The Problem with Americans Negotiating

The Iraq Study Group report highlights something that deserves better treatment than it receives in our political/media system: the problem with Americans negotiating for anything.

Basically, Americans look at negotiating with Iran, Syria or anyone else the same way they do business deals: the negotiators go in, they apply whatever skills they have at “doing the deal,” but they get the deal done. Failing to do so results in the perception that the negotiations were a failure, and thus the negotiators are failures. This is a tag no American can stand to be stuck with. People in other cultures are just as keen in “getting something done” in negotiations. But they approach the problem with two very different perspectives than Americans do. The first is a longer view of time than Americans have, which isn’t saying much since Americans define the “long term” as after lunch. The second is that most people outside the U.S.–especially in non-Western cultures–put a higher degree of value on relationship developing first before they get down to business.

The reason for the second is simple: without the imposition of the legal and social system that exists within the U.S., they start with a complete lack of trust for the opposite side. That trust has to be developed, which takes place with the development of a relationship. If and only if and when that relationship is developed–and that can take a lot of time–substantive negotiations can begin. It’s easier for foreigners to walk away from a deal for the reason that “they can’t trust these people” than it is for Americans.

We found this out in arms negotiations with the Soviets. The Americans were under higher pressure to “get the deal done” than the Soviets were, which automatically strengthened the Soviets’ position. Only Ronald Reagan managed to bring himself to realise that he couldn’t trust the Soviets and thus curtail negotiations with them until his own position was stronger. The memory of this deeply influences George W. Bush, which is why he is adverse to starting discussions with Iran and Syria.

A more productive approach would be to have a meeting in a venue where concrete results weren’t expected. In an American context, this means a golf course. Let’s say that Bush invites Ahmadinejad to Medina G&CC near Chicago. Since the clubhouse looks like a mosque, Ahmadinejad would think he was winning up front, which would make him overconfident, a besetting weakness of him. But on a golf course the two could size each other up face to face, watching as each other deals with the ups and downs of the game and each other. Then Bush could figure out how he might like to proceed based on what he saw himself rather than something stupid his advisers might come up with.

This example is a little lighthearted but my intent is to illustrate the importance and possibility of relationship building before serious haggling begins. It may take time, a lot more time than Americans are used to giving such things these days. (This wasn’t always the case in the past.) But it would be time well spent. My Sudanese imam friend used to tell me that, when his mother went to market, she would haggle so hard with the vendors that he would become embarrassed. We’re entering a region of expert negotiators. We need to show some wisdom ourselves.

James Baker: Steady Cash Flow is King

As you might expect, we’re not surprised that James Baker’s committee has supported the “right of return” and a Middle East peace conference without Israel.

Baker’s thinking is exactly the same as the reason Russia got into bed with Iran: cash flow. The oil industry’s main source of raw material is the Persian Gulf, and many in that business have felt that Israel was the main source of instability of that supply as an irritant to their clients, the Arabs. This line of thinking is blind to the serious problems of Arab and Islamic politics, not the least of which is the Sunni-Shi’a divide and the ongoing rivallry of Iran with its neighbours across the Gulf.

Will the U.S. give in to this line of thinking? It would be the supreme irony that liberals, who generally hate the oil industry, are considering giving into the oil industry’s longest running urban legend (get rid of Israel and you get rid of the problems in the Persian Gulf) to further their own ambitions. But, as they say, politics makes for strange bedfellows.

It is time to pray!

Flying with a Corpse Used Not to be News

The story–which Drudge dutifully linked to–of a British Airways passenger who suffered a fatal heart attack and whose body traversed the Atlantic is one of those things the Internet magnifies. Before the Net, it would have barely deserved a notice.

For me, it brought back memories of a commercial competitor. Joost Werner Jansz was a Dutch engineer who invented theHydroblok” hydraulic pile driving hammer. In 1979, he was returning home with his wife from a business trip to the U.S. (the Offshore Technology Conference, I think) and suffered a heart attack. KLM opted to leave his body next to his wife, who rode back to Amsterdam next to her dead husband. (BA relocated the body of their dead passenger body.)

First class passengers might find the thought of riding with a corpse hard to take, but sooner or later all of them (along with everyone else) will take a ride into eternity.

