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Ian Bremmer

March 5, 2018 by Speakers' Spotlight

When An Obsession with Winning Can Lead to Loss

Specializing in US foreign policy, states in transition, and global political risk, Ian Bremmer is one of the world’s leading global political risk researchers and consultants. Renowned for merging the study of political science with current financial markets and trends, he provides financial, corporate, and government clients with information and insight on how political developments move markets.

Writing in The Washington Post, Bremmer explores President Trump’s obsession with winning and how the president operates in a zero-sum world, an oversimplified world where compromise and cooperation don’t play a role. He explains why that kind of narrow-minded approach could lead to heavy losses for America:

It is perhaps his most essential quality: President Trump is determined to triumph — and to see America triumph alongside him. “I win against China. You can win against China if you’re smart,” he said at a campaign event in July 2015. “Vast numbers of manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania have moved to Mexico and other countries. That will end when I win!” he tweeted during the campaign. “China, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, these countries are all taking our jobs, like we’re a bunch of babies. That will stop,” he once promised.

In Trump’s view of the world, there is a finite amount of everything — money, security, jobs, victories — and nothing can be shared. He previewed this past week’s announcment of steel tariffs when he said during the campaign that foreign smelters are “killing our steelworkers and steel companies.” He promised during his State of the Union address to protect “our” citizens over the undocumented “dreamers.” In other words, the United States, and all of its inhabitants, are in a zero-sum competition over everything, all the time. And you’re either victorious or defeated. It’s a universe where the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must, as Thucydides said.

The problem is that the triumphs that Trump craves — strength, safety, prosperity — cannot be achieved alone. They require friends and allies, and they require the president to see those people as partners, not competitors. But Trump doesn’t know how to do that, which makes everyone suspicious; other governments don’t like to be punching bags, the only role he appears to envision for them. Mutual distrust imperils the collaboration the United States needs to succeed. Which is to say, Trump’s determination to win could easily position the country to lose.

Ultimately, America can’t win without allies. To isolate countries like Iran and North Korea, the president needs partners who will help. To pressure China to change its behavior on trade or North Korea, he needs friends in other governments. If he wants to track terrorists before they try to enter the United States, he needs support from foreign intelligence services. During the Cold War, the U.S. strategy centered on securing the cooperation of friendly governments and winning the hearts and minds of people in communist countries through the promise of greater personal freedom and a better quality of life. Today, the United States doesn’t have that kind of leverage, and Trump’s aggressive criticism of other countries, including allies, poisons public attitudes toward the United States and makes it harder for foreign leaders to cooperate with Washington publicly.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.