Is Trump just acting? Or is he truly a madman?
By Nina L. Krushcheva
Past leaders gained advantages by feigning irrationality -- but Trump may be for real
MOSCOW (Project Syndicate (https://www.project-syndicate.org/)) -- In the 1970s, 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 Defense 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 behavior.
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 U.S. would "totally destroy" North Korea if it continues to develop its nuclear program.
In the same speech, Trump also savaged the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. As he spoke, his chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. 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 late-night Twitter assaults on the press, his opponents and fellow Republicans, even his own cabinet members. The famously thin-skinned Trump has shown that, when provoked or insulted, he can be counted on to retaliate.