Playing Hardball with Bush

Hardball is the only game that the Bush administration is interested in playing, both domestically and internationally. It played it again yesterday, with the news that countries that didn’t support the Iraq invasion will be punished by being declared ineligible to bid on reconstruction contracts.

The Europeans are catching on, though. First, there was the case of the steel tariffs, where the EU discovered that threatening to impose tariffs on the US worked to get Bush’s attention. Now the lesson seems to be sinking in: diplomacy and dialogue won’t accomplish things with the Bush administration – only threats and punishment will. So, they’ve switched tactics over another trade dispute, and on December 8 they decided to levy tariffs on $4bn of US goods in retaliation for a US law that the WTO has ruled unfairly subsidizes US exporters at the expense of other countries.

The interesting thing is that the WTO actually issued its final ruling in the EU’s favor on this case back in May, at which time the EU had the legal authority to impose retaliatory tariffs on the US. However, until this week, they had decided not to actually impose the tariffs, and instead pursue a dialogue with the US to allow for a non-confrontational resolution to the US’s violation of WTO rules. It seems that after having hardballs thrown at them by the Bush administration for 3 years – with another one yesterday – and seeing the positive results when they throw a hardball back at Bush, the Europeans have learned that dialogue and patience will not be rewarded.