Can the US Military Chief Save the TPP Sinking Ship?

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Ashton Carter is the relatively new U.S. Secretary of Defense. He delivered a speech April 6 on “the next phase” of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

Much of his speech at the McCain Institute at Arizona State University focused on topics you might expect – military weaponry, strategy, partnerships and alliances.

What was completely unexpected were his comments on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)  – the proposed so-called “trade” agreement between the US and 11 other Pacific rim nations that its advocates assert would result in the increased free flow of goods and services, more jobs, greater opportunities, higher growth and improved standard of living in the region.

Carter said:

“In fact, you may not expect to hear this from a Secretary of Defense, but in terms of our rebalance in the broadest sense, passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.”
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“It would deepen our alliances and partnerships abroad and underscore our lasting commitment to the Asia-Pacific,” he continued. “And it would help us promote a global order that reflects both our interests and our values.”

The Obama administration must clearly be worried to float out the U.S.’ main military man to advocate for the TPP. They realize their efforts up to now to pass the TPP through the process of deliberately suppressing its contents and trying to ram it through Congress by first passing a “Fast Track” bill that would limit debate and prohibit amendments on any proposed so called trade deal that would come before it may have, at least, temporarily run aground – just like an aircraft carrier in shallow waters.

Traditional lobbying by the President and Congressional TPP supporters (including Republican leaders — to demonstrate its bipartisan nature) apparently haven’t yet yielded enough converts on both sides of the political aisle to pass Fast Track and the TPP on their own.

Thus, the administration is now playing the patriotic card by linking the deal to “defense” – which often produces little questioning when it comes to military spending by Congresspersons who don’t want to appear soft on defense.

Placing the TPP in the same security boat as a basic naval weapon system like an aircraft carrier simply underscores to undecided Congresspersons how important the so-called “trade” pact is to the head of the nation’s military.

It’s very effective imaginary…and very much needed by TPP promoters in light of recent revelations that threaten to sink the so called trade deal that’s not mainly about trade.

Examining the TPP primarily through the lens of trade, be it free or fair, is a distraction.

The TPP isn’t primarily about trade. It’s about democracy, self-determination, governance.

Only five of the proposed agreement’s 29 chapters, or 17%, deal with traditional trade issues. Other chapters address topics like outsourcing jobs to other nations, the environment, food safety, the Internet, financial services and more.

TPP negotiations have been kept secret for five years – secret, that is from the public, media, even federal elected officials. Not so for corporate representatives. More than 500 official corporate “trade advisors” have helped shape the document. Consumers, farmers, workers and environmentalists aren’t seated at the negotiating table. The reason for its secrecy can’t be to keep its provisions remain hidden from the U.S.’ trading competitors since those 11 other nations are part of the negotiations. If the TPP is so positive, then let’s see its full text.

The recent leak of a portion of the TPP negotiations revealed its profoundly undemocratic provisions. The TPP would establish a supra-national court or tribunal where foreign corporation can sue nation states over any democratically enacted law, rule or regulation protecting consumers, workers, communities and the environment and receive taxpayer compensation for losses of “expected future profits.” These “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) tribunals would supersede local, state and federal court systems. How democratic is this? Exactly how does this “reflect our interests and our values”?

It doesn’t. Not at all. Just the opposite, in fact.

No wonder the TPP has been kept secret by its promoters. No wonder why its promoters are now pushing for a Fast track bill in Congress (with the sanitized name of “Trade Promotion Authority”). And no wonder the first of what may be many unexpected spokespersons like the Pentagon’s Ash Carter are trying to keep the TPP from capsizing – hoping their voices will sway undecided Congresspersons.

One wonders who may be next pitching the accord. Michael Jordan? Clint Eastwood? Miss America? Maybe Flo, who represents an insurance company in commercials?

Don’t be distracted. The TPP is ultimately about who (or what) should have the ultimate authority to made governing decisions in our county: We the People or transnational corporations.

TPP advocates are reaching. It’s our job to keep up the pressure. No single issue is more threatening to what remains of political self-determination (as little as that might be thanks to corporate personhood and money as speech) as the TPP. Nevertheless, we still have a chance, and a good chance, to work to create real democracy at the nation-state level. Trying to influence unelected and non-publicly accountable members of international tribunals or panels empowered by the TPP, however, will be futile.

The TPP is not akin to aircraft carriers. It has certainly nothing to do with “reflecting our interests and values” – assuming those include worker justice, consumer safety, environmental protection, peace, and self-determination.

Now’s the time to weigh in with our U.S. Senators and Representative. The Fast Track bill may be introduced in Congress as early as Monday, April 13.

Call, write, email.  Take your democratic responsibility as a citizen seriously.

Time to derail Fast Track and pull the plug on the TPP.

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