When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the State Department had opened a direct line of communication with the North Korean regime, most observers of foreign policy nodded their heads in approval. The announcement seemed to indicate that the Trump administration was serious about trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Korean Missile Crisis.

However, that happy evaluation was thrown into doubt, as the Washington Examiner noted, when President Trump tweeted, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man...” And then Trump added, rather ominously, “Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!” The tweet is seen as yet another threat directed at Kim Jong-un to compel him to stop his development of missiles capable of launching nuclear weapons.

The question is, does this represent another example of the president popping off on social media? Or is there a strategy at play.

The ‘madman theory’

President Richard Nixon used to borrow from Machiavelli a strategy called the “madman theory.” The idea is that the president would behave in provocative ways, such as sending nuclear bombers to fly patterns along the Soviet border and sending American troops into Cambodia. Then American diplomats would tell American adversaries that, in effect, the president was insane but could be restrained given certain concessions. The strategy worked, to some degree, until Watergate sapped Nixon’s authority and then ended his presidency.

Trump’s version of being a madman

If there is anyone who has ever occupied the Oval Office that is well suited to pursue a madman theory strategy, it is Donald J. Trump. The president is famous for posting alarming and off-putting things on Twitter. His latest tweetstorms concerning the NFL protests and his most recent feud with the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico are cases in point.

The question arises, is this another example of the president popping off or is their strategy involved? Almost as important, does it matter?

One can almost envision Tillerson, taking the hint from the president, sending a message through his new channel to North Korea that unless they are prepared to deal, Trump will do something crazy, like launch a preemptive nuclear strike.

The Chinese, thought to have some influence over North Korea, cannot fail to get the message.

The final question that needs answering is whether the Trump version of Madman, whether it is accidental or by deliberate design, will work. The answer will determine whether the Korean situation is resolved peacefully or in blood and fire.

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