January 20th, 2011
11:45 AM ET

Letters to the President: #731 'Negotiating'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama’s been really busy entertaining the Chinese president, so I don’t know if he’s had time to read my letters lately. Or…uh…ever, for that matter.

Dear Mr. President,

It seems as if the big state dinner went well enough last night. Congratulations on that. I must say that I rarely pay much attention to things such as the first lady’s attire, but her gown last night was really quite smashing.

From a distance, however, I can’t really say that I know how things are going in the overall visit. It seems to me that the problem with these high level visits is often the delicate balance between playing nice and playing tough. Truth told, we need to do both.

Obviously there is no advantage to creating unnecessary friction. As much as some of your critics might want you to take some sort of cheap, grandstanding shot at Mr. Hu over human rights or some other issue, I often find that such maneuvers look big but produce small - meaning, they needlessly make the other party feel put down and defensive.

On the other hand, when people are so diplomatic that nothing gets done, and grievances receive no airing at all, well, that’s no good either.

Here is a good rule of thumb for all negotiations: Nobody cares what you want. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It is simply realistic. They care about their goals, and your goals only matter to the extent that they will serve that end. So whether we are talking about economic warfare, or currency manipulation, or treatment of the world’s peoples, the secret lies not in figuring out how to make the opposing party do what you want but in making them want what you want. Because if they want it, they’ll do it on their own.

Anyway, I hope it all goes well.

Hey, I saw a bald eagle during my run down by the Potomac this morning. I’ve seen only about a half dozen in the decade that I’ve lived here and it is always a thrill.

I know you are busy, but when the company is gone and you’ve cleaned up, give me a call.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Kim

    "We gotta lot of stuff we want to sell you." Obama ! 1.Toys say made in the USA.
    2.Textiles say made in the USA.
    3.Furniture says made in the USA.
    The rest of this story see Donald Trump ! "We're all in this boat together." Hillary Clinton and who ? Hu ! No nukes for Iran and peace in "START" now.

    January 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |