These news items are more troubling than they might seem:
NPR.com, Jan. 20, 2021: “In one of his first acts in the Oval Office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to have the United States rejoin the Paris climate agreement, the largest international effort to curb global warming.”
New York Times, Feb. 18, 2021: “Biden Administration Formally Offers to Restart Nuclear Talks With Iran.” Deck: “… It remains unclear if Tehran, which is demanding that sanctions be lifted first, will accept the offer to talk.”
Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2121: “U.S. Won’t Hit Russian Pipeline With Penalties.”
Make what you will of any policy stances here, my point lies elsewhere.
In all of these instances and a plethora of others, it appears the Biden administration handed out gift after gift and made concession after concession—without demanding anything upfront from the recipients of our largesse.
We bestowed our adversaries with good will without any assurance of getting anything tangible that’s of value to our interests in exchange from them afterward.
Under President Biden we instantly rejoined the Paris Accords, without insisting on reducing carbon caps that constrain the U.S., where carbon emission already have fallen to 1985 levels.
We decided to “go easy” on a Russian pipeline that U.S. officials say will increase our adversary’s clout in Europe—a gift to Vladimir Putin that should have brought some form of reciprocity.
It did not.
In fact, by refusing to levy sanctions, the Biden administration struck another blow to our ally, Ukraine. Then, we told Iran from the start that we want to re-impose the nuclear deal it wants—and for what?
Wall Street Journal, June 22, 2021: “President-elect Raisi said Iran wouldn’t stop supporting Shiite militia groups fighting across the Middle East or rein in its missile program, rebuffing a key goal of the Biden administration as it negotiates a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal.”
Remember back when Iran insisted its nuclear efforts were aimed at providing its own energy needs when, someday, all the oil runs out?
Giving away something for nothing is bad business, and bad politics. I say this not as some expert on politics but as a businessman and investor who has negotiated dozens of deals in two decades.
When you find yourself giving away something at the very start, the other side smells eagerness—and weakness. And once the other side grows accustomed to expecting your giveaways, you can find yourself giving away too much.
President Biden may already have passed this point.
This is a jolting departure from the days of Donald Trump. No matter how regrettable I might find his combative and undignified style and use of ad hominem attacks, he was and is an feisty dealmaker.
It’s as if the orange man never gave away anything without exacting something in return.
The Trump tariffs against China may be the best example of this trait. Most everyone said the tariffs would spark a debilitating trade war with our allies and foes alike, stoke higher inflation, hinder U.S. economic growth, and hurt U.S. companies’ competitiveness, blah blah blah. None of that happened. Everyone was wrong.
Instead, President Trump brandished the tariffs, the threat of them, and their possible removal as bargaining chips in his negotiations with allies and with China.
This brought China to the table and led to a historic new trade deal that forced China to halt unfair practices and stop demanding that U.S. firms must hand over IP secrets and ownership stakes to set up shop there.
The clincher: even after China signed the Trump trade deal and agreed to buy more than $200 billion in U.S. goods, President Trump left the tariffs in place. So that the promise of lifting them could be a motivator to get China to sign a Phase 2 of the deal later on.
Brilliant. A bargaining chip that never would have taken form unless Trump had created it, by decreeing it. The Trump tariffs remain in place.
How long will it be before Biden the Bargainer blithely gives those away free of charge, too?