Port Nola's giant cranes in operation

Our president is at war with cranes. Not the pretty birds, but the giant 100-foot-tall gantry cranes that the Port of New Orleans needs for its job-creating expansion.

Our Views: Our president needs to be more stable on trade

And the port is hardly alone, as other harbors around the country are among the collateral damage of President Donald Trump’s tariff warfare with China — or is it Mexico this week, or the European Union? It’s difficult to keep up with a shifting economic policy on Twitter.

But the war on cranes is a real-world example of how counterproductive the president’s erratic tariff policy has been.

The specialized cranes sought by America’s ports have not been built in this country for decades. We have no doubt that the president is sincere in wishing that more of this kind of heavy equipment were built in the United States, and we’d like that too. But that’s not the real world.

The valuable port facilities of New Orleans and Louisiana — one of the world’s great shipping complexes — were hardly targeted by the administration. But tariffs, essentially an extra U.S. tax on imports, are a blunt instrument in trade wars.

The cranes were exempted last year, but now the Port of New Orleans and its peers around America must go on bended knee for another exemption that may or may not be given by a little-known federal official named Robert Lighthizer.

Tariffs are already hurting America’s farmers and ranchers. They raise prices of finished goods to Americans, from dishwashers to computers. Steel imports at the Port of New Orleans were one of the areas impacted by the tariffs, not to mention the bulk cargoes like soybeans that were compromised by early rounds of tariffs against China.

But the tariffs also have another side effect, and that is to further empower the government to meddle in decisions that should be made by consumers and businesses.

One of candidate Trump’s most popular pledges was to “drain the swamp” of influence-peddling in Washington, D.C.

Tariffs are swamp-creating mechanisms that can swallow hundreds of cranes.

New Orleans port envoy heads to Washington to plead for relief from Trump’s China tariffs

The office of Trade Representative Lighthizer is hearing from dozens of business groups about reasons why their raw materials or finished products, like giant cranes, should not be on the list for tariffs. The Port of New Orleans is one such applicant.

What is less in the spirit of “drain the swamp” than to make a relatively obscure federal agency the arbiter of whether this import or that should be taxed heavily, all in the interest of seeming tough on China?