The invention of this theory is usually credited to the Devil of Duplicity in Governance, Niccolo’ Machiavelli, who wrote in 1517, when it comes to intimidating your enemies, it is sometimes “a very wise thing to simulate madness.”
Note the key word here, “simulate.” Act crazy, NiccMac advised, but be wise.
Of course, it helps make the simulation credible when your political clients do as many crazy, vicious things as did Machiavelli’s Medici princes. These Florentine “wise guys” really were famous for their profligate betrayals and murders.
Which may be why Richard Nixon revived the concept. By 1969, the first year of his Presidency, “Tricky Dick” already had a well-earned reputation for purposeful dishonesty and at least character assassination, and for zealous endorsements of military muscle. So, this wannabe Machiavellian decided to use his miserable reputation to coerce the Communists in Vietnam to give up their quest for national independence.
Here’s how he described his devious plan for Southeast Asia to his Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman: “I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. 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.”
It didn’t work. The threat of nuclear madness didn’t convince the North Vietnamese to sue for peace any more than did Nixon’s savage escalations of conventional warfare in Cambodia and Laos. By the time the late Minh’s minions agreed to a peace formula in 1973, it was the US which was begging for a way out, an end to the war that could be sold as peace.
“Fake peace!” Can you hear Donald Trump bellowing it? After all, even though the Paris Agreement undoubtedly reduced American casualties, it wound up as little more than the prelude to complete Communist victory.
Would Trump add, referring to his Presidential predecessor, “Fake madman?” Does Trump think it would have been better if Nixon had taken up the nuclear option?
Donald Trump’s blustering threats to “totally destroy” North Korea sure sound like the brink of madness.
So does his explicit rejection of his top diplomat’s outreach to Kim Jong Un: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…. Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
So much for the widely-accepted realities that any attack on North Korea would result in millions of deaths in South Korea, and perhaps Japan and Guam, if not the United States. “We’ll do what has to be done!” he says.
Is this the simulation of madness, or true lunacy personified?
A 21st century Machiavelli might conclude, “This Prince is nuts.”
So, Rex, and Generals John Kelly, Jim Mattis and H. R. McMaster, what’s it gonna be? Presidential handcuffs or a straight-jacket — or just mass resignations? Or, are you going to continue as the real madman’s enablers?