However, I have come to see one potential positive aspect of the prospect of President Trump. Assuming that he appoints a savvy and strategically savant Secretary of State, there would never be a better opportunity to employ the “Madman Theory” of foreign policy. What exactly is this “Madman Theory” you ask?
The madman theory was a primary characteristic of the foreign policy conducted by U.S. President Richard Nixon. His administration, the executive branch of the federal government of the United States from 1969 to 1974, attempted to make the leaders of other countries think Nixon was mad, and that his behavior was irrational and volatile. According to Nixon's theory, leaders of hostile Communist Bloc nations would then avoid provoking the United States, fearing an unpredictable American response.
Nixon explained the strategy to his White House Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman:
“I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, "for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button" and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”
In October 1969, the Nixon administration indicated to the Soviet Union that "the madman was loose" when the United States military was ordered to full global war readiness alert (unbeknownst to the majority of the American population), and bombers armed with thermonuclear weapons flew patterns near the Soviet border for three consecutive days.
The administration employed the "madman strategy" to force the North Vietnamese government to negotiate a peace to end the Vietnam War. Along the same lines, American diplomats (Henry Kissinger in particular) portrayed the 1970 incursion into Cambodia as a symptom of Nixon's supposed instability.
The actual effectiveness of the Madman Theory is open to debate. But it’s easy to imagine that it least could have played a role in bringing the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating tables in late 1972 after the US unleashed Operation Linebacker II, which was the heaviest bombing campaign of the war directed against Hanoi and Haiphong. If Nixon was willing to go farther with that bombing than any American leader before and if he was mad (or at least unstable) who knows how much further he would be willing to go? The North Vietnamese very well may have decided not to find out.
Now the beauty of putting this theory into practice with a Trump Administration is that there would no need to feign or exaggerate the madness of the Commander in Chief. As Max Boot put it when I raised this possibility on Twitter yesterday:
In this case it wouldn't be a charade https://t.co/sEkmRdsP7M— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) February 10, 2016
No, the madness would be all too real and quite obvious for all to see. And no one would want to call President Trump’s bluff knowing full well that he wouldn’t hesitate to carry it out.
Imagine the potential power this would provide to a wily Secretary of State trying to convince other countries to come around to a position more favorable for the United States.
“If I have to go back to President Trump and tell him we don’t have a deal, I don’t know what’s going to happen. You know how touchy he is. Would hate to think about what he might do if he got angry…”
And this wouldn’t have to be limited to countries we normally consider as antagonistic to American interests like North Korea, Iran, or Russia. The EU starts cracking down on American tech companies over privacy concerns?
”You got a real nice city here in Brussels. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.”
The possibilities for utilizing this in foreign policy are almost endless. Let’s get nuts.