The World

Jan 30, 2018

Rundle: don’t let the ‘madman’ fool you — the US’ foreign policy shift is calculated

An obsession with Trump is blinding us to what's really going on: one of the most important historical shifts of recent decades.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


President Richard Nixon was (in)famous for many things; one of the most important was the "madman" strategy in foreign affairs. Presidents from FDR on tried to impress on the world their gravitas and sense of responsibility in leading a great power. Nixon, in the teeth of the Vietnam War, came up with a different strategy. "Let them think I'm crazy," he allegedly told Henry Kissinger. "Let them think I'll drop the Big One on Hanoi. Then negotiate."* Whether that played a part in the 1973 "peace" deal is another matter, but Nixon appeared to gain ever-greater enthusiasm for the strategy, until the mask began to eat the face.

The Trump administration appears to have developed, by default, a variant on the madman strategy. While the whole world is gawping at stories of decadence and chaos in the White House, US foreign policy is undergoing a shift. The Obama approach -- in which the "soft power" of trade deals, reciprocal relationships, commitment to multi-polarism, and shows of respect (and a few drones) minimising the need for direct military threat or force -- is being retrenched. In its place, there is a return to direct military presence and confrontation. Barely noticed, this represents one of the most important historical shifts of recent decades.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

13 thoughts on “Rundle: don’t let the ‘madman’ fool you — the US’ foreign policy shift is calculated

  1. Ian Roberts

    “KMMcM” – the Junta needs a better acronym.

  2. Robert Garnett

    Hi Guy
    You covered foreign policy and the military-industrial complex very well but forgot about Raul Ryan and his economic henchmen in congress and the cabinet. These barbarians who have got their tax cuts for the rich and killed off “The Affordable Health Care Act” will now systematically remove all benefits from the American poor. They will do this whilst “Trump the Clown” provides the media with distractions so that Ryan can operate without any interference.

    The US as represented by the ordinary people and the physical geography itself is rapidly becoming a third world entity. Twenty five percent of children are born into poverty, the health system has the worst outcomes in the developed world and the infrastructure built in the fiftys and sixty’s is crumbling. The Other America, the one comprising the US domiciled multinationals, the hedge funds and their clients will be completely isolated from the Poor America in their heavily guarded enclaves and with support from the protectionist state with its the intellectual property laws, intrusive security, corporate welfare and the home guard.

    When the next Wall Street crash comes, and it will as a result of cheap money, courtesy of the undemocratic, unaccountable Federal Reserve Bank , it is likely to be far uglier than the 2008 affair.

  3. Desmond Graham

    The USA is lucky to have the guiding hand of professionals who have spent a lifetime career looking after the interests of the US.

    We are lacking this type of talented guidance for our nation.

    1. rhwombat

      Ho. Ho. Fucking Ho.

      1. AR

        …Chi Minh?
        The “Best & Brightest” – eg, McNamarra for pity sake, bringing the personnel skills developed as president of Ford! – got, not their arses, but those of 55K grunts’ kicked and handed on a plate.

  4. zut alors

    ‘It’s worth pointing out that Nixon, and others, had earlier considered dropping nuclear bombs on Hanoi as a real strategy, before rejecting it….’

    Exploding things appears to be the US default setting. Years ago a dead whale was washed up on the Oregon coast. Instead of removing it the local authority opted to blow it up. Says it all really.

  5. old greybearded one

    Guy you have missed an important element of Trump and that is his psychotic self love. His Israel policy is designed to benefit him and his son and law. It has also greatly increased the influence of Putin in the countries other than Israel. Trump’s fawning over the Saudis is also about his business interests, but it dangerously ignores the true source of Sunni terrorism funding….tadaaa The House of Saud. Not Iran for all their evil, Suadi Arabia. On the bright side, historically military hard heads are less likely to go to war without good reason.

  6. Alex

    “Barely noticed, …” ???

  7. AR

    To “these three men, together, know everything about everything that concerns foreign and military policy” one could borrow a line from the Drumpfster during the debates – “sure you got experience but it’s all bad experience!”
    To someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail, to the military everything is a military problem even, or often more so, when it specifically is not.
    Does anyone doubt that these hardcases would not have been precisely the ones to whom la Klingon would have turned to further the business interests of her Wall St owners?

  8. parrick

    I’ve only gotten as far as the prologue in Fire & Fury but I’m struck by Bannon’s remark at the Soho dinner that China is in the same situation as Germany in 1929. The rise of hyper nationalism in China over the next decade will seriously re-focus our attention away from the current bush fires of the middle east. There it’s notable that US foreign policy in the area has been completely hi-jacked by the Israelis and the Israeli lobby in the Trump administration. Central plank of Israeli strategy is to have US boots on the ground in the Middle East. Here we go again with another 30,000 boys from Detroit et al over there to fight someone else’s war. And won’t they get pissed when the body count starts.

  9. lykurgus

    Gods beneath us Guy, is it really becoming THAT difficult to be original, that you’ll confuse actual pathology with an illusion of it (while simultaneously suspecting others of just that, as the very stable genius himself is wont to do)?

    Is the increasingly vain hope (that this is in fact one of those nightmares where you can’t move your legs) really so durable?

    Is this where we are now? Too squeamish to explore the faint possibility of a POTUS presenting with actual learning disability (they were called “retards” in your day)? Have we at long last found a taboo even you won’t break?

    The three kings of which you speak so highly, have already realised that they can no more control him, than he himself – a month or so before you filed (the restriction on what he sees and hears was predicated on a brain that functions normally).

    They’ve also realised the dire consequences (to people around them if not themselves) of interrupting his supply of appeasement – that’s why Ronny Jackson (the WH doc) got up in front of the cameras and lied his arse off (while his face screamed “kill me now”).

  10. Cheree Corbin

    Not sure I agree with this:
    “The Obama approach — in which the “soft power” of trade deals, reciprocal relationships, commitment to multi-polarism, and shows of respect (and a few drones) minimising the need for direct military threat or force — is being retrenched. ”

    The Obama Administration embroiled itself in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan and Syria. Trump seems to me to be business as usual.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details