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Inside, confidential and off the record

Trump’s madman strategy

AP /Carolyn Kaster

Trump can be trusted to look out for his own interests and for another,
he may actually be good at negotiating.


As chairman of his eponymous casino company a decade ago, Donald Trump had a curious side gig. Employed by the company as a special deal negotiator, he was entitled to pocket a percentage of any savings he realized for the company when haggling with vendors.

When asked if he objected to this unusual provision, then-CEO Mark Juliano shrugged, and said Trump was actually pretty good at deal-making.

That arrangement is worth recalling now, in the light of now-president Trump's attempted deal-making with North Korea, because it reveals that, for one thing, Trump can be trusted to look out for his own interests and for another, he may actually be good at negotiating.

In the case of North Korea, his bellicose tweets about Kim Jong-un last fall rattled global markets and unnerved the populations of South Korea and Japan, yet appear to have cajoled Kim into entering into talks in Singapore . With Iran, his yanking of the US out of its nuclear deal and re-imposing sanctions may be a prelude to further bargaining. In the tradition of New York real estate, Trump treats deal-making as a blood sport, but a sport nonetheless. He knows most of his posturing is bullshit , and he expects his opponent to know it, too.

Trump's negotiating strategy, to the extent he has one, seems based on blustering his way into absurdly aggressive positions, then retreating to what then becomes a more reasonable position by comparison. On the campaign trail, Trump produced no shortage of eye-rolling by boasting about how his deal-making prowess would yield foreign policy triumphs. Now, implausibly, he may be proving himself right.

Trump's style has echoes of the “madman theory” that Richard Nixon employed (paywall) in the belief that Nixon's unhinged behavior and apparent willingness to use nuclear weapons would frighten North Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh into peace talks in 1969. Of course, Nixon's strategy failed. It took three more years and thousands of additional deaths to bring about a peace treaty in Vietnam.

In Atlantic City and New York, Trump dealt with adversaries who shared the same goal—profit—and a common world-view. But as he rampages onto the world stage, Trump should remember that Nixon ultimately failed in his grand strategy overseas because he didn't understand the motivations of his opponent. —Oliver Staley

Oliver Staley / Quartz / May 12, 2018

Original article

ISSUES.... 05/ 14/ 2018 - Send Us Your Issues

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