Saturday in the park (a muddy one to ponder muddy agreements)

The weather report for Saturday is better than our rainy Friday. Even if the sun emerges through the morning clouds, it may leave very muddy walking paths. So, as I take a muddy stroll, join me as I ponder a few muddy things.

Agreements between multiple parties are hard and take work. They are not perfect, but they provide opportunities to improve them. Leaving them when your co-signers ask you not to must be for very important reasons. Under the tutelage of the current US president, previous agreements are “disasters,” primarily because he did not work on them. Another key reason is multiple party agreements require give and take and focus on relationships.

Early on, the US pulled out of an agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership with Asian countries, the US, Australia and Canada. It was an imperfect agreement, but was defined to better enable competition with China. What is still very underreported is the other ten or so countries went forward without the US and signed a refined agreement, which is now in effect.

Around the first of June, 2017, the US president decided to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. We are one of a handful of countries who have decided not to be a part of this historic agreement. Remember the song, “You and me against the world?” That is the US. Ironically, the announcement was the day after Exxon Mobil shareholders voted to require management to share with them progress on addressing climate change (this followed two similar votes for energy companies in May).

Other agreements like NAFTA have been modified and rebranded, but the changes are not as material as the pomp and circumstance promoted. The agreement allowed for change and could have been repurposed a year earlier had the president not interjected last minute changes. This is a good example that agreements allow for parties to make changes at certain times. They need not be thrown out, especially when the throwing out is more optics than substance.

Finally, the Nuclear agreement with Iran and six countries, including the US, was also imperfect. But, it allowed for dialogue, auditing and commerce. Against the wishes of the six other countries and his key advisors in the Defense department, the president pulled out of the agreement. He also chastised the other five non-Iranian partners for not so doing and imposed more sanctions. So, rather than have a better, but tenuous relationship with Iran, we have escalating tensions with “no off ramp” per former Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens.

Agreements require hard work, collaboration and respect for the relationships. By their nature, they are long term in scope. When they are viewed through a transactional lens, especially one bent on perception than reality, their imperfections can be highlighted. If you have concerns (and all parties have them), the answer is go to your partners and suggest to fix them. Devaluing the relationship is extremely shortsighted and can be dangerous. That last word is on many people’s minds today.


11 thoughts on “Saturday in the park (a muddy one to ponder muddy agreements)

  1. Excellent summary Keith. Yes, it would be nice if we had a president who didn’t get out of agreements, simply because others negotiated them. What a novel concept. But, we are where we are and this is our new reality. In 10 months, we can either change this nightmare, or we let it continue.

    • Jeff, thanks. These agreements must be designed to last beyond the term of the presidency. Otherwise, countries would be less desirous of working with a fickle US. Keith

  2. An excellent summation, and as always, well-reasoned. There is an old saying my grandmother used to use, “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. I think the saying is apropos of all these agreements Trump has backed out of. We are certainly no better off, but are being left behind as other nations maintain the agreements. And, as you say, the word “dangerous” is on everyone’s mind today. You have called Trump a ‘clear and present danger’ on several occasions … it would seem your words were prescient.

  3. Thanks Jill. I wish it was not so prescient. See my note to Jeff – we have to establish agreements that last beyond one president’s term. Keith

  4. Note to Readers: Before I retired, I was in business for thirty-three years. I can honestly say, collaboration is hard work. You must nurture it. It builds buy-in and consensus. It builds relationships. With buy-in, change is more lasting. Without it, change can flounder or be undone.

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