America Last

The first law of negotiation:  It is impossible to be part of any bi-lateral or collective agreement if an agency is not at the table.

And thus, the Rose Garden Jazz Concert and International Default Announcement last week violated the First Law, by a noted (albeit self-described) deal maker.  Green lit public buildings around the nation and globe notwithstanding, the Grand Announcement was more theater than substance.  There’s a pattern herein.  First, the administration announces its announcements.  “On Wednesday, June ___, at 12:05 pm the White House will ____”  This sets up our cable news “panels” for almost interminable displays of speculation, multiplying the publicity.  Thence comes The Announcement, which may or may not be substantive.  Witness the now infamous Rick-Rolling “announcement” by the administration about President Obama’s birth certificate authenticity.  Notice there was never any apology issued for the Birtherism, and attendant racist cant, just an “announcement” made in conjunction with the opening of a family business hotel.

In reality, the first time the U.S. can withdraw from the Paris Accord comes after the next presidential election.  In reality, the accord is entirely voluntary, and has been noted in several commentaries, can’t be both draconian and voluntary at the same time.  In reality, the rest of the nations aren’t about to allow the US to “renegotiate” the terms, especially since the Paris agreement was framed to answer US objections to the Kyoto version to which the US would not agree.  In reality, the world witnessed a statement expressing the narrow vision of the current administration, violating the First Law of Negotiation.

In short, reality has precious little to do with the Rose Garden Jazz Concert Announcement.  Nor does reality square with the Trumpian bluster that the Deal Maker can get America a better deal in the foreseeable future.  At the risk of redundancy, in order to get a deal an agent must be at the table.  The question then becomes does the administration even want a seat at that table?

One theme among the pundits is that the current administration sees international agreements in zero sum terms, that is, every multi-national treaty or protocol is a link in the shackles restraining American sovereignty.  The problem, of course, is that each American retreat also comes with an obverse side — leadership abhors a vacuum, and others will step in where the US fears to tread.  Isolationism brings with it the specter of Splendid Exile.

A related theme is a theory of executive management in which Dear Leader sits atop the pyramid, in a well appointed corner office, issuing edicts which others are expected to follow without dissent.  This, however, is also a formula for a toxic corporate culture:

“Companies hire people because the managers can’t do everything themselves. It stands to reason that we should trust the people we hire to do their jobs, but some fearful managers can’t give up control.

They have to make all the decisions and call all the shots. A rule-driven, command-and-control culture is a toxic culture that will drive talented people away.”  [Forbes]

It will also drive away those who want to cooperate in major projects and programs — like environmental improvement.  Applying a “toxic” corporate culture model to the management of major governmental projects and processes is counterproductive.

It is equally toxic to consider that an increase in cooperative engagements means that gains by some necessarily means someone must lose.  It’s easy to see the world in terms of Winners and Losers, but this perspective excludes the possibility that if everyone gives a little then the prospects for mutual gains are improved.  This philosophy also denigrates the idea that improvement is always possible, holding instead that destruction is the best option.  One of the first regional trade agreements in the modern era, NAFTA, has problems (which may be feeding discontent with other agreements), however, this doesn’t mean that the benefits of freer movement of goods and capital need to be obliterated in the interests of “removing the shackles.”

The idea that the US can effectively lead by abandoning the field (or the bargaining table) is inherently false, as are the promises extrapolated therefrom.

The second law of bargaining says “never negotiate with yourself.”  Pronouncements concerning unilateral actions — as being preferable to mutually agreed upon items of interest — rarely lead to positive outcomes. It’s essentially bargaining with yourself.  For example,  the United States under the current terms of the Paris Accord can set its own carbon emission standards and goals.  Operating in mutual terms, the US could modify its goals and simply inform global partners of the changes and rationale.  The isolationist response assumes that xenophobia is a positive feature of national policy, and no other nation is deserving of notice of our intentions and reasoning.  This is tantamount to that isolated corporate executive in the corner office who sees no benefit in having his or her board actually question directives.

When other voices are ignored those directives and policies coming from the top floor are more likely to be the produce of interior monologues than of well crafted discussion, in other words the CEO/President is negotiating with himself.

Violating the first two essential rules of negotiation aren’t exactly the way to cement one’s reputation as a deal maker.

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