Many foreign policy experts and media pundits are up in arms over the approach that President Trump has used in his dealings with North Korea and Iran. Trump has used outlandish name calling, heavy-handed military threats, tough economic sanctions, and a willingness to take policy responses to the brink of hostilities, all in an effort to send a message to Kim Jong Un and the mullahs in Iran that the United States means business when it says that nuclear weapons will not be tolerated by these two members of the Axis of Evil.
Since this approach, which some have termed the “Madman” strategy, is the opposite of Obama’s “diplomacy of hope”, there is a natural fear among many in this country that Trump is not only pushing the foreign policy envelope but more seriously is taking this country down the road to war. By giving off the presidential vibe that the United States is willing to bring down the governments of North Korea and Iran, even if that means a military strike or perhaps even some sort of invasion, the president is sending the signal that he must be viewed as unpredictable, perhaps even unhinged, and can’t be trusted to solve disputes and threats through conventional diplomacy.
Trump’s supporters and his foreign policy advisers likely wouldn’t use the term “madman” to describe the chief executive, but they clearly agree that the only way to deal with bad guys in the world is to scare the devil out of them with outrageous threats and tough name calling. As the argument goes, taking on the persona of a madman is more effective than diplomatic compromise that does little to change the behavior pattern of disruptive regimes. Scaring the regimes is the only way to get the attention of the bad guys and force them to renounce the way they operate on the international stage.
Trump is too narcissistic and arrogant to self-describe himself as a “Madman”. Yet he certainly relishes the tough guy approach to foreign policy that depends on tactics suitable for a leader who isn’t afraid to signal that he just might be a little unhinged and willing to take the ultimate risk in order to make his adversaries bend to his will.
Of course there is only one fatal flaw in the Madman approach to foreign policy – it could easily lead to war as adversaries call the Madman’s bluff or engage in tactics that avoid the prospect of regime change or modifications of behavior patterns. There is nothing inherently wrong with diplomacy, negotiated solutions, compromise, consensus building, and moderate approaches to solving disputes; there are countless examples where these approaches have been effective. But we now live in the time of Madman foreign policy, which means we all need to pray that taking the country to the brink of war does not mean that the Madman takes us over the brink.