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May 02nd 2017 print

Michael Galak

The Method in Their Madness

Assad, Putin, Iran, North Korea -- what they have had in common is the West's perception that all are madmen who will stop at nothing if pushed beyond the limits of their tolerance. Donald Trump's recent barrage of Tomahawk missiles has now called that long-successful bluff

tomahawkWe habitually think about events, especially significant international ones, in terms of their own dynamic merits, without considering the psychological traits and defense mechanisms of the individual leaders or nations involved. Were we to do so the resulting insight might help us gain a better understanding of bristling autocrats, tyrants and international outlaws.

Begin by considering the gradual deterioration of the relationship between the West and Putin’s Russia. Mostly, this has come to be determined by Russian actions — Moscow’s “acting out” on the international stage. This is one tough, ruthless customer, we conclude, a man who may well have no limits on the lengths he is prepared to go in order to achieve his ends. Such determination can strike observers as a madness, but it also has guaranteed him respect. Who wants to provoke a madman waving a gun?

And there are many madmen, or those who a happy to be perceived as mad. Assad, Iran and the North Korean chieftain with that unoriginal name (let’s just call him Kim Junior) comport themselves in the international arena as barely sane, quite deliberately projecting attitudes of dangerous unpredictability. One of Putin’s mouthpieces even declared a readiness to activate nuclear weapons during the Crimean crisis. That kind of talk prompted Angela Merkel to describe the Russian leader as “living in a world of his own”.

By appearing for all the world to see as perpetually peeved and barely controllable, Putin has won a considerable degree of freedom of action. Who of right mind would tangle with a man who speaks so loosely of using nuclear weaponry? There is profit in this kind of systematic madness. Consider Putin in terms of his actions towards Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Ossetia, Crimea and  Syria, plus his veilled threats to Baltic States. Peeps of protest from the rest of the world have been barely audible.

The Iranians repeatedly and provocatively launch ballistic missiles while forever stating and re-stating their intention to one day blanket Israel with mushroom clouds. Obama did not intervene, other than to ship pallet-loads of bank notes to Tehran in return for the regime’s laughably bogus “promise” not to be naughty with the nukes it continues to build. Assad was openly gassing his domestic enemies, yet all the UN and Obama could manage in response was another impotent finger-wagging and pleas that he a good boy in future.

Trump’s barrage of Tomahawks finally broke that pattern of Western non-reaction.

Now consider North Korea’s Kim Junior, who inherited power from Daddy, who inherited it from Grandad, and no sooner took the reins himself before threatening the US with nuclear attack, provoking his South Korean and Japanese neighbors by shelling their military, capturing their fishing vessels and boarding their naval vessels. More worryingly, he also built and tested missiles with ever-longer ranges and exploded crude nuclear devices, all in direct violation of explicit UN Security Council resolutions.

Once again, the UN did no more than wag a limp finger in his direction, which Kim Junior – Surprise! Surprise! – ignored with contempt and yet another a bellicose reprising of his grievances against the rest of the world. Here was the very image of an unpredictable and deranged despot, one who lets it be known that he executes his internal opponents with anti-aircraft guns, flame throwers and heavy mortars. Has he deployed a pack of ravenous dogs yet? No doubt that will come. Such unhinged conduct has had its desired and cautioning effect. Both Kim Junior’s patrons and those attempting to negotiate with him  wonder what he might do next, so kid gloves have been the order of the day.

Once again, Trump’s response has broken from the template of bended-knee deference. He understands that North Korea, Assad, Iran and all the rest behave provocatively because behaving provocatively has worked very well indeed.

Needless to say, none of these amigos is actually insane, no matter how hard each tries to project the impression of implacable madness. Rather, each is focused on survival. Having witnessed regime changes in Ukraine, Libya and Egypt, they understand the fate that awaits should they ever be stripped of power. In order to survive, they must be seen as capable and willing to go beyond the limits of sanity. They know that nobody wins a nuclear war, but they find it useful to make other countries believe that their dangerous unpredictability could lead to just such a shooting match.

