Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and other opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have support from an unlikely source: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Like China, Russia fears a stronger alliance among democratic countries in Asia — one that excludes it.

In fact, Putin has been so nervous that he and the Russian propaganda machine have been attacking TPP for more than a year. In a Nov. 6, 2014, news conference Putin denounced the deal: “This initiative is carried out behind closed doors, even businesses and the public of the contracting states have no access to it, let alone other countries. . . . Obviously, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is just another U.S. attempt to build an architecture of regional economic cooperation that the USA would benefit from. At the same time, I believe that the absence of two major regional players such as Russia and China in its composition will not promote the establishment of effective trade and economic cooperation.” The nerve of the United States in pursuing its own interests!

In USA Today last month, Putin again groused that it was negotiated in a “confidential fashion.” Yes, it’s rich that the head of the world’s most aggressive kleptocracy and human rights abuser is concerned about “transparency.”

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And again the Russian government’s pet news agency TASS reported in October:

Speaker of Russia’s State Duma lower parliament house, Sergey Naryshkin, said on Monday he sees serious global risks in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“The recent agreement of 12 countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fraught with serious risks for the world,” he said at a session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva. In his words, the agreement assigns the “controlling stake” in regional politics to the United States, whose president claims that the TPP’s goal is to place Washington in charge of writing the rules for the global economy. “All the rest will have to put up with that and the agreement on the World Trade Organization (WTO), which unites more than 160 countries, will have a secondary role,” he said.

Even more ominous, he raised Ukraine, which attempted to integrate itself into the capitalist, Western economies. (“In this context, the Russian speaker reminded about Ukraine’s ‘bitter experience.’ Plunging into association with the European Union the Kiev regime ‘has cancelled its former integration liabilities and severed historical ties which dramatically aggravated domestic contradictions,’ Naryshkin noted.”) Russia’s bully tactics rarely leave any doubt as to its views of what is and is not in its national interests. In this regard, Putin is right: TPP does further U.S. economic interests.

It is why, like many respected national security voices, retired Gen. David Petraeus and the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon argue in favor of the deal:

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The TPP is not only an economic coup, but the most significant step to undergirding the administration’s “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific without excessive dependence on the military instrument (though that also is very important).  And TPP could also be an important lever for pushing China (not an original TPP member) into better behavior on matters in the cyber arena without having to resort to high-level diplomatic confrontation or economic sanctions to achieve results – though we need to be ready to take those steps, if necessary.

Much of the discussion about TPP has centered on the economics of the deal. Free trade has long been a mainstay of conservative, market-based economics. But in a world of populist resentment and xenophobia, economic arguments, however well-based, do not always carry the day. Perhaps those who are less than enamored of free markets but want to “make America great again” should not do Putin’s and China’s work for them in helping to scuttle the deal.

Adm. Samuel Locklear, former head of the Pacific Command, and John Hamre, former deputy defense secretary, wrote recently:

TPP is much more than a trade agreement.  TPP establishes a rules-based economic order that will become the foundation for the world we want—a world governed by rule of law, transparent and predictable procedures and in a climate free of intimidation.
That is why the Trans Pacific Partnership is about security. TPP will strengthen America’s national security.  Washington shouldn’t [lose] sight of this while we debate the narrow economic dimensions of the agreement.

As GOP candidates fall over one another attempting to prove their national security bona fides, they might want to keep this in mind.

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