Sunday, May 27, 2018

Negotiations And Dogs

     “You can always get an agreement if you’re willing to give enough away.” – Robert Dole, formerly U.S. Senator from Kansas

     Among the minor differences that distinguish humans from dogs is this one:

     The dog is aware that there’s a tasty treat just out of his reach. He wants it – oh, most definitely! – but the fence is in his way. What he will not do, in all probability because his mental horizon is far too short, is to back up and go around the edge of the fence. That would increase the distance between him and his goal. He is unable to resist the need to get as close to it “as he possibly can,” despite the palpable limit to his approach.

     This is called an approach-avoidance conflict. Human beings can resolve it, owing to our wider band of perception and our ability to reason out a course of action over time. Dogs cannot.

     You could easily get the feeling, from reviewing the “negotiating” approaches previous administrations had taken with North Korea, that those administrations were staffed entirely by dogs.

     President Trump’s recent moves in his parleys with North Korea indicate that he understands the importance of being ready to back away from a bad deal. He wrote as much in his early book The Art of the Deal. He also understands that sometimes there’s no other move available to a realistic negotiator.

     The North Koreans succeeded in extorting a great deal from prior administrations. They did this largely by behaving badly: making threats against South Korea, a client state of ours, and after their acquisition of nuclear explosives, by extending their threats to a far larger sphere. The U.S. State Department, owing to the ingrained institutional belief that “we have to be nice to them to get them to like us” for damned near every conceivable value of “them,” responded to the Norks’ bluster with offers of freebies – oil, technology, and a light water nuclear reactor – in exchange for essentially nothing. Historians will eventually note these episodes as the ultimate in international folly, akin to allowing Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia in exchange for a feeble, soon to be broken promise of peace.

     At least one other commentator viewed these episodes as America “training” North Korea to behave badly. That’s a pretty accurate assessment of the thing.

     President Trump has demonstrated that such “training” can be countervailed. The Norks’ recent protestations of willingness to return to negotiations and international decorum are cheering signs that the “training” is easily dispelled. But to return to the earlier theme, the previous administrations acted more like dogs, unwilling to increase the distance between them and their goal, than like men able to see that the fence is bounded in time. American military and economic power is so much greater than that of any other nation that there is never an absolute need to kowtow before some other nation’s bluster or threats. It merely requires the willingness to walk away – in effect, to let unstated threats of military and economic countermeasures hang in the air for our interlocutor to ponder. That’s all President Trump has done.

     Yet there are persons, some with high perches in the Punditocracy, who continue to rave that President Trump is a menace to “peace.” Well, perhaps some old dogs can learn new tricks, but clearly there are some who can’t.


Linda Fox said...

I was just reading The Art of the Deal (library e-book). I heard about the cancellation of the NK meeting, and my thought was the same:

You get a better deal when you finally do sit down if you're prepared to walk away.

Trump is a better negotiator than most of the State Dept. They are eager to have their fingerprints on a signed deal, so much so, that they will give away the farm to have those bragging rights.

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more. It brought to mind a post on The Bookworm I read a few days ago on behaviorism and a three year old throwing a tantrum every time he was supposed to put his shoes on.