Gordon Campbell on Trump and the Madman Theory

Years ago, Richard Nixon explained to his chief adviser Bob Haldeman what has since become known as the “Madman Theory” of foreign policy.

Basically, if America’s rivals could be reminded that Nixon was an unstable, rabid anti-Communist with his finger on the nuclear trigger, Nixon reasoned, then maybe they’d be less willing to challenge the US in the world’s hot spots. Don’t push him, ‘cause he’s close to the edge.

“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.” [1]

Donald Trump looks like the latest incarnation of this theory. As President, would Trump be just ‘crazy nutty ‘or ‘crazy like a fox’? Hopefully, the world won’t be put in the position of finding out for sure. One of the problems with the Madman Theory (which BTW, can be traced all the say back to Machiavelli’s advice that “ It can be very wise thing to feign madness”) is that in order to be convincing, you need to sometimes play the part, and do some actual crazy bad stuff. Such as invading Cambodia. And also this:

In October 1969, the Nixon administration indicated to the Soviet Union that “the madman was loose” when the United States military was ordered to full global war readiness alert (unbeknownst to the majority of the American population), and bombers armed with thermonuclear weapons flew patterns near the Soviet border for three consecutive days…

The other question of course, is whether Trump – for all of his flamboyant, offensive rhetoric – is advocating policies that are all that much worse than the current US positions that’s being pursued by Barack Obama, or that’s likely under his probable successor. On the Middle East, Hillary Clinton has already staked out foreign policy positions that are notably more hawkish than those of the Obama administration. On Israel, she has opposed Obama’s coolness towards Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu; who, she says, would be invited to the White House ASAP after her inauguration. She has also attacked Trump ( and Bernie Sanders) for advocating any neutral role by the US tailored to achieve a negotiated outcome on Palestine. Neutrality on Israel, Clinton has said on more than one occasion, isn’t an option. Clinton was also a strong advocate of US military attacks on Libya, which Obama has called the worst mistake of his presidency.

In other words, US foreign policy is set to become markedly more aggressive, no matter who wins the election in November. Domestically…Trump has been the butt of a million jokes about his ‘crazy’ policies on immigration, up to and including the Mexican border wall. Yet the current immigration policies of the Obama administration are also abhorrent yet rarely reported, let alone held up to scorn:

.When it comes to getting tough on immigration, Republican candidates talk the talk, but Obama walks the walk….Since coming to office in 2009, Obama’s government has deported more than 2.5 million people—up 23% from the George W. Bush years. More shockingly, Obama is now on pace to deport more people than the sum of all 19 presidents who governed the United States from 1892-2000, according to government data…With the clock ticking down his final months in office, Obama appears to be running up the score in an effort to protect his title as deporter-in-chief from future presidents. To pad the numbers, Homeland Security is now going after the lowest-hanging fruit: women and children who are seeking asylum from violence in Central America.

On domestic surveillance, Obama has not only failed to reverse the Bush era state intrusions that he had criticised as Candidate Obama in 2008 ; he has expanded them, and defended them with the full force of the state, in court. There is no reason to expect Clinton will not continue down the same path. Obama has also been a strong proponent of drone attacks on America’s enemies, despite the toll in civilian casualties.

On trade policy, Clinton’s belated opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnerhip trade deal has been merely a tactical response to the rise of Bernie Sanders; as President, she can be expected to revert to embracing it. A President Trump could well do the same, eventually. Yet so far, Trump has shown far more consistency on this issue ; he has opposed the TPP from the outset of his campaign, on the basis that free trade deals have done demonstrable harm to the jobs and wages of American workers.

This isn’t to defend Trump’s vile rhetoric on women and immigrants, or his sabre-rattling on foreign policy. Yet throughout 2016, the Trump Bogey has been a useful way of validating – by comparison – some very dubious alternatives and a morally bankrupt status quo. Texas senator Ted Cruz for instance, has been able to present himself to the Anyone-But-Trump crowd as a moderate alternative. He isn’t, not by a long shot. According to Cruz’ (genuinely) crazy father Rafael, Candidate Ted is an angel with flaming sword come to cleanse the earth of Islamists and abortionists, while also being the heavenly agent of something called the End Times ‘great transfer of wealth’ from the Jewish elites to those Gentiles blessed by God – a process better known to us (in its secular from, and without the anti-Semitism) as income inequality. Apparently, all that wealth flowing to the 1% is a sign that Armageddon is nigh. So vote for that godly ‘moderate’ Ted Cruz, and bring it on!

Hillary Clinton – who sees Wall Street and the Pentagon as the right and proper crucibles of American power – also gets something of a free pass, amid the general abhorrence of Trump. This doesn’t mean Trump isn’t a monster. Unfortunately though, the world will be no less dangerous a place if and swhen Hillary Clinton becomes the next President.