Our prayers go out to the widow on the BA flight. For the rest of us, click here.

They’d Still Rather Take Riyadh. And Riyadh Knows It.

Last year we stated that Iran’s greater objective than wiping Israel off of the map was to take control of both sides of the Persian Gulf, which would include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the other Gulf states. Such an assesment was and is a minority view, both by those who support Israel (the evangelicals) and Americans who would as soon see Israel wiped off of the map themselves (James Baker.)

It looks like this is in point of fact the case, and that Saudi Arabia has no intention of allowing this to happen. This explains their support of the Sunnis in Iraq and the Christians and other non-Shi’a groups in Lebanon. The Sunni-Shi’a divide is not only religious but geopolitical.

This kind of thing does in fact screw up a lot of people’s plans for the Middle East. It makes the Islamicists job impossible because it calls into question who in fact is the real leader of Islam (and that is the central problem of Islamic politics.) Oil people dislike the endless instability of their product’s supply. And those who are looking for democracy in the Middle East can’t handle the fact that holding power is like winning to Vince Lombardi: it isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Democracy and representative government are real nuisances to power holding, something the U.S. will find out the hard way if it ever elects Hillary Clinton as President.

There are some who think that the U.S. invaded Iraq to create (or at least make worse) this problem. Unfortunately our government just isn’t that clever. Clever or not, the natural divisions of Islam and the Middle East are the only thing that stand in the way of Islamicist victory, and we should be thankful that Genesis 16:12 continues to come true.

And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

An Advent Reflection

Although the Thanksgiving holiday is past, we as Christians should not make it an end of being thankful. Being thankful to God for all of the blessings that He has given us—especially the gift of redemption by His Son Jesus Christ—must be a part of our daily living. The same psalm that says “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song,” (Psalm 95:2) also reminds us that “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (Psalm 95:7b-11) The children of Israel did not enter into the Promised Land because of their ingratitude at some of the greatest wonders recorded in Scripture. We must never take God’s blessing for granted.

But now we turn to the Christmas season. We gear up for shopping in crowded malls, travelling in jammed airports with intrusive security, setting out enough Christmas decorations to compete with Opryland, and the endless round of Christmas parties whose main legacy is an expanded waistline. Somewhere, the birth of our precious Saviour gets lost in the shuffle.

In the years before Evangelicalism came to prominence—and with it the discarding of the liturgical year—Christians regarded the time running up to Christmas as a penitential one, a time to seek special atonement from God. Such a season is referred to as Advent, coming from the Latin meaning “coming towards” (Christmas, the birth of the Saviour.) Advent also was intended to remind people that, just as Jesus had come once to redeem us, he will come again to reign as our King in every sense of the word. A popular Advent hymn by Charles Wesley reflects this thinking:

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

The Incarnation is one of the great miracles of human history. The reality that God became one of us sets Christianity apart from every other religion and cult. But, just as He came once, He will come again. With the signs around us, that return cannot be far. It’s something we need to remember and celebrate in all of our holiday activity.

The Problem with Christians and AIDS Activism

Today, of course, is AIDS awareness day. However, many Christians are unsympathetic to the whole epidemic, and this has subjected them to attack from the likes of Rick Warren, to say nothing of those on the left.

The basic problem, as is the case with many things, is political.

Back in the 1980’s, gay activists made the decision to couple AIDS awareness and the advancement of the gay agenda. You do one, you accept the other. Their idea was to play on people’s sympathies to advance themselves. In doing this they made suffering and dying from AIDS for homosexuals what martyrdom is for jihadis, i.e., a sacrament.

The backwash for this was that those who had no sympathies with the homosexual agenda don’t have any for AIDS either, even though most AIDS sufferers outside the developed world didn’t acquire the disease from homosex, and many not even voluntarily. As was the case with gay marriage, the leadership of the homosexual community isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.

This, to my mind, is the central reason why curing AIDS is so far down the list of most Christians’ agenda. It’s unfair for those in the developed world, where the best long-term hope comes from the abstinence programmes that Christian churches advocate. But the developed world and the Third World frequently run at cross-purposes with each other. And if that conflict isn’t resolved–a scenario that influenced The Island Chronicles–the AIDS business will fall further down people’s agenda than it already has.

