Mon, Jun 11, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Kim is already the undisputed winner of tomorrow’s summit

The US president’s desperation is showing, and he has no eye for detail — flaws that have seen him suckered countless times in his business dealings

By Jonathan Freedland  /  The Guardian

This week will see tested one of the enduring fictions of current politics: the myth of Donald Trump, master negotiator. That the myth lives on was demonstrated afresh on Thursday with the leaking of after-dinner remarks by British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson.

Johnson was merely echoing the US president’s perennial boast that he brings to geopolitics the skills of a boardroom maestro. When Trump launched his candidacy in 2015, he declared: “We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal.”

Tomorrow, Trump will have the chance to demonstrate this self-vaunted talent when he comes face-to-face with Kim Jong-un of North Korea — just two unpredictable guys with terrifying nuclear arsenals getting to know each other.

The first instinct of all those who prefer peace to Armageddon would surely be to wish the two men luck.

Even those who are squeamish at the sight of a red carpet rolled out for the hereditary dictator of a slave state with a record of starving and torturing its own people know the lines.

Jaw-jaw is better than war-war. You make peace with your enemies, not your friends. Engagement is always better than isolation.

If any other president were sitting in the Oval Office, all that would make sense. As it is, tomorrow’s meeting in Singapore induces a queasy pessimism, most of it attributable to the fact that, far from being a genius of the negotiating table, Trump’s record as a dealmaker is appallingly bad.

A revealing essay in Politico starts, comically enough, with The Art of the Deal itself.

It turns out that Trump negotiated a terrible deal for himself on that very book: The ghostwriter received an unheard-of 50 percent of the advance fee, 50 percent of all subsequent earnings and equal billing on the cover.

The writer, Tony Schwartz, did not even have to push Trump hard.

“He basically just agreed,” Schwartz recalled.

The other examples are no less arresting. After the success of the first season of The Apprentice, Trump demanded an increase in his fee per show from US$50,000 to US$1 million. What did the magician of the deal get? An increase to US$60,000.

His failings are basic. Even a child negotiating a toy swap in a playground knows you must never seem too keen. If your opponent smells your desperation, they will make you pay.

Yet in one negotiation, Trump could not sit still, pacing around the room.

His opponent recalled: “It was as if he had a blinking sign on his forehead that continually flashed: ‘URGENT! URGENT!’”

Whether he was buying a casino or a shuttle airline, he repeatedly paid tens of millions over the odds. The projects failed, leading to him filing for corporate bankruptcy six times. Even his one-time admirers say that whatever sharpness Trump had in the mid-1980s, he lost long ago.

Two weaknesses are particularly troubling ahead of the meeting in Singapore. Trump does not do detail, in contrast to Kim, who is said to be fully across the technical specifics of his country’s nuclear program, and he struggles to understand any motive besides money.

Perhaps that is no problem for a real-estate tycoon, but in politics he misses the myriad other pressures that define what is and is not possible. (It is why he failed to put together a healthcare reform package that even his fellow Republicans could agree on.)

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