Trump embraces the ‘Madman in The White House’ foreign policy of Richard Nixon


This week Trump’s National Security Advisor, retired Lt. Gen.Michael Flynn, took a break from his regular stint on Russia Television (RT) to announce that the Trump administration is putting Iran “on notice” for a recent ballistic missile test.

“On notice” is not a diplomatic term of art, and no one knows what it means. Team Trump puts Iran ‘on notice,’ won’t explain what that means:

The trouble is, no one seems able to say what “on notice” means in the context of U.S. foreign policy. Sure, we remember Stephen Colbert’s “on notice” board, but when it comes to the White House, it remains an unexplained mystery.

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Note, among those who are confused is CentCom. “We saw the statement as well,” a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs operations in the Middle East, told The Guardian. “This is still at the policy level, and we are waiting for something to come down the line. We have not been asked to change anything operationally in the region.”

So, the rookie White House is making vague pronouncements about the Middle East, while the amateur president tweets recklessly and his administration says nothing to the military personnel who need a heads-up about such things.

Stephen Colbert is sick of Donald Trump stealing his act, so he brought out the “On Notice” board and put the President on notice.

I have heard any number of GOP members of Congress explain that this vague pronouncement is a good thing, that it keeps Iran guessing what the Trump administration means and what it might do.

This is not something new. This is Richard Nixon’s Madman in The White House foreign policy:

Nixon wanted to impress upon the Soviets that the president of the United States was, in a word, mad: unstable, erratic in his decision-making, and capable of anything. The American commander-in-chief wanted the Kremlin to know that he was willing to escalate even localized conventional military conflicts to the nuclear level. Kissinger understood: “I’ll tell [the Soviets] tomorrow night,” he vowed. The national security advisor even rehearsed for the president specific lines from the good cop/bad cop routine he intended to put on. “The more we do now,” he would tell his Soviet interlocutor, “the better.” He was akin to saying: On the shoulders of reasonable men, like you and me, rests the responsibility of preventing a madman, like Nixon, from taking things too far.

The Washington Post suggested back in December that Donald Trump embraces the risky ‘Madman Theory’ on foreign policy:

Donald Trump appears to have embraced, with gusto, Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” of foreign policy. He thinks he can use his reputation for unpredictability and lack of respect for long-standing international norms to unnerve and then intimidate America’s adversaries into making concessions that they would not otherwise make.

A generation ago, Nixon wanted to convince the Soviets and their North Vietnamese clients that he was a hot-head willing to use nuclear weapons. The goal then was to scare the communists into negotiating. In some ways, this was the nub of the secret plan he talked so much about during the 1968 campaign – just as Trump insisted that he had a secret plan to get rid of ISIS during the 2016 race. “I call it the Madman Theory,” the then-president explained to H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, as they walked along a foggy beach one day. “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.”

For all his sociopathic tendencies, Richard Nixon would never have done what he wanted the world to believe. Donald Trump on the other hand actually is a madman, and no one can say with any certainty how far he will go. 9 terrifying things Donald Trump has publicly said about nuclear weapons.


  1. The analysis required is much more complex than that. Bob Lucas’s theory of rational expectations colors all economic analysis (1995). The basic idea being that when investors look down the tracks of time and see the train going over a cliff, they get off immediately, not waiting to the point of impact.

    Obama was listed as a 10% (Iowa Political Markets) chance of being president in October of 2007. As Obama’s probability of becoming president rose from that 10% to 100% in the opening of 2008, the stock market dropped from 15.7 Trillion to 8.3 Trillion.

    The bleeding stopped when the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2012. Since then, the stock market has gone up 9.2 Trillion dollars – 2 Trillion just since Trump was elected.

    Some people bless us by coming others by leaving.

    I would be the first to admit, we have substantial sectors of our economy which are not taxed at all, they have grown like the dickens. The stock market is $25 trillion of earnings. Of that $25 trillion, over $12 trillion has never been taxed – i.e. Bill, Gates, Warren Buffett, the Google boys, etc.

    The rich people who hire rich people have done very well for themselves and the economy.

    The people who hire poor people, i.e. Republicans, have not done so well, their earnings, not derived from the stock market, are taxed at 63% at the margin.

    • Mr. Huppenthal:

      Please take some time to study omitted variable bias, confounding variables, and spurious correlation over the weekend. Your posts demonstrate a sizable knowledge gap in all three of these econometric topics.

      At this rate, you’re going to argue that Lehman Bros. collapsed 9 years ago because the executives of that firm believed so strongly that Obama was going to be the next president, that they decided to shut down all operations to save Mr. Obama the trouble.

      • When the economy starts downshifting to the drastically lower growth of the Obama era, the most leveraged parts of the economy explode. Lehman exploded.

        Rational expectations? Read Ellen McGrattens work, third ranking economist in the Federal Reserve system.

        Was it rational to expect drastically lower growth under Obama? Yes – growth was drastically lower.

        • Except, the expectations weren’t rational, because the smart money was still using models predicated on normally-distributed errors. Unfortunately, these models underestimated the spatial and temporal correlations, which lead to a higher incidence of long-tail errors and underestimated the likelihood of a wide-scale collapse.

          I would also recommend some readings on game-theoretic analysis of unawareness, as well as Knightian uncertainty. Also, psychological games and behavioral analysis. Rational expectations is still used in finance because it’s a nice model to work with, but I don’t think that there’s too many economists who still seriously believe that all people behave rationally at all times. At best, you can argue that people make decisions consistent with a rational utility-maxizer (i.e. satisfying WARP), but not many would argue that people have either the information access or processing power to actually make optimal decisions.

