitte Zypries, has urged European retaliation, calling the sanctions illegal and telling a German newspaper group, "The Americans can't punish German companies because they have business interests in another country."
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also expressed unhappiness with the proposed sanctions.
"If our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days," Juncker said. "'America First' cannot mean that Europe's interests come last."
Juncker, you ingrate! The congressional swamp creatures even made a nice title for you: "Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017"!
Europe might want to respond with the "Thanks, But We'll Pass Act of 2017."
Russia reacted by ordering the reduction of U.S. diplomatic and support personnel in Russia by 755. This move came a little more than six months after then-President Barack Obama expelled more than 30 Russian diplomats and ordered the closure of two diplomatic compounds.
If Trump signs the sanctions bill, the U.S. can expect further retaliation, which will cost American and Western businesses jobs and opportunities.
This is where Tillerson has to grow a backbone and support Trump in throwing this bill back in the establishment's face. Force Congress to override the president's veto and explain to citizens why they think their Russian fantasies are more important than the economic health of the Western world.
When the military-industrial complex is actually complaining about a bill meant to economically disadvantage the other guy, it's a pretty good sign that it's half-baked.