'Madman Theory' of Foreign Policy Working -- So Far: Charles Krauthammer

By Krauthammer, Charles | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), February 23, 2017 | Go to article overview

'Madman Theory' of Foreign Policy Working -- So Far: Charles Krauthammer


Krauthammer, Charles, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


At the heart of Donald Trump's foreign policy team lies a glaring contradiction. On the one hand, it is composed of men of experience, judgment and traditionalism. Meaning, they are all very much within the parameters of mainstream American internationalism as practiced since 1945. Practically every member of the team -- the heads of State, Homeland Security, the CIA, and most especially Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster - - could fit in a Cabinet put together by, say, Hillary Clinton.

The commander in chief, on the other hand, is quite the opposite - - inexperienced, untraditional, unbounded. His pronouncements on everything from the "one China" policy to the two-state (Arab- Israeli) solution, from NATO obsolescence to the ravages of free trade, continue to confound and, as we say today, disrupt.

The obvious question is: Can this arrangement possibly work? The answer thus far, surprisingly, is: perhaps.

The sample size is tiny but take, for example, the German excursion. Trump dispatched his grown-ups -- Vice President Pence, Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- to various international confabs in Germany to reassure allies with the usual pieties about America's commitment to European security. They did drop a few hints to Trump's loud complaints about allied parasitism, in particular shirking their share of the defense burden.

Within days, Germany announced a 20,000-man expansion of its military. Smaller European countries are likely to take note of the new setup. It's classic good-cop, bad-cop: The secretaries represent foreign policy continuity but their boss preaches America First. Message: Shape up.

John Hannah of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies suggests that the push-pull effect might work on foes as well as friends. Last Saturday, China announced a cutoff of all coal imports from North Korea for the rest of 2017. Constituting more than one-third of all North Korean exports, this is a major blow to its economy.

True, part of the reason could be Chinese ire at the brazen assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother, who had been under Chinese protection. Nonetheless, the boycott was declared just days after a provocative North Korean missile launch -- and shortly into the term of a new American president who has shown that he can be erratic and quite disdainful of Chinese sensibilities. …

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