Nixon was a political genius. Everyone forgets that because of the Watergate blunders (and most of them were solely Nixon’s fault). But Nixon was an absolute master of politics and particularly foreign affairs, which he believed should be the President’s majority focus. His triumphs in China, Detente with the USSR, and the end of hostilities in Viet Nam were largely a result of a philosophy he enjoyed employing: The Madman. His belief was that if he could keep his opposition confused and frightened, even to the point where they feared Nixon might use nuclear weapons, then Nixon would have a large advantage in his dealings and negotiations. It exquisite timing and skill to pull off, and Nixon was a virtuoso. I’m excited to see if Trump can achieve the same results today using Nixon’s system.
The Washington Post – THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump appears to have embraced, with gusto, Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” of foreign policy. He thinks he can use his reputation for unpredictability and lack of respect for long-standing international norms to unnerve and then intimidate America’s adversaries into making concessions that they would not otherwise make.
The Chinese government’s decision yesterday to return the naval drone that it had seized in the South China Sea, despite howls of protest about Trump’s braggadocio, might be the first vindication of this approach.
— A generation ago, Nixon wanted to convince the Soviets and their North Vietnamese clients that he was a hot-head willing to use nuclear weapons. The goal then was to scare the communists into negotiating. In some ways, this was the nub of the secret plan he talked so much about during the 1968 campaign – just as Trump insisted that he had a secret plan to get rid of ISIS during the 2016 race. “I call it the Madman Theory,” the then-president explained to H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, as they walked along a foggy beach one day. “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.”
— Elites in Washington and across the world think Trump is crazy, but the president-elect has demonstrated repeatedly that he can be crazy like a fox. He knew exactly what he was doing when he called for a Muslim ban, for instance, or picked fights with people on Twitter to distract the press from much bigger problems. We’ve already learned that Trump’s phone call with the leader of Taiwan was not some spontaneous faux pas but a carefully-planned recalibration of U.S. policy.
—For Trump’s stratagem to work, foreign leaders must continue to believe that he’s erratic and prone to irrational overreaction. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” Trump often said on the campaign trail. “We have to be unpredictable!”
— This is a dangerous gambit in the current geopolitical risk environment. Nixon played the game in a bi-polar world, with two superpowers and nothing like the Islamic State to worry about. The world that Trump must lead is multi-polar. Asymmetric warfare is now a top-tier concern.
— Several events yesterday – including the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, the truck attack at a Christmas market in Berlin, the mosque shooting in Zurich, the on-again, off-again evacuation in Aleppo and the riots in Venezuela — offered timely reminders of the degree to which our interconnected world is a tinderbox, perennially on the verge of bursting into flames. In Europe, they’re already calling it Black Monday.
— What alarms so many foreign policy greybeards is that Trump is a flame thrower, not a firefighter, by his very nature. Since Teddy Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Russo-Japanese War, every American president has prided himself on at least trying to defuse global tensions, not heighten them. As Billy Joel sang, we didn’t start the fire. We didn’t light it, but we try to fight it…
— The international order, which the U.S. sits atop, depends to some degree on stability, certainty and predictability. Allies need to know they can count on us, and America’s enemies need to know that the security guarantee for countries from Estonia to South Korea is real.
— Trump seems either unable or unwilling to pivot into using diplomatic speak. That should not come as a big surprise, and it’s not necessarily always a bad thing. A big part of his appeal during the campaign was his refusal to be “politically correct.” Why would he change now?
— Trump’s decision to adopt the “Madman Theory” highlights his longtime fixation with Nixon and underscores his pre-existing Nixonian tendencies.
— Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state, has spoken to Trump several times before and since the election. They’ve had long meetings to talk about the world.
Even as a nonagenarian, the German-born Kissinger has an uncanny ability to cast a spell on powerful Republican men – just as he did with Nelson Rockefeller a half century ago, then Nixon and finally Gerald Ford. Yesterday HAK sat with Pence, who studiously took notes.
image source: http://media.salon.com/