Having read this far, my reader is entitled to ask –  what is the practical use of this little essay’s analysis? The answer is that the only efficacious response to the ‘pretend insanity’ gambit is the decisive and timely imposition of boundaries and limits, boundaries similar to those in effect under the containment policies of the Cold War.

Donald Trump inherited from the Nobel Peace Prize winner a suitcase without its handle, one too heavy to carry and impossible to throw away. He has, however, imposed real limits, not ‘red lines’. These limits are clear, as his message: personality disorder or not, your bluff will be called and the consequences will be severe.

In clinical settings, patients with borderline personality disorders often respond well to such management. It is my hope and belief that those who present themselves on the world stage as the embodiment of determined madness will do likewise.

Dr Michael Galak and his family came to Australia as refugees from the Soviet Union in 1978

Comments [14]

  1. Jon R says:

    Agreed, calling the bluff always seems to work, much to the surprise of experts with no expertise. The current crop well know their own weaknesses, unfortunately they also know the weakness of the west. Trump is (dear I say it?) our Trump card, they do not know how to respond to him. We tell our children to stand up to bullies, do not appease them.

    Thirty five years ago Argentina invaded the Falklands and the Iron Lady responded. She believed her armed forces could do it, and they did. All credit to the RAF (the last few V bombers) Navy, and the troops who did what was thought impossible.

  2. Don A. Veitch says:

    Maybe Trump is just copying Nixon’s Mad Man strategy? But it is more likely Trump is actually demented. He certainly is being duped by XI of China. In fact if you study the Korea-China thing, Trump has CAPITULATED to PRC and is in the process of selling-out the South Koreans.

    Trumps actions are skittish:

    1. Trump did not even know which way his ‘great armada was headed’;
    2. the MOAB stunt in Afghanistan was of no strategic value;
    3. his intervention in Yemen was a murderous failure;
    4. Trump incites war in ‘Korea’ then demands South Korea pay for the THAAD and threatens to cancel the trade treaty;
    5. in Syria the 40/59 (??) Tomahawks which hit a barely used airport was an attack on his own allies;
    6. the ‘no fly zone’ Trump has signalled in Syria gives succour to ISIS (which does not have an airforce);
    7. Trump congratulates Erdogan the Caliph on his assumption of dictatorial powers, Why? His CIA is trying to kill Erdogan?;
    8. after Mad Kim threatens to murder Trump (and makes a video POTUS), says he is cool and would be ‘honoured’ to meet him.

    Nixon (with Kissinger’s advice), pretended he was mad, Trump ….?

  3. Bill Martin says:

    Michael Galack’s take on Trump regarding the “mad leaders” seems rather too favourable while Don A. Veitch’s is unjustifiably cynical. Trump has not yet done enough in matters of international relations to be assessed with any degree of accuracy. Let us hope for the best.

  4. Don A. Veitch says:

    Not cynical, nor delusional.
    Trump lost me when he was at his Kentucky rally, proclaimed his support for ‘American’ economics,pledged he would not forget his supporters then promptly turned on Bannon and the alt-right and ‘sacked’ Bannon. No big deal you say, but Korea is different, thermo-nucleur war is a possibility and he is selling out the S.Koreans over chocolate cake. Why? China against Russia now?

    • pgang says:

      You read too much out of newspapers. Bannon, for example, was never sacked. He remains chief strategist. The media are exaggerating all of Trump’s idiosyncrasies. Remember – he sensibly despises the media and plays with them. That was part of his popularity.

      You also sound like somebody who is angry because you are not on the inside, having all of the administration’s secrets shared with you. Thermo-nuclear war with Korea is not a possibility. They don’t have the capability, and even if they did their missiles would never get off the ground. Also, as Michael says, they’re not that stupid. The biggest threat is to Seoul which would take the brunt of an artillery attack until that arsenal could be effectively negated (probably by China).

      I don’t know who or what Trump is or whether he’s what he pretends to be. It doesn’t matter, because things are changing in a way that they had to change.

