Check Points for Making a Tough Decision and Deciding What to Say

June 16, 2018

On Making a Tough Decision?

1. Is it consistent with my own vision, my beliefs, and my understanding of the facts?

2. Am I doing what I believe is morally and ethically right? Does it feel right? (If it doesn't feel right, improbably isn't).

3. Would I fee;l comfortable telling my wife, Francie, and my children what I have done and why?

On Deciding What to Say? *

1. Is it kind?

2. Is it true?

3. Is it necessary?

4. Does it promise  to advance the purpose of  my organization?

*With thanks to my good friend, Angela Schunk.

Reflections on the Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul's New Memoir

June 14, 2018

McFaul, who has returned to Stanford after his stints of public service in Washington and Moscow, writes of his abiding interest in Russia, which goes all the way back to his high school days and which has been borne out by his longstanding commitment to getting to know Russians on a personal level.
Yet it’s clear to me that McFaul’s prior writings about Putin and Russia soured government leaders in Russia on his being appointed Ambassador.
And while I’m not sure that having a different Ambassador than McFaul for the somewhat less than two years he held the position would have made a difference in the trajectory of the U.S.-Russia relationship, I cannot believe his presence there helped the situation. This is not to say that the treatment he and his family received at the hands of Russian authorities, which he recounts in his book, was in any way justified.
McFaul came into the position of Ambassador with a deeply skeptical, indeed negative, view of Putin and his behavior.  Many of these negative views, some of which could be justified later in Putin’s tenure, are often identified as attributes Putin had from the start. For example, McFaul claims (Page 259) that “Putin developed his theories about American foreign policy years earlier, when he was a KGB agent in East Germany.” Yet if Putin was anti-American from the start, what explains, for example, him being the first international leader to offer assistance to the United States in the aftermath of 9/11? As it happens, even Michael McFaul expressed a measure of optimism about US-Russian relations at that time.
It seems to me McFaul’s approach to Putin became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, by the time he got to Spaso House, he had already decided that Putin was not someone with whom the US government could or should do business. In that connection, I found it bizarre that McFaul found it so important to underscore (Page 79) that “good relations with Russia was not the goal of Reset, but a strategy for pursuing American interests regarding Russia.”
Similarly, I found McFaul’s characterization of the relationship between Obama and Medvedev at the June 2010 Summit to be somewhat odd.  McFaul writes that, “Obama started his remarks by using the dreaded ‘f-word,’ saying that it was a ‘pleasure to be here with my friend and partner…’”  McFaul continues, “I was always wary about using the word ‘friend’ in diplomacy, but I could not stop the President’s reference in relation to Medvedev.”  I found that a very sad comment.
McFaul goes to great lengths to lay out alternative motivations for Putin’s behavior.  He acknowledges, for example, the impact of the expansion of NATO, the bombing Serbia, the overthrow of Gaddafi, as factors that influenced Putin’s thinking.  But then, in his ultimate analysis of what guided Putin, he again and again downplays the impact that these factors might have had.
I find McFaul flipping back and forth from expressing a commitment to work with Russia and then advocating action, or a possible line of action, that presumes Russia is an adversary.  For example, during the 2009 Reset, he expresses his belief that, “For the Reset to succeed, we had to do more to enhance the security of our NATO allies in closest proximity to Russia; translating this aspiration into policy proved challenging.  NATO expansion was not an option.”  But he then goes on to note that NATO issued a “confusing statement which welcomed ‘Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO’ and insisted ‘that these countries will become members of NATO’ but also kicked the start of their MAPs (Membership Action Plan) to the distant future.’”
How did he expect Putin and Russia would react to this?  Naturally, they’d see it as a signal of continued intent to expand NATO eastward.
At the same point in time, there was the issue of missile defense.  The Obama administration argued that our intent in locating missile defense batteries in Poland and Romania was to “defend against Iran, not Russia.”  Was it realistic to believe that Russia would accept that?  I don’t think so.  Here was just one more instance of the U.S. taking action which, through Russian eyes, looked adversarial.  And this in the midst of the Reset!
In the end it seems McFaul was either unable or unwilling to empathize with what the Russian government viewed as legitimate national security interests.
I have the sense that McFaul’s academic work, including the study of how autocratic regimes can transition to democracy, colored his belief as to what should be his and the U.S. government’s role in Russia. I come away from this book feeling that he saw himself as something of a “savior” to bring about “democracy,”as he envisaged it in Russia.
This is not to say Putin’s Russia hasn’t violated acceptable norms.  For instance, I believe that Putin’s decision to annex Crimea was both wrong from the standpoint of international law and wrong for the best long-term interests of Russia. There had to be other ways (a protectorate?) for Russia to have protected its interests on the peninsula. The suppression of opposing Presidential candidates and bombing of Syrian civilians in alliance with President Assad cannot be excused.
Despite the currently poisoned relationship (deserving McFaul’s description of a “Hot Peace”),  I continue to believe that the time will come when our relationship with Russia will return to a positive plane. I know there is a lot of “hope”in that belief. I base it on the commonality and existential importance of so many of the interests of our two countries, above all control of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.  For this to happen, we’re going to have to find a way to break through on the knottiest problems of Syria and Ukraine.
In the end, for me, Mc Faul’s account is a cautionary tale which reveals how the failure to consider how our actions, as well-intended and justified as they seem to us, may appear to another country and its leaders, and might, unintentionally, impede the achievement of our common interests.
A cautionary tale, too, in that it shows how a reflexively negative view of another country’s leader – in this case Putin-can become so personal and so unidimensional that the assumed inability to reach a “win-win” outcome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Relationships Which Have Underpinned Our Prosperity and Safety Are Under Threat by Our President