          • Oh, I don’t think people behave rationally at all, except, as a general rule – not 100% of the time but often enough, everyone does respond to incentives.

            You’ve thrown a lot of mud at the wall- buffalo dust as my dad would say. I would respond simply – people look down the railroad tracks and when the see the train tracks going over a cliff, they get off the train now – they don’t wait.

            You can argue all you want that they are lazy and won’t get off the train, that they really want to go to Miami and won’t get off the train, that they won’t care enough to get off the train, that they will get in argument with their wife and not get off the train, that they need a phd in physics to understand what will happen when the train goes over the cliff.

            BS – they will get off the train. That’s what your Knightian uncertainty, behavioral analysis and black swan sophistry is all about.

            More than half the economics profession is employed to deny economics – be self aware.

      • Omitted variable bias? Really? That’s sweet, coming from someone who represents the epitome of the economics profession.

        Right now, the fate of entire future of the free world rests on a body of research, elasticity of labor supply, that depends entirely on one/twentieth of a variable – labor supply defined as the slice along the intensive and extensive margins in the short run.

        Researchers sliced it this way to maintain the fiction that response to a tax rate reduction is inelastic in the long run. This research corruption (extreme omitted variable bias) is essential to maintaining the fiction that underpins the entire foundation of the democrat party.

        Need free college tuition? Take it from the rich – there are no consequences, just benefits. Need to increase incomes of the poor? Take it from the rich – there are no consequences, just benefits.

        In order to maintain the corruption that is the entire foundation of the democrat party (and this blog) researchers had to slice it this way to maintain the fiction that the economic response to a tax rate reduction is inelastic in the long run.

        Since Reagan’s 1980 tax rate reduction, the US has added 88 billion hours of work while France has lost 3 billion hours of work. You can’t get more elastic than that – yet your profession maintains that these two countries had the same outcome.

        This corrupt body of work is embedded in two models, OLG (Overlapping Generations Model) and MEG (Macroeconomic Growth Model) maintained by the Joint Tax Committee that price the impact of tax rate reductions.

        These models have never been properly validated. If you load them with 1980 variables and baseline data and do a long run prediction, they result in roughly the same amount of economic growth of both France and the US.

        An insane level of error.

        By comparison, my model is very robust – economic growth is a function of taxation burden, regulation burden, welfare burden, welfare capture and immigration.

        So, what were Obama’s policies and were they rationally predictable in 2007?

        1. Regulation: Obama increased the Code of Federal Regulations by 20,000 pages to a mindbending 180,000 pages; just the chapter of those regulations on Obamacare alone have resulted in unemployment of 2 million people (CBO). This regulatory burden crushed small firm creation and small firm expansion. The startup rate of firms is down 80% from its peak.

        2. Taxes: Obama increased personal income taxes, already above the revenue maximizing tax rate, on small business owners.

        3. Welfare burden: Obama added 100% to the cost of food stamps.

        4. Welfare capture: Obama added 50% to enrollment on the food stamp rolls.

        There are numerous studies documenting the welfare capture and of course all this money is borrowed so at some point tax burden will have to repay it.

        5. Immigration: immigration was zero under Obama. Obama deported an all time record 2.8 million people – more than all the previous presidents combined. That along with his destruction of the economy brought immigrant growth to a dead stop – part of the toxic economic spiral.

        There has been very little awareness of the impact that immigration played in the Great Depression and our current Great Recession. During the Great Depression, the crackdown, very similar to the current crackdown, reduced immigration from 400,000 per year in the roaring twenties to 40,000 per year during the 30’s.

        I predict the paradox will continue. A superficially pro immigrant president who deports at a record pace is replaced with a superficially xenophobic president who will preside over resurgent immigrant growth.

        This is all rationally expectable and consistent with a stock market that is up 6.4 trillion expecting that Clinton would be president and up another 2 trillion for a total of 8.4 trillion when surprised by Trump becoming president.

  2. Mr. Huppenthal.

    You continue to bring up the current stock market value in virtually all of your recent comments. According to The Wall Street Journal (you know, that left-wing, alt news source), the stock market rose 152% during Obama’s term through November 8, 2016 (i.e., not including the performance since the election), outperforming the 118% return under Ronald Reagan, even though inflation was much higher during Reagan’s two terms, thus resulting in an even higher “real” (after inflation) return for Obama. The return during George W. Bush’s presidency was -40% (i.e., a negative return over the eight years, and even worse after taking inflation into account). Obama’s 152% return is even more impressive because the market was in an extreme downtrend (down almost 20% from his election until it bottomed in March 2009). Let us see how the market performs during Trump’s term before you declare the market’s have spoken. Keep in mind that according to The Wall Street Journal, the best start to a President’s term was Herbert Hoover—and we know how that turned out—market down 77% during his four years in office.

    • I see you’re trying to sway Falcon9 with facts, Rich.

      The sockpuppetmaster is impervious to facts, he lacks the critical thinking skills required to understand them.

      • The stock market is a time machine. It is not a verdict on the present, it is a verdict on the future. It is also a force that makes that future possible.

  3. I checked to the stock market thinking it to be down several hundred billion. Nope, back up over $24 trillion. With this turbulence, you would think people laying their money on the line would be on the sidelines.

    They must be seeing something we are not. A 24 trillion stock market is implicitly predicting 4% growth, up from 1.5% under Obama.

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