  5. pgang says:

    And if I was handing over the world’s most advanced and secretive weapons system to Sth Korea, I’d be applying the thumb screws too.

  6. pgang says:

    Actually now that I look at Korea, it appears to be the beginnings of another Cold War, this time against China. The biggest threat in Korea seems to be the same as it was in the 50′s. A march south by the Red Army. The threat of nuclear war (if there is or ever will be one) comes from China, not Korea.

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      And whatever else they may be, the Chinese are not stupid. They will not start a nuclear war, and they won’t allow Kim to do it either. Up till now, at least, they have been quietly achieving their objectives without rattling sabres, and who is seriously going to challenge their turning the China Sea into an effective inland sea by building their island fortresses?

      I think Trump’s gesture of willingness to meet with “Kim Junior” is inspired. You know it is so, because all the raving Democratic ratbags are mocking him for it.

  7. Bryce M says:

    Am rather bemused reading this attempt. Am guessing you are perhaps of the Jewish tribe, and rather elderly.

    Your depiction of V.Putin as a sabre rattling self preservationist is rather disingenuous. I have been carefully observing his behaviour and that of Russia, and it would be fair to say that he is now held by many in the western world as well as in his own country as being far more competent stable and statesmanlike than any western leader.

    The geographic facts speak for themselves. America maintains over a thousand bases, around the world while Russia has only two or three. The crumbling superpower of the USA is going the way of ancient Rome, becoming less economically significant with every passing year while the only source of growth is its enormous military industrial complex which needs to generate large enemies even where none exist, and to maintain conflicts around the world for as long as possible to feed its voracious appetite for orders for the expensive means of death and destruction.

    America’s sanctimonious but really self interested attempts at “regime change” around the world invariably result in disaster,
    and America has not won a war since WW2, though it starts many. WW2 in Europe was really largely won by Russia anyway. By contrast neither Russia nor Britain have rarely ever lost a war.

    Iran (Persia) has suffered greatly at the hands of the US spy agencies over the years, and has no one continuous leader. They have to win elections. Iran has never threatened America, and is actually a far more tolerant society, by the standards of the Islamic world, than the vile feudal oil sheikhdoms of the Gulf with their 7th century morality.

    It has become a little fashionable to ascribe mental problems to various leaders, and this was for a long time a neglected study. But such aspersions are almost always for propaganda purposes, not seeking after objective truth.

    The sun has now set on America as global hegemon, it did not last long. The US is full of criticism for other countries governments, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the US is profoundly politically corrupt, with a powerful deep state in the shadows having the real power.

    The US is going to need to tread carefully now, as it continues with even more brinksmanship under Trump. It has been said by Ru Foreign Minister Lavrov, that the deep state in the US wants WW3, Russia does not, but Russia is ready for it if necessary and the US is not.

    As someone who studies mental disorders, their effects on behaviour and tries to help those with them at times where possible, I am personally familiar with the symptoms which are commonly displayed. Neither V. Putin, Premier Xi, no Iranian leaders lately, would in any way qualify, but Korea’s Kim Jong I. may well be psychopathic, in a hereditary line of psychopaths. In this case more than ordinary caution would be needed in trying to negotiate with him.

  8. pgang says:

    Well, now that we’ve seen the Republican budget the verdict is in. Trump is MIA and Paul Ryan is president, governing for the Democrats. Woe to you, oh earth and sea…

  9. Trog says:

    What I found surprising was Putin’s weak response to Turkey when the Russian warplane was shot down. I expected a retaliatory response not least sanctions and trade embargoes. No matter, all chummy now.

    I also find intriguing various individuals’ comments on Trump’s utterances from a specific standpoint. Surely they must know he is always speaking to a multiplicity of audiences. For example he is often asked what strategy he has? As if he would ever let the other side know!

    His comment about the Chinese always knowing the value of a deal struck me as very astute too.

  10. Jody says:

    This is absolutely ESSENTIAL VIEWING and central to all these issues:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rys45B4OhV0&feature=youtu.be