What is Wrong with Trump’s Foreign Policy?

You might say that it is too early to tell.  Let the man give it a go before drawing conclusions.

And that would be a HUGE mistake. The reason is quite simple. Trump bases his view of the world on the “zero sum game” approach to relationships between countries. Either I get more or you get more from each transaction. This makes his obsession with bargaining to get more eminently logical.

But there is the thing. Relationships between countries are not zero sum games. In other words, these relationships are not a series of transactions conducted in an anonymous marketplace. When these relationships work, they add far more than you can get out of any single transaction. Even tiny Estonia can have this kind of positive effect, if it finds a secure place in the community of western countries. And when relationships between countries break down, it is not so easy just to walk a way and do a deal somewhere else. You get things like war. And if not war, extended violence and conflicts. Things that consume resources like a fire consumes a carefully built home. or even a community. You might recall that we might be talking about a nuclear weapons style fire in this case.

You might say, “well, we don’t have  a choice to being tough”. In fact, there is an alternative way to negotiate. Roger Fisher and Bill Ury pointed this out decades ago in their book “Getting to Yes”. You can negotiate to build relationships that add value over time rather than just bargain. This is not just a theory. It has been proven again and again. And current US foreign policy is based on this idea – collective security . It has served us well since the second great war. And we are about to deviate from it without any debate on the matter. Yikes!

In case you are not with me yet.. Negotiation Trump style – bargaining –  will have very different effects than negotiation Fisher style. Negotiation Trump style weakens relationships rather than building them. And once you start bargaining, you can’t easily switch back to relationship building-. You are stuck with the mess that you have created.

So one thing is clear already. Trump loves to bargain and wants to convert US foreign policy into a series of bargaining sessions. This would be a huge strategic blunder for the US. And the guy just doesn’t understand that. He is the sorcerer’s apprentice giggling as he pours potions into the caldron oblivious to the effects he will create.  But you get it, right?

Still don’t believe me? Consider what happened in ancient Greece when Pericles shifted the finances of the alliance between Greek city states to benefit Athens. It seemed brilliant at the time. Why shouldn’t Athens benefit from anchoring the alliance? Pericles used the money to build the Parthenon on the acropolis What could go wrong? Here is what went wrong — something that no one predicted at the time.  The shift in Athenian policy triggered the disastrous wars with Sparta that in the end destroyed Athens.  So much for the short term benefits of going transactional.

We don’t need to repeat this mistake. Do we?


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