Madman theory as U.S. foreign policy under Trump?It was reported in October 2017 that President Donald Trump advised the U.S. trade representative to intimidate their South Korean counterparts by telling them he was a madman. “You tell [the South Koreans] if they don't give the concessions now, this crazy guy will pull out of the deal,” Trump said, referring to the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement. Interestingly enough, this report coincided with President`s tweets on North Korea, which recommended Rex Tillerson, “our wonderful Secretary of State”, that he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Kim Jong-Un; “…we’ll do what needs to be done!”(Naftali, 2017) ended Trump`s tweet, bringing more uncertainty and unpredictability to the overall situation in general and to his possible actions in particular. 

Although President Trump may credit himself with inventing something novel in U.S. foreign policy, by choosing to scare foreign adversaries through artificial (or maybe real) unpredictability (or recklessness), he perhaps replays what one of his predecessors, namely Richard Nixon, already employed several presidential terms ago. 

Nixon`s and Trump`s presidencies may distinguish in many terms, with one important point, however, being a common mark in regard with foreign policies. Like Trump, Nixon opted to keep his opponents guessing about his temperament, motives and further actions. The former president wanted the Soviets or North Vietnamese to feel strained vis-à-vis the United States, constantly expecting something irrational from the White House. (Swaim, 2016)

Already believing that Trumpian foreign policy is based on the Madman theory or at least contains some of its elements, I try to find out what kind of dividends and disadvantages it may bring, through this paper. To further narrow down the geographic scope and to make it more specific, a relevant research question could be designed as follows: “To what extent is Trump`s madman strategy against North Korea and Iran beneficial?”

Specifying particularly North Korea and Iran can provide more food for thought, although Trump, unlike Nixon, occasionally went madman even vis-à-vis U.S. allies. Secondly, choosing these two rogue states can echo the Nixonian madman approach against North Vietnam, a Soviet client state and open enemy for the United States. 

 

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About the author:

Rusif Huseynov is the co-founder of the Topchubashov Center. He studied international relations Baku State University and the University of Tartu. His main interest is peace and conflict studies, while his focus area covers mainly Eastern Europe, Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia.