President Donald Trump is not the first American president to have employed the madman theory – intentionally or unintentionally. Nearly fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon intentionally created the impression that he was crazy enough to nuke Soviet bloc countries. His intention was to destabilize the Soviet bloc countries. Richard Nixon called it “the madman theory.” While there was a method to President Richard Nixon’s madness, President Trump is more like an unguided missile who continuously ignores advise from his advisers. In The Madman Theory, by CNN’s national security adviser Jim Sciutto says that President Trump’s foreign policy did irretrievable damage in the first two years of his presidency — in Syria, Ukraine, and Russia. He says President Trump failed to deliver on all or most of its objectives – North Korea, Iran, and China. Not enough attention was paid to these failures because the consequences of those foreign policy challenges were distant for most Americans. The plight of the Kurds was far away. Ukraine’s desperate push for aid involved a war that was far away. North Kore’s advancing nuclear program had yet to land a missile on the US homeland. However, the outbreak of corona virus presented a crisis that put Trump’s worldview and his very way of leading to an unprecedented test.
Like Nixon, President Trump has introduced and executed a “madman theory” of his own. Sciutto says that President Trump hinted he just might be crazy enough to start a nuclear war, with his infamous “fire and fury” threat against North Korea and public battle with the North Korean leader over whose “nuclear button” is bigger. He repeatedly bragged in public of his ability to kill “millions of people” in Afghanistan. Those were serious moments, when some of his own most senior advisers worried that he might take the country to war, wittingly or unwittingly, despite the fact that he has no real appetite for military conflict. Sciutto argues that Trump’s “madman” is more prolific — the product of his uniquely capricious and unpredictable decision making across the entire spectrum of US foreign policy. This is sometimes by accident and sometimes deliberate. And unlike Nixon, he has unleashed his “madman” not only on our adversaries but also on our allies and often, on his own government. He quotes Mick Mulroy who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East under former defense secretary James Mattis, as having said, “The general concept was discussed, not as a strategy we deliberately adopted, but rather as something we pointed out as a matter of fact,” he explained, “The thing is, It wasn’t a ploy.” I think both allies and enemies realize that his decision process was unpredictable even to those advising him up to and including the secretary of defense and national security adviser.”
Sciutto discusses what happens when a sitting president decides that every president before him, Republican or Democrat has been wrong about the world and the United States’ place in it. Through the accounts of some of his most senior advisers, Sciutto explains Trump’s deeply disruptive ideas, where and how he put them into action and how these ideas have changed the country and the world during the four years leading a superpower. Sciutto argues that Trump has taken the madman theory in directions even Nixon never ventured into. Whereas Nixon reserved his most ominous “madman” threat for a country the United states was then at war with, Trump has often applied the theory to the Unite States’ closest allies. He has described NATO as obsolete and threatened to withdraw from it. Sciutto says that there is an irony to Trump’s madman persona and its ties — even if unintentional — to Nixon’s attempt to harness the same “madman theory” to his advantage. Nixon deliberately communicated to Vietnam that he was just crazy enough to start a nuclear war. President Trump has grand ambitions beyond threatening countries into submission. He actually sees himself as a leader uniquely committed to reducing the danger of a nuclear conflict.
If you find President Trump’s foreign policy confusing, The Madman Theory will make sense of his madman’s theory for you. Sciutto takes us behind the scenes and shows how President Trump’s mind works when it comes to global issues. Many Republicans believe that his strategy of mimicking a madman is working but Sciutto powerfully argues it has failed as he has alienated America’s friends and allies in Europe and elsewhere. President Trump is a narcissist who ignores advice from his advisers and intelligence agencies. He argues that his whimsical way of conducting the foreign policy has undermined America’s national security and long-term interests. It is a meticulously researched and brilliantly written book. Jim Sciutto is a scholarly reporter who combines a reporter’s knowledge and a scholar’s perspectives in this book. It is a must-read for everyone who wants to understand the global mess President Trump has created.