The Northern Ireland Protocol is not the top priority issue in US foreign policy.
It's more of a distraction for the Biden administration, the Congress and the diplomatic service. And an annoying one at that.
Consider the big picture. At home, rampant inflation - now at a 40-year high - eating into the living standards of ordinary Americans and driving satisfaction with the President ever lower.
The Fed and other central banks likely to hike interest rates sharply to choke off inflation. A Covid-driven shortage of everything - pushing prices up and highlighting the risks of global supply chains at times of trouble.
A baby-formula shortage that is really bringing those problems home like nothing else (you can put off buying a car, you can't put off baby's bottle time).
Covid itself, which has claimed its millionth American life. An expected Supreme Court ruling on abortion that could light the blue touchpaper on the mother of all culture wars. And an election in November, in which the Democrats are widely expected to get hammered.
Abroad - it's war in Ukraine. A major crisis that is sending negative shockwaves far beyond the battlefields: The absence of Ukrainian and much Russian wheat and other grains from world markets raising the ghastly spectre of famine for 15 maybe 20 million people in the world's poorest countries.
But shortages are hitting rich and developing countries as well - in metals, industrial gases, minerals and oil and gas disruption. Damage that will take some years to straighten out has already been done. The disturbance to political systems has yet to manifest.
'Increasing talk of a big recession'
The domestic and the foreign policy problems are cohering into increasing talk of a big recession just over the horizon. And obviously it won't just affect America. Europe is directly impacted by the war in Ukraine - the sanctions, the shortages, the disruption. Caring for refugees is the cheap and easy part of dealing with the fallout from Putin's invasion.
Asia is also vulnerable. President Biden has spent the last few days in the region, re-assuring allies who have become un-nerved by Russia’s war of conquest: success for Russia, they fear, may encourage North Korea or even China to think of military adventures.
The President's big picture vision - that we are in an age of struggle between democracies and autocracies - has animated his diplomacy in Asia and Europe, making clear the dividing lines between the two camps, and the supports countries in Asia can expect if a Ukraine type situation were to occur in that region.
In the contest of systems between the US and China, the outcome of Putin’s war matters.
China is also beset by ongoing Covid problems. This in turn is driving the shutdown of whole swathes of manufacturing industry in the world's leading manufacturing and exporting nation.
This is a major source of the inflation disturbing politics across the world. The reporting last week that US economic growth last year was higher than China's for the first time since 1976 is probably more a harbinger of problems to come, than a cause of American celebration.
Covid, the supply chain crisis and the ripple effects of the Ukraine invasion highlight how interconnected and interdependent the world has become - how quickly negative spillovers can move from one place to another.
Given all of the above (and the list is by no means exhaustive), US politicians and diplomats have more than enough on their plates. Pulling together the political and administrative bandwidth to deal with it is taxing enough (and let's not mention tax at this point).
To put it bluntly - they really don’t have time to figure out which kind of customs and veterinary forms need to be checked in the Port of Larne. It’s a distraction, its annoying - and there are close to zero votes in it back home.
And yet they are giving time to this issue. Generously and knowledgeably - and we have seen them doing this over the past week, in Paris, in Brussels, London, Dublin, Belfast, Kerry - and here in DC.
The message is carefully constructed - measured, balanced, nuanced. But clear: sort this out, now.
There is too much going on in the world to risk a divisive and potentially destabilising trade row between two major American allies - the EU and the UK (and it is noticeable how often the EU is mentioned in media coverage of many issues here, how little the UK is).
It is in the American interest not to have allied nations sparring between themselves, risking a trade war, when there is a real war going on in Ukraine. The risk of such a trade dispute being the final straw that tips a fragile global economy into recession is not negligible.
In a time of highly stressed international supply chains - and the reshaping of those supply chains that is now under way - the economic risks of a global economic calamity are too high to sit back and do nothing.
In terms of Western Grand Strategy, a bitter division on the European side of NATO would undermine US efforts to confront and constrain Russia and project resolution in Asia.
Bad faith and lack of trust
At the very least, the constant trade in allegations of bad faith and lack of trust (the only growing trade between the EU and UK these days) requires explanation - and when you are explaining, you are losing.
The Americans appear to be mostly annoyed at the British. They are baffled by the strength of British military diplomacy in Ukraine, and the apparent determination to simultaneously inflict economic self harm on the Western Alliance at a time of crisis through more Brexit rows.
What makes it particularly galling to the Americans is the weapon of choice by the British in their row with the EU is the Northern Ireland Protocol, as the row threatens to damage one of the unalloyed victories of recent US diplomacy, the Good Friday Agreement.
The shaping and drawing of alliances between democracies and autocracies needs soft power carrots as well as hard power sticks in order to convince. The risk of a row that has the potential to call into question one of those soft power showpieces of American diplomacy is too high at this time.
For the mitigation of recession risk and the strengthening of strategic coherence in a shockingly altered global landscape, the Americans have to be involved in this protocol row - in order to shut it down, fast. It’s a distraction.