A word association test might readily pair these two words: “Trump” and “deal.”
In fact, most Americans probably identify President Trump with “The Art of the Deal,” the ghostwritten book that contributed considerably to Trump’s notoriety long before he became a politician. And a common theme of Trump’s campaign relied on two assertions about deal-making: Previous administrations have made terrible, terrible deals with other countries; and Trump, the dealmaker, will be able to make great deals that will bring back jobs and restore our security.
But associating Trump with deal-making requires two questionable assumptions: First, it requires the unwarranted assumption that deal-making among businesses is the same as deal-making among countries; and, second, it assumes that Donald Trump is a good dealmaker.
Trump’s purported success as a dealmaker is overstated. Clearly he’s made a lot of money, but without his tax returns it’s hard to say precisely how and how much. He’s declared bankruptcy several times. Many of his “deals” were short-term ventures that weren’t terribly profitable. Others, such as Trump University, were almost certainly scams.
Nevertheless, he deserves credit for pulling off what is probably the Deal of the Century: Somehow he became the President of the United States.
How well have his deal-making skills served him in his new job? The early returns are not impressive. A more deft dealmaker should have been able to line up the votes needed to repeal and replace Obamacare, and a more strategic thinker might have restrained himself, during the campaign, from impugning the war record of John McCain, a true war hero whose vote Trump should have been able to guess he might someday sorely need.
And how well prepared is Trump for international deal-making? So far, bound by his campaign’s assertions of faulty deal-making by previous administrations, Trump’s first instinct is deal-breaking, which is always easier than deal-making.
For example, Trump has threatened to abolish the North American Free Trade Agreement, and he’s already withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accords. His support for other international accords — NATO, the European Union, the UN — has been equivocal.
All of this suggests the strong possibility that President Trump will abandon the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, the EU and five important world powers. Law requires him to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal every three months. Trump has reluctantly certified compliance twice.
The next certification is due in mid-October, and Trump is strongly hinting that he will withdraw from the deal, despite evidence from both the International Atomic Energy Agency and the chief of the U.S. Strategic Command that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the agreement and that the brakes have been applied to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
This column doesn’t have the scope to debate the merits and deficits of the Iran deal. But the deal provides a context to consider how well Trump’s deal-making experience in Manhattan real estate and reality TV prepared him for the most deadly serious deal-making of all, international politics.
Business and foreign affairs are different in two obvious ways: complexity and consequences.
Trump talks often about walking away from the table if the terms don’t suit him. In business, the comparatively low stakes provide plenty of room for bluffing and bluster. And, indeed, business deals can fall apart with little consequence. There’s always another deal.
Iran, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere, and Trump will have to “deal” with it one way or another. Abrogating the Iran deal leaves us with a much bigger problem than the one we have now. Nuclear weapons are involved, and the stakes are life and death.
Further, the complexity of Iran and the Middle East far exceed anything Trump has had to deal with in his pre-presidential life. He’s not the first president in this situation. But his arrogance, ignorance of world affairs, incuriosity, impulsiveness, uncritical attraction to false “facts” and exaggeration and his tendency toward name-calling and bluster have put us into an extremely dangerous situation. It will become worse if Trump withdraws from the Iran deal.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com.