June 11, 2018

Column by David Leonhardt—New York Times—6/11-2018
"The alliance between the United States and Western Europe has accomplished great things. It won two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Then it expanded to include its former enemies and went on to win the Cold War, help spread democracy and build the highest living standards the world has ever known.
President Trump is trying to destroy that alliance.
Is that how he thinks about it? Who knows?  It’s impossible to get inside his head and divine his strategic goals, if he even has long-term goals. But put it this way:  If a president of the United States were to sketch out a secret, detailed plan to break up the Atlantic alliance, that plan would bear a striking resemblance to Trump’s behavior.  
It would involve outward hostility to the leaders of Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Japan. Specifically, it would involve picking fights over artificial issues—not to win big concessions for the United States, but to create conflict for the sake of it.”
This is a horrible betrayal of the leadership the United States has provided over the last 70 years to make the world a more prosperous and safer place. 
As Ben Steil writes in his book, The Marshall Plan:  Dawn of the Cold War:
"Forty years after Dean Acheson’s observation in the second half of the 1940s on the need for Washington to have allies, its early Cold War alliances were still intact, while Moscow’s were in tatters.  Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., had in October 1947 written to Vandenberg, who passed his words on to Marshall, that ‘the recovery of Western Europe [was] a twenty-five to fifty-year proposition and…the aid which we extend now and in the next three or four years will in the long future result in our having strong friends abroad.’ This insight was keen and important.  Containment successfully navigated between appeasement and war for four decades, and the Marshall Plan played a principal role in bonding the West together for the struggle.  Many of the institutions we now take for granted as natural elements of the liberal postwar order—in particular, the European Union, NATO, and the World Trade Organization—were forged under U.S. leadership during the early Marshall years.”
The U.S. must not abdicate the position of providing respectful, collaborative leadership for these organizations and treaties which have underpinned the relative prosperity and peace we have had since World War II.  President Trump's behavior threatens to do just that by undermining the trust our allied leaders have in us. Our Congressional and other leaders must speak up.  Life is all about relationships, and good relationships have to be based on trust. We never have nor will we ever always agree with our allies, but we have to treat them as we would want to be treated, with respect.  

A Source of Encouragement: Corporations Stepping Up to Advance Social and Environmental Goals

June 8, 2018

We are seeing something important happen. Consider these recent news reports:

·     “Despite the President’s Paris pull-out, U.S Companies Pursue Clean Energy.” (NYT)

“Walmart has installed on-site solar panels in the parking lots of at least 350 stores.  Dozens of Fortune 500 companies, from tech giants like Apple and Google to Walmart and General Motors, are voluntarily investing billions of dollars in new wind and solar projects to power their operations.”

·     “Target pledges to get salaries to $15 an hour by 2020.”

