Barack Obama did new President Joe Biden no favors with his book “A PROMISED LAND.” Obama describes Putin as a teenager who no longer leads a superpower. Disrespectful behavior leads to disagreement. Please read the analysis of this negotiation.
An analysis of the negotiation with Putin
I have been eagerly awaiting the new book “A PROMISED LAND” by Barack Obama. Following reading it, I gained countless insights into Obama’s conduct in negotiations. In the chapter “THE WORLD AS IT IS” the former US president describes how he sees the world and gives insight into his negotiation with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. I would like to analyze this negotiation in this article.
Important: As always, my articles do not deal with political statements, I remain with my thoughts on negotiations.
At the beginning of the chapter on Russia, Obama describes Putin: ‘Vladimir Putin, who had come to power in 1999, claimed no interest in a return to Marxism-Leninism. And he had successfully stabilized the nation’s economy, in large parts thanks to a huge increase in revenues brought about by rising oil prices.’
He continues with a personal assessment, ‘with the fastidiousness of a teenager on Instagram, he curated a constant stream of photo ops, projecting an almost satirical image of masculine vigor (Putin riding a horse with his shirt off, Putin played hockey), all the while practicing a casual chauvinism and homophobia, and insisting that Russian values were being infected by foreign elements.”
This is followed by what I consider to be the most dangerous sentence ‘There was just one problem for Putin: Russia wasn’t a superpower anymore.’ (A PROMISED LAND, page 459)
The inner attitude toward a negotiating partner influences the way we conduct our negotiations. Obama describes Putin as a “teenager” and does not see him at eye level, his eye level. Our personal assessment should not influence important negotiations. A professional negotiator with this high level of responsibility should not be effected by their own personal assessments and enter the negotiation professionally and respectfully.
However, I find the statement about Putin’s position of power more serious than the personal assessment, ‘not a superpower anymore’. Obama sees himself as a “superpower” and denies Putin the same status. Now, one can certainly be divided on this, but I think that Russia is a powerful player in international politics and, with its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, can significantly influence world politics.
Obama’s attitude toward Putin is not one that makes a respectful negotiation possible. This is evident in the first meeting between the two presidents in Moscow.
“In July, I flew to Moscow for my first official visit to Russia as president.”
“I met Vladimir Putin for the first time the following morning when I traveled to his dacha, located in a suburb outside Moscow. Our Russia experts, Mike McFaul, Bill Burns and Jim Jones, joined me for the ride.”
Mike McFaul was U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, and he has always emphasized his critical stance toward Putin in public. That is, of course, his right, but his participation in this negotiation has a signal effect.
Bill Burns advised Obama before the meeting, ‘you might want to open the meeting by asking him his opinion about the state of U.S.-Russian relations and let him get a few things off his chest.’
Obama took the hint and writes: ‘I thanked Putin for his hospitality, noted the progress our countries had made with the previous day´s agreements, and asked for his assessment of the U.S.-Russia relationship during his time in office.’
Putin complains in a monologue about the disturbed relationship and accuses the U.S. of being “arrogant, dismissive, unwilling to treat Russia as an equal partner.” From his personal point of view, Putin helped the U.S. after 9/11 and feels this help has not been appreciated.
During Putin’s monologue, Obama’s team “started sneaking glances at their watches.” Obama did not interrupt and let Putin finish.
After this monologue of 45 minutes, Obama commented on each point along with his point of view, ‘I rejected, I reminded him, I disputed, I explained…’
Obama describes in his book that the goal of the negotiation is not “to eliminate all differences” Rather, after the Cold War, the goal was to build a realistic and joint relationship that could manage differences. Putin confirmed this idea after this “two-hour marathon” and expressed openness to a “reset” of relations. Putin handed over the details, “you will have to work with Dmitry.”
On page 466, Obama describes his view of Putin “For Putin, life is a zero-sum game…in the end, you couldn’t trust them.”
A negotiation consists of two elements – conflict and interdependence. Is there conflict between the U.S. and Russia? YES. Is there interdependence? YES.
Anyone who starts a negotiation must acknowledge the rules of the negotiation – or not start the negotiation and allow, for example, diplomats to sit at the table.
The question follows, what exactly was the goal of this described negotiation? Obama describes the “reset,” the new beginning of the relationship in order to have a resilient partnership for the future.
Partners meet at eye level and try – in an often lengthy process, to build trust. It is first and foremost about the will to want a partnership. Obama never describes Putin as a partner at eye level, but as someone who can’t be trusted.
You have to make a decision. Either you want a partnership, if so, you go to the negotiating table openly and respectfully. Or you do not want a partnership, in which case you can’t hold out the prospect of one.
Above all, you must not write about it, because this book will have an impact on further relations. It is not about whether Putin is a good or a bad person. It is about whether I treat my negotiating partner with respect. There is a very interesting podcast by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder – “The Agenda.” He describes in the episode “Russia” his relationship with Putin and clearly distinguishes relationship and cronyism.
As already written: The inner attitude to my counterpart influences the conduct of negotiations. You cannot conduct a partnership-oriented negotiation with the attitude described by Obama.
I also find the composition of the team inappropriate. Obama should have brought someone with him who has a positive relationship with Russia. This is about signals of partnership. Someone who knows the culture, the great poets and thinkers, the painters, the composers of Russia. The entry and stabilization into this negotiation would have been extremely different if they had talked about the great culture of Russia.
Obama’s entry was certainly very helpful in allowing the host to speak and emphasizing the common ground. Less helpful is setting every point Putin makes straight with “I rejected, I reminded him, I disputed, I explained…”
Has this negotiation now resulted in a “reset” of relations? Has the U.S.-Russia relationship improved as a result? Was this a successful negotiation?
Putin will certainly read the important passages of “A PROMISED LAND.” He will read how he and Russia are seen by an American president. He, the teenager who does not embody a superpower.
The new U.S. President Joe Biden will surely meet Putin soon. Biden was vice president under Obama and now has the task of pushing the “reset” button. Biden talks about respect and values. Let’s hope that these will not remain empty words and that he will enter the negotiations with Putin respectfully.
It won’t be easy, Obama didn’t do him any favors with this book.
source: A PROMISED LAND, BARACK OBAMA, Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House, Frist Edition, 2020, New York City, NY, USA