Obama’s International Policies: Weak or Transformational?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I did a lot of web surfing this weekend to try and get perspective on Obama’s comments and policies emerging from his recent international trip. No surprise, he is being immediately applauded by the liberal left and denounced by the conservative right. Although, there are many that are going to disagree with me on this, I have a much more moderate view of Obama’s trip. I feel on both sides, Obama’s policies are being judged too quickly as a success or failure. Although I am no expert on international politics, here is my take on the unfolding Obama foreign policy.

In my opinion (take it for what it’s worth), I believe the conservative view of international policy as a chess game is much more appropriate than the liberal view of a party chalked with a few party crashers and the US as the belligerent and obnoxious drunk picking fights with those in the unpopular clicks. I see the international political canvas as a multi-party negotiation table where ultimately all parties are trying to get the best outcome for the sake of their own interests. As someone in business, I do know a lot about negotiation.

I need to explain negotiation a little more if you are to understand why US actions are not exploitation, but also why I believe we need to give Obama a break in the short run. Simply put, negotiation is a game to further your agenda and there are many different ways to play. Most are familiar with competitive negotiation, which is where two parties are pinned against each other in a win-lose match. Often, relations are strained when this type of negotiation game is played, because of the win-lose aspect and the fact that deception is often an essential element to the game. To win at competitive negotiation you need to hold a lot of strong cards. If you don’t have them, you need to be creative in establishing some. The US happens to be good at this type of negotiation, primarily because the US holds some pretty strong cards (3rd largest nation, strongest military and strongest economy in the world).

Spotlight on North Korea. You will notice that although no country is comfortable with North Korea having long range missiles, there is not unity in an international response for sanctions for North Korea. This is not because China and Russia feel the North Korea is misunderstood and they have some kind of peaceful relationship that the US could also have if they would simply stop picking on the poor country. No, by opposing sanctions that the western world wants, Russia and China get another chip in the big competitive negotiation game. North Korea also gains a chip in their defiance. By stepping up their efforts they become a bigger threat to the West.

Competitive negotiation is not the only type of negotiation game that can be played. There are also games involving compromise and collaboration (there are actually two other types as well, but there is no need to do an exhaustive explanation here). These are win-win types of negotiation. I would venture to guess, that most Americans and specifically, progressives, favor this type of negotiation. I will not disagree that this type of negotiation has merit.

So why do I feel it is too early? First of all, it is simply unwise to use the same negotiation tactics over and over again. If you use the same tactic constantly you will become predictable and since US has long favored competitive negotiation, many other countries approach US relations competitively. Second, we may be able to entice nations that have been competitive into collaborative or compromise negotiation. Bush has long been the “bad cop” when it comes to US foreign policy and there may be a benefit for Obama to play “good cop” in the short run.

I hope that this is the reasoning Obama is following. Although I believe there is opportunity, there is also great risk. If countries are not enticed into collaborative or compromise negotiation, other competitive countries will take advantage of the US. If Obama truly does believe that all problems can be solved through compromise and collaboration, then we will see much more aggression. Despite the left’s desire for the US to fade into the background, the US will always be the face of the Western World and as the face, we will continue to be a target for every aggressor aimed at weakening the Western World. It is also important to note that although it may be more desirable to be collaborative or compromising, we need to change our strategy up from time to time and that means being competitive also.

Already it seems that Obama’s strategy is not working. He was not successful in garnering support for a world stimulus or the war in Afghanistan. Most importantly, he was unable to get a response from the UN regarding North Korea. Still I believe it’s too early, but time is running out quickly. We as citizens must draw a line and hold Obama to it. I believe there are far too many people willing to give Obama a pass in his policies. At some point, no matter how nice Obama’s speeches might sound, a failing policy is a failing policy no matter how much you wish it wasn’t.

1 comment

The Law said...

Well, I kind think you have two strains of thought here, because I think most liberals would agree with your assesment on negotiations. Most liberals understand the chess game quite well, but it's really a matter of the republicans prefering a pawn to king 4 as the opening move, in opposed to a libeals pawn to queen's bishop 3 (direct attack vs a slower paced strategy to open up the board).

As an entrepreneur, I understand the art of negotiation as well, and try to never approach it as a win/lose situation, but rather how do we reach a mutual interest while still getting as many of my interests in ;-) Thus, I always approach it as a collaborative process. So I think that this is not Obama's short game, but rather the long term strategy. US wants this, and this, Europe wants that, I give a little, you give a little, and we end up with that. Which is more inspiring than the "our way or the highway" approach I think.

Obama didn't get support on Afghanistan or the stimulus, because I think Afghanistan, though probably necessary at this juncture, is not a great idea, and Europe doesn't have the resources or economic culture to pull off a stimulus. I do agree with you on Korea though.

So all in all, I think the trip did what it was suppsoed to do... set a new tone, so that future negotiations may go more smotthly (or even happen at all).

April 7, 2009 at 6:49 PM

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