What Donald Gets Wrong About Deal-Making On Diplomacy Front

The U.S. president talks lots about the 'art of the deal.' But when it comes to diplomatic negotiations, his liar's-poker tactics are seriously misplaced.

Donald Trump preaching his policies to the masses
Donald Trump preaching his policies to the masses
Dominique Moisi


PARIS — Some years ago, in Beijing, one of my Chinese friends told me this: "You Westerners are very good at chess, but we Asians are masters at Go. In the long term, this gives us the advantage."

I remembered that conversation when Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump engaged in their international game of bluff. Their antics bear little resemblance to the diplomacy of Kissinger and Zhou Enlai. It's something you'd expect to find instead in Las Vegas or Macao, where the name of the game is absolute self-confidence, come what may, rather than strategic skill or long-term vision.

There is still time for yet another change in plans between now and June 12, when Kim and Trump are scheduled to meet in Singapore, but most likely the meeting will proceed. The next question, then, is whether this spectacular summit will produce the ultimate "win-win" scenario — a triumph for both leaders — or an infinitely more complex and ultimately imbalanced result.

Washington broke the most basic rule of the art of negotiation: to give without receiving anything in return.

In the past, Donald Trump chided his predecessor, Barack Obama, for being a week negotiator — for not understanding "the art of the deal." And yet, given his handling of the recent Iranian and Korean crises, it seems Trump himself has much to learn. Sure, he knows that to set the scene requires monopolizing people's attention. And yes, he's admittedly good at marketing. But the art of negotiation is an entirely different thing.

One must begin with at least a basic understanding of the other's point of view. Comprehension of the respective interests of both parties is also required. A good diplomat needs to know what, precisely, is negotiable and what is not.

If the June 12 summit goes ahead as planned, because Kim Jong-un has everything to gain and Trump has so much to lose if the event is canceled or deferred. Even at the outset — by offering Pyongyang a summit while asking for nothing really in return — Washington broke the most basic rule of the art of negotiation: to give without receiving anything in return.

It's likely that the summit, assuming it takes place, will be marked by a series of misunderstandings. History will remember it as a "day of dunces' who, rather than bring us closer to peace, upped the chances of an even greater conflict. Who really believes that the North Korean regime, despite its declarations, is ready to give up its nuclear weapons program?

A meeting with Kim Jong-un and members of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea – Photo: Li Peng/Xinhua/ZUMA

In evoking as the "Libyan example," as he did several weeks ago, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton only reinforced the apprehensions of the North Korean regime. Because giving up nuclear arms could, for North Korean, lead to the same tragic end as Libya's Col. Gaddafi. And why should they trust American speeches after the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal of 2015?

For a regime as obsessed with its political and physical survival as the one in Pyongyang, taking an alternate route to win time makes sense. No wonder it decided to switch from crazy threats to a charm offensive that is all the more effective because of how unexpected it is. The North Korean regime seems to better understand American power than the White House understands North Korean power.

Washington thinks it can tempt the North Koreans by talking about the incredible possibilities for economic growth that a peninsula-wide, denuclearization agreement could bring about. But that message only works on the South Koreans, who are split between the fear of war and the hope of prosperous reconciliation with their North Korean brethren. Pyongyang has a different vision from that of Seoul, whose hopes only serve the cynical calculations of the former.

The only "rational" actors in this scenario — those who truly look to defend or advance their views — are North Korea and China.

Does Donald Trump, with his marketing mindset, truly believe he can resolve the Korean maelstrom before imposing his peace plan on a seduced and admiring Middle East? Or is this really just about winning over American voters ahead of November's midterm elections?

Time and again — from the Middle East to Asia — Trump's obsession with showing that he's doing the opposite of Obama has the potential to win big. Or lose big. With regards to North Korea, we can't forget about China, its neighbor and unpredictable ally.

China may be the one power that is delighted (albeit discreetly so) about the coming "day of the dupes' knowing that, in the short term at least, it will continue to have a far more legitimate role to play in North Korea's affairs than the U.S. president does. In other words, the only "rational" actors in this scenario — those who truly look to defend or advance their views — are North Korea and China.

Those who try to analyze the strategic thought process of Donald Trump and see him as the direct political descendent of the early 19th-century U.S. president Andrew Jackson are not only insulting Jackson. They're also misleading themselves, because when it comes to Trump's political ideas or diplomatic action, he's not following any kind of model or ancestor. His handling of the North Korean affair is proof of that.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!