In government, no innocent bystander.

So we’ve racked up the worst trade deficit in seven years. It seems that you can’t run a modern economy by relying on (a) milk powder that’s facing a global glut (b) an earthquake-induced construction boom, and (c) a dollar in such steep decline that tourists are willing to come here on the cheap. Who knew ? As Labour’s Grant Robertson has pointed out, the Key government seems happy to be just a bystander to this process. No plan exists on how to build a modern economy, there’s no vision of where the high paying quality jobs will be coming from. ‘Stuff happens’ seems to be the governing ethos.

Mind you, people have been saying this for the past 30 years, under successive governments. New Zealand has never got the hang of how to add value, or diversify its economy. It would be convenient to blame it on free market ideology – but as Frankie Boyle says, can something qualify as an ideology when it amounts to nothing other than “ I’m going to take your stuff?”

Japan Calling

To most of us, Japanese music is an unknown ocean, full of wonders. Here’s an example. Back in 1983 “Shinzo No Tibira” (My Life Is Big) was a hit in Japan for a group called Mariah, led by experimental musician Yasuaki Shimizu. Since 2008, the albumthe track comes from – called Utakata no Hibi – has gradually found an audience in the West largely thanks, as Pitchfork says, “ to the ethereal lines it traces between Asian and Middle Eastern tonalities, folk-lorish Armenian lyrics, and futuristic Japanese synthpop leads. Its soundscapes are like those once dreamt by the Brians, Eno and Wilson.

The Utakata no Hibi album became widely available in the US last year. Here, over 30 years after it was first recorded, is the haunting track on which this tiny cult has been based :

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6 Comments on Gordon Campbell on Trump and the Madman Theory

  1. It’s interesting the knee jerk opposition from the New Zealand left to Drone strikes in Syria and Iraq.
    Fair enough, but I have yet to hear anybody from the New Zealand left criticise or denounce any of the heinous actions of IS or Al Qaeda. Including the beheadings, the genocide of the Yazidis, the persecutions of other faiths and attacks on civilians in the West. Not a word. If you can point me to somebody who has I’d love to read it.

  2. “Yet throughout 2016, the Trump Bogey has been a useful way of validating – by comparison – some very dubious alternatives and a morally bankrupt status quo.”

    Hit the nail squarely on the head.

    Sad to see so many New Zealanders choosing Hillary as their preference, oblivious to her uber-hawkish stance on foreign policy and her deep roots in an inherently corrupt, grossly-unequal status quo.

    According to the latest UMR Poll, New Zealanders split 55% / 25% for Clinton over Sanders. Of course, most people aren’t all that interested in politics, but you’d at least hope that a reasonable chunk of Left-leaners would have gone for Sanders, recognising him as the only candidate offering real, progressive change.

    As it turns out, only Green supporters and Younger voters in this Country preferred Sanders over Clinton: Green (Sanders 46%/Clinton 27%), NZ First (Sanders 20%/Clinton 51%), Labour (Sanders 19%/Clinton 52%), National (Sanders 8%/Clinton 56%).

    18-29 year olds split 34% Sanders/24% Clinton (Sanders scored just 13-15% with the 3 older age groups)

    Another incisive analysis from Mr Campbell …

    … And one of my favourite stand-ups, Frankie Boyle, gets a mention too ! What more could you want ?

  3. Sorry but who cares which corporate candidate a misguided nation prefers? Polls are unreliable and are used to provide support for candidates in the one eyed electoral system.
    I don’t mean to be rude but for goodness sake you guys call yourself politically knowledgeable!?
    The global banking cabal that runs the corporation of the usa already picked Clinton.
    “He who counts the vote counts”.
    Its rigged from the get go, a show for people that believe they have a democracy not an oligarchy.

  4. @Matt
    Don’t know about’ the left” – whatever that is – but this column has regularly cited the barbarity of IS, and devoted an entire column in 2014 to the plight ( and beliefs) of the Yazidis. eg.
    http://gordoncampbell.scoop.co.nz/2014/08/11/gordon-campbell-on-the-us-rescue-mission-in-iraq/
    What may be concerning the likes of Matt is the level of attention being paid to (a) the origins of IS in Saudi funding, and in the mishandling of the Sunni awakening of the late 2000s within Iraq and (b) the way that US armaments keep going fairly directly into the hands of the al Nusra Front, which is the al-Qaeda franchisee in Syria. Americans arming al-Qaeda? Those wishing to avoid such disturbing information can always tune in to Fox News instead.

  5. @ Matt, even more deafening is the lack of any political party, left, right or centre holding Saudi Arabia to account in any way for exactly the same abuses that ISIS commit; Beheadings, abuse of migrant workers and persecution of homosexuals.

    Instead we build them a farm in the desert…

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