The US Desperately Needs a Win-Win Foreign Policy, and Immigrants Are the Key
We’ve all heard the accusations that immigrants have divided loyalties. That they can’t be trusted. That they’re not really American.
As a descendant of immigrants myself, and as a religious minority, I’m here to admit that we DO have divided loyalties.
But Is That Such a Bad Thing?
First, what do people usually mean by divided loyalties? This term is used to describe an immigrant’s unwillingness to give all their love and loyalty to their adopted country. There’s a fear that people with divided loyalties can’t be trusted. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, immigrants love BOTH their adopted country and their homeland. They want to see the best for all societies. This is a valuable philosophy in an increasingly interconnected world, and is already being adopted in the business world.
Lessons From the World of Startups
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in business, it’s that a win-win approach is much more powerful than a zero-sum game approach. What do I mean by this? Someone who believes in a zero-sum game approach is only happy when the other side loses. Whereas the win-win approach is all about creating relationships where both sides win. Counterintuitively, it’s usually the win-win approach that’s more lucrative for everyone in the long run. As an example, Elon Musk founded X.com in 1999, competing with a company called Confinity. Rather than battling it out until one or both companies had to close (zero-sum game approach), they decided to merge in 2000 (win-win approach), and became known as PayPal. Two years later, PayPal was sold to Ebay for $1.5 billion. The money Elon Musk earned from this sale allowed him to start Tesla and Space X. The decision to find a way to work together, despite being fierce competitors, let to incredible value for the founders of these two companies, and society at large.
The Zero-Sum Game of International Politics
Similarly, I believe we need to look at international relations using a win-win, rather than a zero-sum game approach. Let’s look back at the outcomes of recent conflicts to see how these two approaches have panned out.
The US viewed the Vietnam War as a zero-sum game, where we could only win if our opponents lost. This resulted in an incredible loss of life on both sides, not to mention the financial costs. The investment of time, money, and human life may have allowed us to win the individuals battles, however we lost the war. Afterwards, we’ve engaged with Vietnam economically as they’ve transitioned from a command economy to a capitalist economy. This former adversarial relationship is now one of friendship and cooperation, because we chose to do business together, because we chose the win-win approach.
I’m not naïve, there are times when war is needed. Nazi Germany is a case in point. But even then, I would argue that if a more equitable agreement was settled following WWI, the Nazi party would not have come to power. This lesson was understood by the Allies, and following WWII considerable resources were invested into redeveloping the German and Japanese economies. To this day we have strong relationships with both Germany and Japan, again, a result of the win-win approach.
However, when it came to Cuba (since 1960) and Iran (since 1979) we decided sanctions were the route to regime change and improved relations. However, the most obvious results of five decades of economic sanctions (zero-sum game) are poverty and mistrust.
That being said, there was a glimmer of hope. For a brief period, when President Obama loosened the sanctions on Cuba, Americans were visiting this fascinating land, frozen in time. Tourism related businesses boomed, and so did the exchange of ideas and friendships. For the first time, Cubans and Cuban Americans did the impossible, they opened businesses in this communist nation. Think about that, the opening of relations between these two nations created more positive change in two years than could be accomplished by 50+ years of sanctions. As I said, it was a short-lived experiment, but it clearly demonstrates the power of win-win solutions.
Unfortunately, our approach to Iraq and Afghanistan are still being governed by the rules of the zero-sum game. As a result, we’ve again witnessed an incredible loss of life on both sides, and an incredible loss of money, more than $2 trillion, as of February 2020. These costs continue to add up. As US soldiers return from the battlefield their suffering doesn’t end. Their lives are being lost to suicide, approximately one every hour. Is there an opportunity to turn this around by applying the win-win approach to this conflict?
So, How Do We Create More Win-Win Relationships?
As the business world has embraced the idea of win-win relationships and seen incredible growth as a result, I believe the application of this principle to foreign relations will be equally beneficial. We’ve already seen examples of how this approach has turned warring countries into friends and trading partners. How can we build on these successes?
In my opinion, immigrants, and the children of immigrants, who don’t believe in choosing between countries and instead believe in solutions that benefit everyone, are going to be critical in this shift. They embody a worldview that embraces win-win solutions, and as we’ve seen, the potential upside is enormous.
What do you think? Are wars and sanctions really effective? Is there a better way? Is economic cooperation more effective at changing the course of an adversarial relationship? Could this backfire? Can the “divided loyalties” of immigrants be leveraged as an asset in our foreign relations? Are there other ways they can serve as economic and cultural bridges between societies?