Some commentators have recently suggested that president Trump’s tough negotiation style to some extent seems to be successful. Terminating NAFTA and negotiating an agreement with Mexico and Canada that was much more favourable to the US, is held out as one example. It also seems that his withdrawal from the agreement with Iran will have some desired impacts, in that his sanctions may hit Iran hard, and international companies may not dear to defy the threats against those who still do business with the Iranians.
While there is no denial that Trump has achieved something that way, my humble view is that there is little cause for admiration. Brinkmanship and bullying have always represented one way of handling conflicts. In given situations it might work, subject to the relative power of the parties, and the consequences of defying the threats or sanctions. So, representing the most powerful country in the world, it is not surprising that Trump to some extent succeeds. There is however more to this than just achieving particular practical results. We all hate being bullied. State leaders and governments are no exception. Neither are the citizens of the countries bullied to submission. Whoever is exposed to this kind of negotiations or pressure, unavoidably reacts with strong resentment. We do not want to be told what to do, and we will only comply if the threatened consequences outweigh our anti reaction. In either case we are left with a negative attitude towards the bully. In a global perspective we also might observe that outsiders, unaffected by the conflict, react with resentment. This is clearly one reason why Europeans at large hold Trump in such low esteem. After decades or essentially peaceful democratic development and interaction, a vast majority of Europeans are not impressed with political bullies. Such anti reactions therefore add to the resentment caused by Trump’s take on environment, the UN Human rights Commission, the international Criminal Court and more.
The world’s respect for the US, which already took some serious hits under George W. Bush, caused by his illegal war in Iraq, acceptance of torture and more, is again deteriorating. While President Obama succeeded in restoring some of the lost esteem, the US is probably now less respected than it has ever been. So, the concept of American greatness is increasingly limited to the minds of Trump and his followers.
The sad thing is that by scrapping peaceful, balanced conflict management, including the search for common ground, Trump is not only destroying the US’ reputation. Even considering Trump’s own goals, his methods are to some extent inappropriate and self destructive. In his interaction with North Korea his dangerous and futile brinkmanship may have taken us close to nuclear war, before he switched to a softer, smarter approach, where he even applied some social psychology, suddenly making progress possible. Sadly that seems to have been a rare exception.