“Are we so weak and inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America? Turkey!?” said U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) a week or so ago, referring to the negotiations between President Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which Trump gave the green light to Turkey’s invasion of Syria.
Negotiation-wise, the answer is almost certainly “yes.”
How did this happen? Three elements led to this catastrophic negotiation and the resulting strategic disaster.
First, President Trump has long prided himself on his instinctive negotiation skills and has almost exclusively relied on his negotiation gut for years. Combine this with his infamous impatience with preparation for any negotiation and this result is highly predictable.
I have studied and taught negotiation for almost 25 years and have analyzed over 100 Trump business and presidential negotiations. And there’s been an abundance of great negotiation research over the last 40 years.
Here’s the bottom line: failing to do your homework, ignoring the experts’ proven research, and relying almost solely on your gut will almost always lead to poor negotiation results. And failure is almost inevitable when sophisticated counterparts do the opposite.
Of course, we don’t know that Trump failed to do any due diligence here. But it’s highly likely he walked in woefully ill-prepared. After all, he did not consult with his aides, foreign policy experts or allies before deciding in the call to withdraw our forces. Everyone was blindsided, even our military.
This lack of preparation is also consistent with Trump’s negotiations for years. While he prepared extensively and negotiated great deals on his first few big real estate developments (the Commodore Hotel/Grand Hyatt and Trump Tower), his celebrity status starting in the mid-1980s was accompanied by a belief that he could effectively negotiate anything without doing his homework or having a long-term strategy.
It didn’t work then, leading to multiple business bankruptcies and failed deals (like the Trump Shuttle and the Plaza Hotel). And it’s not working now.
In fact, in 1984 Trump dismissed the value of preparation for international diplomacy when he said, relating to nuclear disarmament negotiations with the then Soviet Union, “i[t] would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. . . . I think I know most of it anyway.”
Second, Turkey’s President Erdoğan almost certainly did his strategic homework and concluded he could bluff Trump into believing Turkey would invade Syria regardless of the U.S. response. (continues below…)
Trump’s Track Record with North Korea
Just analyze how North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin have played Trump in negotiations for the last 3 years.
Regarding North Korea, the U.S. got virtually nothing from three leader-to-leader negotiations, not even a comprehensive list of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile sites. And we didn’t achieve anything resembling denuclearization, our stated goal.
North Korea, by contrast, received incalculable benefits from appearing on the world stage as an equal with the U.S. on three separate occasions. North Korea even continues to test and advance their missile capabilities.
In essence, North Korea told Trump it would take a bunch of actions but then did none of them. A classic bluff. Critically, Trump did virtually nothing in response other than praise Kim Jong-Un’s “beautiful” letters.
Trump & Russian Relationship
Russian President Putin has also consistently played Trump like the proverbial fiddle. Remember Trump’s embarrassing obsequiousness after the Trump-Putin summit where Trump said that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 U.S. election? It was only after huge bipartisan blowback that he reversed himself.
What negotiation lessons did President Erdoğan learn from Kim and Putin? Trump can be manipulated and you can often do what you want with virtually no consequences.
Erdoğan was right. He just got everything he wanted in Syria. And Trump, despite threatening to destroy Turkey’s economy, caved on almost everything.
Finally, Trump’s excuse that Turkey would have invaded regardless of the U.S. response reflects a fatal misjudgment of our negotiation leverage at the time. Crucially, the U.S. kept Special Forces in that Syrian region partially to deter Turkey from invading and going after our Kurdish allies. And this had been working well for a long time!
Plus, the notion that Turkey would risk a military confrontation with the U.S. and possibly kill U.S. service members is just not credible. But Erdoğan threatened it. Why? If Trump believes his bluff and withdraws U.S. forces, Erdoğan can go in and take what he wants.
But if Trump doesn’t believe his bluff and pushes back, Erdoğan can back down and get credit from Trump for restraining himself.
It’s a win-win strategy for Erdoğan.
Unfortunately, it’s been a lose-lose one for Trump, the U.S. and our allies the Kurds. In the first days of Turkey’s incursions into the Kurdish territory of northern Syria, shelling and air strikes killed hundreds and drove 200,000 civilians from their homes.
This betrayal of a U.S. ally could have far reaching consequences. As Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said in a statement, “This betrayal of the Kurds will also severely harm our credibility as an ally the world over.”
It may even go down as one of the worst presidential foreign policy negotiations in our history.
Here, we address how Trump bullied subcontractors and stiffed many of them despite contracts obligating him to pay.
“Wait,” you might say. “Don’t subcontractors have sufficient leverage to force him to pay if they sue him?”
Actually, often they didn’t. And Trump knew it. Let me explain so we can all learn from it.
In this era where politics seems to break the mold and top political pundits are having trouble predicting outcomes, many are looking for books that provide greater insight into the mindset of our country’s leader.
Marty Latz is the author of The Real Trump Deal: An Eye-Opening Look at How He Really Negotiates and Gain the Edge! Negotiating To Get What You Want.
He is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.