It is good news that the United States and the European Union have confirmed that they are going to start formal talks about a new free-trade agreement. That President Barack Obama announced the move in his State of the Union address reflects a profound personal evolution on the issue. As a presidential candidate in 2008, he was a populist critic of free trade. But today, as he struggles to revive a sluggish economy while also cutting the U.S. deficit, he is a convert to its potential to open up markets and generate jobs. Recent assertions that the Obama administration wants Britain to stay in the EU presumably to push the case for economic liberalization suddenly make a lot of sense.

If the talks prove successful then they might validate David Cameron's strategy toward the EU. Critics say that his constant demands for reform threaten to isolate Britain. But his toughness also has the potential to compel Europe to liberalize in a way that benefits the entire EU and makes the case for Britain staying in. Trade between the EU and the US is worth an estimated 393 billion pounds annually and removing tariffs is predicted to generate an extra 115 billion pounds within five years for both sides. Although much of the talk is about the rise of China, America and Europe still generate over half of global economic output. If they can strengthen their market position by working together rather than against each other, Cameron's argument against EU protectionism will be demonstrated to be both economically and politically savvy.


Optimism must be cautious. The last round of world trade talks broke down when agreement could not be reached on agricultural import rules, and agriculture is likely to cause trouble in these discussions, too. But it is encouraging to see the U.S. and the EU understand that, in principle, free trade is a vital motor of growth.

The Telegraph, London, Feb. 13

Republicans shouldn't filibuster confirming Hagel as U.S. secretary of defense

Republicans in the U.S. Senate are wrong to filibuster the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as U.S. secretary of defense. They should let a vote go forward without delay, and confirm him.

Hagel is a former member of their caucus, and on matters of war the two-term senator from Nebraska was the most levelheaded among them. He saw combat in Vietnam and was twice wounded.

He knows war. He knows how war so often turns out much more painfully than the visions of the keyboard belligerents who promote it. Hagel was the first Republican in the Senate to come out against the Iraq war, and he was right.

Sen. John McCain, who ought to know better, now badgers Hagel for doubting the "surge" in Iraq. Wasn't it a success? Short term, it was, just as President Richard Nixon's bombing in Vietnam was. Long term, it is unlikely the surge made any difference in Iraq. That country has its own political culture. So does Afghanistan.

The Senate obstructionists want an America with more boldness and resolve. Sometimes that's what a country needs. Not now. Our government has been bold on bad advice. Its resolve has become an unwillingness to see. Our leaders need to think more and shoot less.

There is also the matter of federal spending. The budget is still $900 million out of balance almost four years after the recession's official end. Spending has to come down, and that includes the military. Hagel understands that.

Our Democratic president ran in 2008 as an opponent of the Iraq war. In practice, President Barack Obama was not nearly as skeptical of war, especially in Afghanistan, as many of his supporters hoped. With Hagel, the president has a chance to pursue a more cautious policy about overseas military commitments and focus on reform and recovery at home.

The Seattle Times, Feb. 18