In­ter­na­tional The re­turn of the Mad­man The­ory

Is Don­ald Trump re­viv­ing the "mad­man the­ory" of diplo­macy, in­tro­duced by Richard Nixon to in­stil fear in Amer­ica's ad­ver­saries? North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's de­scrip­tion of Trump as "men­tally de­ranged" sug­gests that such a ploy might be work­ing – or e

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump By Nina L. Khrushcheva

In the 1970s, US Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon in­structed Sec­re­tary of State Henry Kissinger to con­vince the lead­ers of hos­tile com­mu­nist coun­tries that he could be er­ratic and volatile, par­tic­u­larly when un­der pres­sure. Kissinger, a shrewd prac­ti­tioner of Realpoli­tik, saw the po­ten­tial in this ap­proach, which he read­ily im­ple­mented. With that, the “mad­man the­ory” of diplo­macy was born.

Nixon was far from mad, though his heavy drink­ing at the height of the Water­gate scan­dal prompted Kissinger and Sec­re­tary of De­fence James Sch­lesinger to es­tab­lish a way to mon­i­tor his con­trol of the nu­clear codes. Nixon's goal in trum­pet­ing his sup­posed er­ratic na­ture was to stoke fear among his for­eign ad­ver­saries that mak­ing him an­gry or stressed could re­sult in an ir­ra­tional – even nu­clear – re­sponse, thereby im­pelling them to check their own be­hav­iour.

To­day, with Don­ald Trump lead­ing the United States, the mad­man doc­trine is back with a vengeance. But, this time around, it is far less clear that it's just an act, and that Trump would not re­ally de­cide, in a fit of rage or frus­tra­tion, to at­tack, or even nuke, his op­po­nents.

Ex­hibit A in a hear­ing on Trump's san­ity would have to be his re­cent ad­dress to the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly, which re­sem­bled the lu­natic ram­blings of Aerys Tar­garyen, the “mad king” in the tele­vi­sion show “Game of Thrones.” Putting his own spin on Tar­garyen's in­fa­mous line “burn

them all,” Trump threat­ened that the US would “to­tally de­stroy” North Korea if it con­tin­ues to de­velop its nu­clear pro­gramme.

In the same speech, Trump also sav­aged the 2015 nu­clear agree­ment with Iran. As he spoke, his chief of staff, re­tired US Marine Corps Gen­eral John Kelly, who was ap­pointed in July to bring or­der and a de­gree of sta­bil­ity to Trump's White House san­i­tar­ium, could be seen with his head in his hands, as if in shock or de­spair.

Many Amer­i­cans have per­haps grown de­sen­si­tized to Trump's off-the-wall tirades, hav­ing en­dured months of his latenight Twit­ter as­saults on the press, his op­po­nents and fel­low Repub­li­cans, even his own cabi­net mem­bers. The fa­mously thin­skinned Trump has shown that, when pro­voked or in­sulted, he can be counted on to re­tal­i­ate.

But, un­like many of Trump's pre­vi­ous un­hinged ram­blings, the UN speech was read from a teleprompter, which means that it was vet­ted ahead of time. Those who thought that the “grownups” in Trump's ad­min­is­tra­tion – Kelly, Sec­re­tary of De­fence Jim Mat­tis, and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor H.R. McMaster – would keep US se­cu­rity strat­egy within the bounds of rea­son might need to think again.

Per­haps the mad­dest part of all is Trump's ap­par­ent cal­cu­la­tion that North Korea's boy-king Kim Jong-un might cower in the face of his threats. Af­ter Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan called the Soviet Union an “evil em­pire” in 1983, he was ad­vised not to re­peat it, in the in­ter­est of im­prov­ing the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship. Rec­og­niz­ing the im­por­tance of such an im­prove­ment for mit­i­gat­ing the nu­clear threat, Rea­gan fol­lowed his ad­vis­ers' coun­sel. The same can­not be said of Trump, who surely has been warned of the dan­gers of hurl­ing in­sults like “Rocket Man” at the bru­tal and in­ex­pe­ri­enced Kim.

When Nixon adopted his own “mad” per­sona, he was in some ways draw­ing on the ex­am­ple of Nikita Khrushchev, my grand­fa­ther and Nixon's ad­ver­sary dur­ing his ten­ure as US vice pres­i­dent. In the so­called “kitchen de­bate” of 1959 – one of the Cold War's weird­est mo­ments – Nixon sparred with Khrushchev in Moscow over the su­pe­ri­or­ity of cap­i­tal­ism over so­cial­ism.

A year later, at the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York, Khrushchev made quite the ap­pear­ance. Cuba's new rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader Fidel Cas­tro was, as was his wont, flam­boy­antly is­su­ing ex­trav­a­gant threats. Not to be out­done, “Hur­ri­cane Nikita” used ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to stir the diplo­matic pot, whistling and bang­ing his fists – and even, al­legedly, his shoe – on the desk.

There was abun­dant ev­i­dence that Western pow­ers had been try­ing to hood­wink the Soviet Union. A U-2 re­con­nais­sance air­craft, which Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower had de­nied ex­isted, had been shot down over Soviet ter­ri­tory. More­over, the US had de­manded that the Soviet Union re­spect the Mon­roe Doc­trine, which as­signed Latin Amer­ica to Amer­ica's sphere of in­ter­est, but was un­will­ing to ac­cept Soviet hege­mony in East­ern Europe. And it had dis­missed a Soviet-ini­ti­ated dis­ar­ma­ment plan, the first of­fi­cial at­tempt at peace­ful co­ex­is­tence, out of hand.

The West, Khrushchev thought, didn't take him se­ri­ously. This is why he acted so out­ra­geously at the UN. He be­haved, he ex­plained later, as the early Bol­she­viks would: when you dis­agree with an op­po­nent, you must make your ar­gu­ment loud and clear – and drown theirs with noise.

In 1962, Khrushchev took this ap­proach a step fur­ther, test­ing the young Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy with a “mad” plan to in­stall nu­clear mis­siles in Cuba. The move trig­gered the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, the most dan­ger­ous stand­off of the Cold War. But JFK did not cower, nor did he re­spond with blus­ter. In­stead, he clev­erly ig­nored Khrushchev's threats, and in­stead re­sponded to a let­ter that showed the Soviet premier as a ra­tio­nal leader ne­go­ti­at­ing for par­ity in world af­fairs. That cool cal­cu­la­tion en­abled JFK and Khrushchev to defuse ten­sions, sav­ing the world from nu­clear con­flict.

The world must now hope that Trump can be­gin to act as coolly in as­sess­ing Kim as JFK was deal­ing with Khrushchev. Kim re­sponded to Trump's UN speech by call­ing him “men­tally de­ranged” and a “dotard.” Ei­ther Trump's mad­man act is work­ing, or Kim is more right than he – or the rest of us – would like.

When Nixon adopted his own “mad” per­sona, he was in some ways draw­ing on the ex­am­ple of Nikita Khrushchev.

For­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.