It's understandable that President Barack Obama wants to show the working people of America that he cares about saving their jobs. But the administration's decision to impose a 35 percent tariff on China-made tires was a politically motivated mistake that smacks of protectionism.
The complaint that triggered the action came from the powerful United Steelworkers union, which represents tire factory workers. The union didn't accuse China of any traditional trade violation, such as dumping. Instead, it charged that an increase -- or surge -- in the number of China-made tires from 2004 until 2008 cost 5,000 jobs in the United States.
In response, a Chinese official said that tire shipments to the United States declined by more than 15 percent in the first half of this year -- and that more than two-thirds of tires shipped here were produced in factories owned at least in part by foreign companies, including American firms.
Administration officials probably figure that throwing this political bone to the Steelworkers' union is unlikely to trigger a broader trade war. But with things as unsettled as they are in the global auto industry, it is an unnecessary risk.