Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Negotiator

The US has made its second significant diplomatic agreement with Iran in less than a week, in getting four American political prisoners, including reporter Jason Rezaian, released from Iranian prison. Rational people would consider this (and the agreement earlier in the week, freeing 10 US sailors who had been detained in Iranian waters) a good thing. Of course, we don't live in a rational world, and perhaps we never really did.

This harks back to the nuclear deal with Iran last summer. The naysayers appear to be genuinely under the impression that negotiating is about getting everything you want, and fucking over the other party, whether by mere trickery or by the threat of force. Trump's campaign rallies have been full of this bellicose schtick, with Mister Man insisting that he would have "done better" in negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran, "done better" in negotiating trade agreements with China (including, according to Trump, the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership, which China is not a party to), and forced Mexico to pay for a 2000-mile wall across the border.

For someone who claims to be the best negotiator of all time, he has a bizarre notion of how it really works. Trump doesn't actually produce anything, he makes his money by licensing his name and presence to selected venues, whether it's slapping his name on the side of a casino in hundred-foot letters, appearing at a pro wrestling event, or owning a beauty pageant (and therefore its broadcast rights). Common sense tells you that there must be something mutually beneficial (if utterly inexplicable) in these deals. The casino would not rent Trump's name if they didn't think it would attract enough traffic to offset the rental fee. No other outcome makes sense; in fact, it's assumed to be a given factor.

But to take Trump's foreign-policy deal-making proposals at face value, you would have to believe that Trump is prepared to escalate tensions with these countries in order to leverage what he wants out of them. So does he mean to say that he would start a trade war with China or Mexico, or a real war with Iran, if those countries chose not to accept the conditions he offered? If he does mean to say that, then he's a fucking lunatic, and needs to step aside right now. If he's exaggerating, as is most likely, then that needs to be noted for the record as well.

This might come as a surprise to Trump and his retard fan base, but here's a little secret:  most other nations act in their own rational self-interest, rather than automatically grabbing their ankles every time we want to break one off in their asses. Reader, I shit you not, it's true. So when we want or need something out of them, we might want to take into consideration that if we're asking (or in Trump's case, telling, since he's such a battle-hardened tough guy) them to concede something that they consider to be in their own national interests, they may need something in exchange to make it worth their while. Does this supposed super-genius master salesman/entrepreneur/lord-god-king-bufu need to be told this? No, of course not, he knows better, but he understands that the mouth-breathing maroons hanging on his every word don't take such things into consideration.

It's as if these people have never made any sort of agreement, whether by handshake or more formalized contract -- or worse yet, that they think no one in their voting base has ever negotiated a deal. The nuclear deal with Iran is a perfect example:  it is being portrayed as a deal between Us and Them, but the deal actually includes Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the EU. International sanctions were about to expire, and there was no international support for renewing them. We would have ended up with a moronic Cuba-style unilateral sanction, but against a much larger country halfway around the world, not a beat-down rum stand on our back porch.

Most of us have haggled or bargained for things at some point in our lives -- vehicles, homes, sex. What do all of those different types of negotiations have in common? In general, there have to be elements of the agreement that benefit both parties. I mean, no shit, Sherlock. When you buy a car, whether new or used, you almost never pay the asking price, unless you're easily gulled. You haggle, you wheedle, you bargain, and ultimately you find a price that you and the seller can agree on -- you get a more affordable price, the seller makes at least some money from the transaction, if not quite as much as they would have liked.

To listen to the internet tough guys and political naysayers, you would think that such transactions never occurred, that because we are the Big Dog, it is simply understood by all that our role is to piss on the fire hydrant, and everyone else's role is to lick it off or something. In the modern era, only defenseless despots negotiate at gunpoint, and this is expressly because of the cooperative, interdependent framework that we established after the Second World War.

Armchair generals are always good at proposing the expenditure of other people's lives and money, never their own. Same as it ever was, but you'd think they'd at least recognize how negotiations actually work.

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