First, I will admit that this was probably a throwaway line, but it does represent the worldview of a lot of Americans. In an article showing a funny story about poor preparation of college students, Kevin Drum ended with this:
This does not bode well for our coming economic war with China, does it?
Trade is not war. Trade is cooperation, exactly the opposite of war. By definition, it benefits both parties or it would not occur, though of course it can benefit one more than the other.
Treating trade like war is a very dangerous game engaged in by some politicians. At best, it leads to protectionism that makes the country poorer. At worst, it can lead to real war.
Consider two examples of a country treating trade like war, both from Japan. In the 1930's, Japan developed an imperial desire to directly control all the key resources it needed, rather than to trade for them. The wealthy ports of China and iron-rich Manchuria were early targets. This desire was compounded when the US used trade embargoes as a policy tool to protest Japanese invasions and occupation of China. This eventually led to war, with Japan's goal mainly to capture oil and rubber supplies of southeast Asia. Obviously, this effort led to Japan essentially being left a smoking hole in the ground by late 1945.
The second example was in the 1980's, as Japan, via MITI, actively managed its economy to promote trade. The "trade as war" vision was common among Japanese leaders of the time. The results was a gross, government-forced misallocation of resources and bubble in the real estate and stock markets that led to a couple of lost decades.