Trump’s Failing Iran Negotiation Strategy
By Marty Latz*
Donald Trump deeply understands that negotiation leverage revolves around what will happen if the parties don’t do their deal, or their Plan Bs/walkaways.
We know because Trump has made a habit of walking away from hundreds of deals in his almost 50 years of negotiating in business.
Sometimes he walked, came back, got a better deal, and made a financial killing.
Other times, his walkout strategy screwed up a great deal.
In still others, he smartly walked and went with a better deal elsewhere.
Which one occurred when he walked from the Iran nuclear deal?
It’s first crucial to identify his goals and evaluate whether his strategy will increase his likelihood of achieving them.
He and his supporters suggest his goals include:
- prohibiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities post-2030, when the deal would have largely expired;
- reducing Iran’s support of terrorists and ballistic missile capabilities;
- destabilizing Iran;
- signaling North Korea he will walk from bad deals;
- fulfilling a campaign promise; and
- creating a safer Middle East.
Trump’s critics suggest his real goals revolve around his false belief that he can now negotiate a better deal and boosting his and Republicans’ political prospects by rallying his base.
Which are his true goals and will his walking achieve them?
Based on the evidence and the negotiation research on what works, I believe Trump’s negotiation strategy will crash and burn. Three reasons.
One, we can ascertain Trump’s true goals by analyzing the impact of the U.S. walking and whether he can then negotiate a better deal. A significant bipartisan majority of national and international foreign policy experts and leaders believe walking will lead to a more dangerous Middle East.
And while some were extremely critical of the Iran deal, that’s wholly different than supporting termination today. At a bare minimum, that deal stopped Iran’s march to nuclear weapon’s capability until 2030. Without it, Iran could – and perhaps now will - get there sooner.
Experts also discount the likelihood that Trump can quickly renegotiate a better deal. Recall, it took years of coordinated sanctions from multiple countries to even get Iran to the table.
Trump also just threw those countries under the bus by walking. This greatly diminished our credibility worldwide, including with North Korea.
And even if we got everyone on board with renewed sanctions, why would Iran believe another deal wouldn’t end the same?
Bottom line: a better deal is extremely unlikely short-term. And Iran may go nuclear in the meantime. That’s a game-changer.
But isn’t this just the “swamp” talking? No. It’s the vast majority of foreign policy experts and international leaders, except Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Iran’s sworn enemy, Saudi Arabia. It even includes Israel’s military.
So if our Plan B is so bad, why did Trump walk and what is the second reason his strategy will likely fail?
Because Trump has been walking from business deals for almost half a century and considers himself one of the world’s best negotiators. He seems to think he can overcome these obstacles and make this bad Plan B better. Unfortunately, his skills aren’t nearly as good as he claims when evaluated against the negotiation research.
His walking also relates to his interest in achieving his political goals. Critically, he may achieve these by fulfilling this campaign promise.
The final reason Trump’s strategy will likely fail? Significant differences exist between zero-sum competitive real estate and related business negotiations and internationally complex diplomatic presidential negotiations.
Differences include: the number, type and complexity of the issues, interests and culturally diverse parties; the behind-the-table negotiations multiple parties must manage with their own constituencies; and the exponentially higher level of a president’s strategic planning required in often years-long negotiations with highly uncertain consequences.
Even if Trump were the best business negotiator ever, it doesn’t mean he could effectively negotiate as president. In fact, he hasn’t succeeded in many presidential negotiations to date, including those relating to building and getting Mexico to pay for a wall, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and winning an “easy” trade war with China.
Yes, he got a major tax cut. But the evidence doesn’t yet support his mastery of presidential negotiations.
I hope he proves me wrong.
*Marty Latz is the founder of LATZ Negotiation and author of the forthcoming book The Real Trump Deal: An Eye-Opening Look at How He Really Negotiates.