The Basic Problem(s) with the Episcopal Church

We found the whole report entitled “Is the Episcopal Church Growing (or Declining?)” a fascinating one to digest, not only from a ministry professional standpoint but as an analysis of the present state of the TEC. (“Present” may be a stretch; the report stops in 2002, just before the firestorm erupted over Vickie Gene Robinson’s consecration.) Some of its conclusions, especially those regarding the birthrate, were reflected in the new Presiding Bishop’s recent interview with the New York Times.
There are two statements that we found of particular interest.

As long as we are a predominantly white denomination with aging, affluent, highly educated members, growth will be increasingly difficult.

TEC’s core demographics have always been its greatest strength and weakness at the same time. As a strength, it creates a snob appeal to the denomination that no other can match, which has fuelled more of its growth than it cares to admit. (Strange, a supposedly Christian organisation, representing a religion that has humility as a hallmark, appealing to pride!) As a weakness, it draws its membership from a group that is less likely to yield to the demands of the Gospel, and all the while yield a smaller portion of its income, than others, as I found out growing up. The birthrate analysis the report makes speaks for itself.

Unfortunately what will happen is that the upper reaches of our society, as they progressively secularise, will find religion increasingly dispensable? (This is a position they will regret in eternity, but for now…) Compounded by the TEC’s compulsion to conform to this world in every respect, the result will be a “product” that is undifferentiated from the one they find at the country club, coffee house, bath house and pub. So why bother?

And this leads to the second item of interest:

But it will require much more than business as usual to expand into other constituencies (the less educated, immigrants, Hispanics, the unchurched). It will take new churches and a new openness among our existing parishes. It will take having something to offer newcomers that changes lives.

Changed lives…now that’s the tricky part! TEC has been weak on that for a long time, even before the liberals overwhelmed the likes of Henry Louttit back in the 1960’s. Radical changes were already impolite; the left’s takeover, dominated by Freudian determinism (that bad potty training!) put paid to the whole idea that a person needed to be fundamentally different once he or she became a Christian.

The report’s attempt to put a happy face on things notwithstanding, we just don’t see a major improvement in things, even though we have to admit that the siren song of Anglicanism–even in the debased form it has in the TEC–is a strong one, frequently in spite of itself. Our biggest worry is that the urge to conform to this world will metasticise into parts of Christianity that were heretofore immune to it.

Do not conform to the fashion of this world; but be transformed by the complete change that has come over your minds, so that you may discern what God’s will is–all that is good, acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

The Island Chronicles: In Print at Last

We are pleased to announce that The Island Chronicles–our premier work–is now in print. The first two installments, Paludavia (The Swamp Road) and At the Inlet, are immediately available, and the last two, The Final Decision and Two Paths, will be very shortly. These represent the fourth and fifth books this webmaster has had published this year; it has been a very fruitful year in that regard.

You can purchase The Island Chronicles by clicking here to go to our store.

You can view information on all of our books by clicking here.

British Airways Defeated by the Cross

We are gratified that British Airways has finally seen daylight on the issue of whether one of their check-in personnel could wear a small cross on the job.

What surprises us is that so much of the UK, a society that is riddled with rabid secuarlism and political correctness, rose up in outcry over this issue. The broad based anger over this is something we expect in the US but is a surprise across the water. The anger over this was much broader in the British political establishment than one would expect. Even Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, finally took a stand on this. I suppose that the Brits figured that if he took a stand on something, it was time for them to do the same.

Although much of the criticism in the UK centred on an attempt to supress the country’s Christian heritage (the flag on the tails of the planes carry three crosses,) from an American standpoint it comes down to fairness. If the Muslims and Sikhs can wear their respective garb and symbols, it only makes sense to allow the Christians to do the same.

The problem here is that the secularists, whose main bête noire has been Christianity since the Enlightenment, reflexively go after Christianity even when there are greater threats out there. We noted this in The Army of Joshua, and Charles Krauthammer pointed this out from a Jewish context in his critique of Borat.

It’s time to wake up and come to our senses.