President Donald Trump has portrayed the outcome of negotiations last week as a success prompted by hardline tariff threats, proof that his ability to negotiate means wins. The reality is more like no outcome.
The president threatened to impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods, followed by a 25 percent tariff rate, unless that country agreed to stop the rising flood of Central American migrants at Mexico’s southern border. By Friday night the Mexicans capitulated, or so the administration said.
The tactics were as usual. Threaten the other party with devastation. Send in someone else to do the talking. Announce victory. But what was supposed to be a major foreign policy victory also turns out to be the usual nonresult.
Mexico may move slightly faster than it is now, but it had already agreed to beef up its own southern border security. It had also already pledged to try to find jobs, housing and other support for migrants waiting in Mexico while United States amnesty claims are processed.
The only negotiated item not already in place is a concept called “first country asylum.” Migrants would have to apply for and receive asylum from Mexico before applying to the United States. Mexico continues to say no, as it has all along.
The president’s negotiating skills are ephemeral at best. There are no final wins in any foreign policy when tariff or veiled military threats have been used to force adversaries to comply. His limited success has come only from bullying allies.
Having been exposed as celebrating a nondeal deal, the president pivoted. “We have fully signed and documented” a part of the deal that “will be revealed in the not too distant future,” he tweeted Monday morning. Mexico’s top diplomat denied any such deal.
President Trump’s strong-arming and burning-bridges negotiating tactics with adversaries have resulted in no outcomes at best. North Korea is no less contained and no less dangerous than it was when Trump took office. All his bluster has produced is face-to-face meetings with Kim Jong-un. Iran may return to developing nuclear weapons capability thanks to the U.S. walking away from a treaty successfully negotiated by President Obama.
Effective negotiations conclude with both sides gaining something of value. Negotiators leave the table feeling respected. “America first” as it is being negotiated leaves no room for win-win outcomes.