·     “Starbucks offers paid sick leave and stock grants to baristas.”
        Starbucks closes 8,000 stores to provide their employees “implicit bias” training.

·     Walmart partners with three universities to offer associate and bachelor degrees to 1.4 million part-time, full-time and salaried Walmart and Sam’s Club employees in business supply and sales management. Walmart will cover the cost of tuition, books and fees.  Employees will pay only $1 per day for the duration of their study.
·     Procter & Gamble launches the major “Love over Bias” advertising campaign that directly takes on the issue of bias.

·     Procter & Gamble creates the #LikeAGirl movement addressing gender bias by building girls’ confidence which often wanes at puberty. The videos are viewed 76 million times globally, with 4.5 billion impressions. 

·     Walmart ends sale of sporting rifles, including AR-15s. Increases the age restriction for purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21.  Bans sales of bump stocks and similar accessories.  Goes beyond federal laws on background checks. Federal law permits sales following a background check if an answer has not been received in three business days, Walmart policy prohibits the sale until an actual approval is given.

These are a few of many examples I am seeing on almost a daily basis of corporations are stepping up to take action on social and environmental issues in a way that I have not seen before.

This is especially important and perhaps partly explained by the fact that implementing policy change at the federal is too often stymied by political gridlock.  No wonder surveys show a continuing decline in people’s trust in government.  Pew surveys show us that the percentage of respondents trusting government “to do what is right just about always or most of the time” dropped from almost 80% in the mid-1960s to 18% today.  

To be sure, the conviction that business should play an active role in improving the quality of life is not entirely new. No one stated this more succinctly than Roberto Goizueta, former Chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company.  Decades ago, he said, “When we were once perceived as simply providing services, selling products and employing people, business now shares in much of the responsibility for our global quality of life.”

That same conviction has motivated one Procter & Gamble CEO after another.  

Still, why are we seeing more explicit actions to do that today?  I think there are several reasons.  

To a greater extent than ever, company employees and their consumers are expecting, even demanding, it.  Social media is making it easier than ever for them to register that expectation.  A recent study by Edelman Research revealed that 75% of those polled felt that a “company can take specific action that will both increase the economic and social conditions where it operates.”

Year after year, I have seen an increasing number of students whom we talk with on campuses ask, “What is your company doing for the environment and for the community?”  Of course, these students are focused on getting a good job.  But, more than ever, they are concerned about social and environmental issues.

Consumers are concerned too.  We see that, for example, in the increasing popularity of “fair trade” products.

Corporate leaders are increasingly seeing the often unexpected, benefits that arise from “doing the right thing” in advancing social and environmental values.  That has been the case for me.  

One example goes all the way back to 1989.  I had traveled to Hunt Valley, Maryland to meet with George Bunting, CEO of Noxell, the home of the leading cosmetic brand in North America, Cover Girl. We were there to express our interest in partnering with Cover Girl.  It was a low-key approach; we weren’t proposing a particular form of partnership.

After exchanging pleasantries, George Bunting’s response almost blew me out of my chair.  

“John,” he said, “you’ve come at an opportune time.  We have concluded that our company does not have the resources to achieve the potential which Cover Girl deserves.  And we have concluded that Procter & Gamble is the only company with which we would want to join.”

I had to restrain myself.  If I allowed my full enthusiasm to show, I feared the asking price might expand by several multiples.

Bunting asked me if I would like to know why P&G was the onlycompany they would choose to merge with.  I said, “of course.”  “There are three reasons,” he responded.  “The first is that we know that you know how to build brands. The second is, we admire the way you take care of your people.  And the third, we have seen how strongly you support your communities.” 

P&G’s values came back to benefit us in a totally unexpected way.  

We went on to acquire Noxell. It came at a fair price, but there was no auction.  Noxell talked to no other company than P&G.  P&G’s values and actions to support those values helped make this possible.

Two years later, in 1991, I encountered another demonstration of this.  We had been searching for the best site for what would be our first plant in Central and Eastern Europe.  We decided on a plant in Rakovnik, a small town located about 100 kilometers from Prague.  

Our challenge was that our key competitors also wanted this plant.  Our product supply experts visited the plant; so did those of our competitors. After several months of negotiation, P&G won the bid.  

