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.

US is going alone again

Unless we alter our course, this period of time will be remembered as when the US ceded its global leadership role. We are following a path of nativism and retrenchment. And, there is one thing for certain – we cannot shrink to greatness.

First, we drop out of an Asia/ Pacific trade partnership early in the Trump presidency. The remaining countries proceeded without the US and inked a deal at the end of last year. Why is this important? When approached to do a bilateral agreement, Japan told Trump to reenter the Asia/ Pacific agreement.

Second, last June we decided to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, leaving an agreement with pretty much the rest of the world. Even ExxonMobil told us to stay in the accord. Fortunately, businesses, cities and states are picking up the dropped baton, but more is needed from our DC leaders.

Third, we do our darnedest to restrict immigration into our country from several countries and are actively seeking to expel both undocumented immigrants and children who came forward under DACA. What we fail to understand is immigration is accretive to our economy and this is a key part of our ideals.

Fourth, we have introduced tariffs on our allies and trading partners. Not only are we acting like a bully, we are acting unwisely, so say 1,140 economists including Nobel laureates and Presidential advisors. We could be precipitating a retrenchment of the global economy, of which we are a key part. The economists say this is how recessions start.

Fifth, by pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, we are heightening global risk. But, we also have turned our back on our allies who asked us to work with them to stay in the agreement. With the reimposed sanctions any EU countries doing business with Iran will also be sanctioned. This will invite sanctions by the EU on the United States’ companies doing business there.

The President views the world in a transactional way which is why he prefers bilateral agreements. He must win the transaction. In multilateral agreements, everyone wins some and loses some. He also does not value diplomacy as we have retrenched in those capabilities. The hard work is done by these folks and China is lapping us in their diplomatic efforts.

We cannot go this alone. We should pay attention to the words of French President Emmanuel Macron when he spoke to the US Congress. He beseeched us to remain involved working with others.