Occasionally insanity, real or feigned, has its political advantages —largely because of its ancillary traits of unpredictability and an aura of immunity from appeals to reason, sobriety, and moderation.
Rogues often try to appear as crazy as mad hatters — sometimes defined by issuing threats, throwing temper tantrums, saying outrageous things, dressing weirdly, or acting peculiarly.
In nuclear poker, the House of Kim in North Korea has welded its supposed hereditary madness to nuclear weapons — to achieve both deterrence and periodic shakedowns of massive foreign aid.
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Turkish president Recep Erdogan is also a touchy nut. He usually wins an unearned wide berth and political concessions from the West by his offensive habits of saying anything to anyone at any time — in between episodic threats to the West to yank NATO troops out of Turkey, to send along even more Middle Eastern young males from war-torn states into the heart of Europe, or to demagogue Muslim tensions with Israel.
Even democratic leaders occasionally adopt the mask of madness for diplomatic and political advantage.
John F. Kennedy, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, openly sought advice from the caricatured Strangelovian (but actually authentic hero) General Curtis LeMay. To his advisers and adversaries, the brinksman Kennedy could pose as receiving wisdom from LeMay — who less than two decades earlier had burned down Tokyo — to ponder a chilling solution.
Recall Kennedy's prior disastrous summit in Vienna, in 1961, with a bullying Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev: "I've got a terrible problem if he [Khrushchev] thinks I'm inexperienced and have no guts." From that encounter, Kennedy learned that rhetorical gymnastics and judicious predictability earned him only scorn — the brawler from the Stalingrad era assessed him as timid and weak. The Soviet leader, in his own bouts of public buffoonery, was not averse to pounding his fist (or even banging his shoe) on his U.N. delegate's desk in protest.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sometimes allegedly played the good-cop "voice of reason" to President Richard Nixon's bad-cop and purportedly "mad bomber" persona. At various times, Kissinger sought to convince the North Vietnamese, Arab dictators, and the Soviet Union to deal diplomatically with a sober American Dr. Jekyll such as himself rather than with an unpredictable Commander in Chief Nixon (sometimes playing the role of Mr. Hyde).
Somebody as sober and judicious as Ronald Reagan on occasion seemed to follow the beat of a different drummer, thereby reminding foreign leaders that he was no cool, collected — and utterly predictable — Jimmy Carter.
Reagan's hot-mic comic but dangerous nuttery — "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever — we begin bombing in five minutes" — purportedly caused an entire Soviet army to go on alert. And perhaps it reminded the Soviets of the radical new American approach to the Cold War.
And what did Reagan actually mean in a nuclear age of mutually assured destruction when he announced, "Here's my strategy on the Cold War: We win; they lose"?
The answer, apparently, was for the Soviets to figure out.
In contrast, again, as in the case of Jimmy Carter who sermonized constantly on what he would never do, Barack "no drama" Obama seemed to think his predictability and mellifluousness would win empathy and respect (rather than confirmation of frailty) from world leaders — the vast majority of whom came to power through thuggery rather than free elections. The result was a green light for exploitation, not reciprocity for magnanimity, from Russia, China, the entire Middle East, Iran, and radical Islam.