I visited the plant about a month. As I was about to leave, the plant manager came up to me and asked if I would like to know why he had strongly recommended to the government officials (it was a state-owned plant) that P&G be acquirer.  I told him I would love to know.

When our competitors had visited the plant, he said, they had focused almost exclusively on how they could reduce costs and eliminate jobs.  The P&G people were different.  They, too, had emphasized the need for productivity, but their primary emphasis was on how the plant could reduce its environmental impact and ensure the workers’ safety and improve product quality.  It was that difference in emphasis that led him to recommend P&G as the buyer.  I don’t know to what degree the plant manager’s recommendation influenced the government’s decision, but I suspect it played a part. 

Again, P&G’s commitment to societal and environmental goals led to an unexpected benefit.

To be clear, nothing is going to supplant consumers’ demand for products and services that provide better performance and represent good values.  And nothing will take the place for the long-term success of a business than its being growing and profitable.  But that is no longer enough, at least not in the minds of many, if not most, of the leading corporate executives who I know in this country.

I don’t want to appear to be na├»ve.   We still see improper business practices; we always will.

We also continue to see a fairly high level of distrust for business in general.  In the Edelman research study I referenced earlier, only 52% of respondents said they “trust business to do what is right.”  But that can change, and I think it will change as consumers and employees see more businesses taking action to achieve a sustaining, successful business anda sustaining, healthy environment in which they operate.

As always, balanced consideration of our responsibilities is critical.  We have to provide products and services of superior performance and value.  We have to provide places of good employment.  I wasn’t surprised to read that respondents to the Edelman survey I referenced earlier listed the “best ways business can build a better future is to pay fair wages, offer better benefits and create more jobs.” All of that requires a healthy growing business.

Still, I believe we are increasingly seeing that businesses are recognizing they have a critical role, as Roberto Goizueta counseled decades ago, “to improve our global quality of life.”

Business must do this as a partner with non-profit organizations and governments, demonstrating that progress is not only possible but can be made to happen.  I find this to be very encouraging.

Life Long Lessons from General Marshall's China Mission

May 15, 2018

This magnificent book--"The China Mission by Daniel Kurtzt-Phelan--tells the story of General George Marshall’s heroic attempt to try to negotiate a settlement between the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communist parties after World War II, from late 1945 through early 1947.
His mission, despite valiant effort, ultimately failed.  He went on immediately following that assignment to become Secretary of State, a position from which he launched the “Marshall Plan” and oversaw with President Truman the protection of Greece and Turkey from Soviet domination.
I found life long lessons emerging from this story:
1.     Some endeavors–like this one–are unattainable despite all the will in the world and superior leadership.
In the end, the visions of Mao Tse-tung and Chaing Kai-shek were simply too discordant to be reconciled.  This reality was accentuated by each side greatly over-estimating the ease with which it could win over the other militarily.
 Marshall, persisting relentlessly for over a year, did all that he could have in this situation.  He did not give up easily but he did not fail to see the reality of the challenge.
In hindsight, he may have been “too close” to Chaing to have convinced him of the need to change his ways if he was to receive the support of the U.S.  But he did lean heavily on Chaing, and I doubt if Chaing had the mindset to change anyway.  To say Chiang was deep-seated in his ways is  an understatement.
Mao, on the other hand, always suspicious of the U.S. ( and finding good reasons to be because of the support we were giving Chaing) knew he would have the support of the Soviet Union, even if it was not all that he wanted it to be.
2.     Marshall learned from this experience as he went on to be Secretary of State.  He focused on not undertaking more than could be done.  He became even more beholden to the Serenity Prayer:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 
He resisted the pleas to create “Marshall Plans” not only in Europe but in Latin America and Asia.  He knew we could not spread our resources too thinly.  He wanted to act on what he knew we could “win.”
3.     Impressively but not surprisingly, Marshall’s failure to achieve the goal he sought in China did not dim one iota his confidence and energy in pursuing the position of Secretary of State and then Secretary of Defense following his return to the U.S.  In other words, he did not let this “defeat” get him down. 
4.     Marshall’s integrity leaps off the page in the transparency with which he dealt with Zhou Enlai and Chaing and everyone.  He spoke directly and honestly.  The ability of Marshall to deal with all sides was remarkable.  Also remarkable was the strategic quality of the plans he put together.  The failure of this mission  cannot be attributed to a lack of strategic thought, candor or energy on the part of Marshall.
5.     A lesson emerging clearly from the China mission was that in the end only the country itself could resolve what would be the conclusion of a civil war.  The fact is Mao gained the support of the “people.”  Chaing did not.  We were backing a corrupt, autocratic leader.  We failed to learn this lesson in Vietnam.  The outcome was tragic.
6.     Like some of the wars with which we have been engaged, e.g., Syria, Vietnam, we found that a large percentage of the supplies we sent to the nationals ended up getting into the Communists' hands, sometimes because the nationals were selling them to them.  As one communist said, “It is all right for the United States to arm the Kuomintang because as fast as they get it we take it away from them.”
7.     Like Vietnam and Afghanistan and Syria, there was the continued tension in the U.S. between “bring the troops home” and “bringing in more troops to win the day.”
8.     The book brings to life the shining qualities of Marshall’s leadership.  Here are two excerpts which  I particularly liked:
“Early in his career watching Black Jack Pershing lead American forces in World War I, Marshall had grasped a lesson that stayed with him, ‘when conditions are difficult, the command is depressed and everyone seems critical and pessimistic, you must be especially cheerful and optimistic.  The more alarming and disquieting the reports received or the conditions viewed in battle, the more determined must be your attitude.’”
At the start of World War II, Marshall received a letter from a high school student asking what was the secret of success.  Marshall’s answer:  “Giving the best I had to each job and not permitting myself to grow pessimistic over the slow progress or inevitable discouragements.”
As one of his aides said about Marshall’s renewed fervor after every setback:  “He subjugates himself to a purpose.”

"Wrecking Ball In Chief"

May 9, 2018

"Wrecking Ball in Chief": These were the well-chosen words Susan Rice used to describe President Trump in her op-ed column in today's NYT, reacting to his and our country's withdrawal from the Iran agreement.

This adds to and for me is by far the most worrisome of the destructive foreign policy decisions President Trump has made:

1. Withdrawal from the Trans-Atalntic Partnership has hurt our economy, lessened our leadership position in Asia and been a boon to the Chinese.

2. Withdrawal from the Paris Climate treaty has curtailed our leadership position in the world and works against the environmental challenges our world faces.

3. The renegotiation of NAFTA is fracturing our relationships with our closest allies and is risking damage to our own businesses.

4. The decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem fractures whatever small possibility exists to bring Israel and Palestine together in a settlement.

5. Our sanctions against steel and aluminum undercut our partnership with our European allies as well as Japan.

6. We launch a missile attack on the government of Syria, but present no strategy or plan to resolve this conflict. Nor is there any evidence of a strategy or plan to resolve the still-boiling trauma in Ukraine.

What unites these dangerous actions and absence of action are two things, both perilous:

1. The utter absence of a cohesive foreign policy strategy and plan other than  an arrogant, dismissive "we will go it alone", "it is only our interests that count", "we don't need to collaborate"  mind set. Needless to say, this mind set feeds and supports all the most dangerous instincts and actions of other countries with whom we see ourselves in some form of conflict, e.g. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia.

2. The willingness to uni-laterally and will-fully abrogate agreements and treaties which have been drawn after extended discussion with allies and sometimes with those with whom we disagree. The "word" of our country has been badly compromised. This will have negative impacts we can not predict today

What makes the withdrawal from the Iran agreement the most concerning of all Trump's dangerous actions is that it elevates the greatest risk our world faces: nuclear proliferation and ultimately nuclear destruction. It does so in a way that pokes a big thumb in the eyes of our closest allies. We talk about Russia wanting to sow discord between Europe and the U.S. You could not choose a decision more likely to do that.


What are we to do?

In the short term, continue to value, insist on and support a "free press" and the "rule of law", including investigations of the kind Mueller is conducting.

In 2020,  ensure Trump leaves office by electing a man or woman who brings the values, character and wisdom the Presidency demands--including: 1) recognizing that we have to work together with other countries if we are to achieve our nation's and world's future and (2) that our President must model values which we would want our children to emulate. In my lifetime of now almost 80 years, we have had Presidents with some character traits and who have taken some actions which I cringe at. But never have I seen a President whose commitment to truth and to respecting other people has been so utterly lacking.