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From praising dictators to alienating allies, Trump made chaos his calling card. But four years into his administration, had his strategy caused more problems than it solved?
Richard Nixon tried it first. Hoping to make communist bloc countries uneasy and thus unstable, Nixon let them think he was just crazy enough to nuke them. He called this “the madman theory.” Nearly half a century later, President Trump employed his own “madman theory,” sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.
Trump praised Kim Jong-un and their “love notes,” admired and flattered Vladimir Putin, and gave a greenlight to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invade Syria. Meanwhile, he attacked US institutions and officials, ignored his own advisors, and turned his back on US allies from Canada and Mexico to NATO to Ukraine to the Kurds at war with ISIS. Trump was willing to make the nation’s most sensitive and consequential decisions while often ignoring the best information and intelligence available to him. He continually caught the world off guard, but did it work?
In The Madman Theory, Jim Sciutto showed how Trump's supporters assumed he had a strategy for long-term success – that he somehow played three-dimensional chess. Four years into Trump's presidency, it was clear his unpredictable focus on short-term headlines did in fact lead to predictably mediocre results in the short and long run. Trump’s foreign policy undermined American values and national security interests, while hurting allies who had been on our side for decades, leaving them isolated and vulnerable without American support. Meanwhile, Trump had comforted and emboldened our enemies. The White House’s revolving door of staff demonstrated that Trump had no real plan; all serious policymakers—and those who would be a check on his most destructive impulses—were exiled or jumped ship.
Sciutto interviewed a wide swath of then-current and former administration officials to assemble the first comprehensive portrait of the impact of Trump’s erratic foreign policy. Smart, authoritative, and compelling, The Madman Theory is the definitive take on Trump’s calamitous legacy around the globe, showing how his proclivity for chaos was creating a world which was more unstable, violent, and impoverished than it had been before.
About the Author
Jim Sciutto is CNN's chief national security correspondent and co-anchor of CNN Newsroom. After more than two decades as a foreign correspondent stationed in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, he returned to Washington to cover the Defense Department, the State Department, and intelligence agencies for CNN. His work has earned him Emmy Awards, the George Polk Award, the Edward R. Murrow award, and the Merriman Smith Memorial Award for excellence in presidential coverage. A graduate of Yale and a Fulbright Fellow, he lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Gloria Riviera, who is a crisis communications professional and journalist for ABC News, and their three children.
“This is the book all of us have been waiting for. Sciutto makes sense of a foreign policy that to many has seemed incomprehensible, using unparalleled sources to explain how the Trump approach to hot spots from North Korea to Iran has cost the United States leverage and leadership around the world. An indispensable guide at a time when the nation’s most celebrated military leaders are sounding unprecedented warnings about the consequences for America at home and abroad.”
— Andrea Mitchell
“I started interviewing President Trump more than twenty years ago and thought I knew a lot about his thinking on national security and foreign policy. But I was wrong. Reading Jim Sciutto’s truly wonderful book, I learned so much more. Jim takes us way behind the scenes to present an extremely well-reported and in-depth picture of where President Trump is coming from in his critical decision-making process. In short, I highly recommend this very timely, well-written book.”
— Wolf Blitzer
“Is President Trump repeating an old Nixon trick, pretending to be a madman so that he can bully other nations into submission? Or is Trump truly mad, threatening America and the world with uncontrollable tantrums? Jim Sciutto, a CNN anchor and one of the most respected journalists of our era, provides a fascinating—though sometimes chilling— account of how and why Trump is trying to tear down the world as we have known it.”
— David Gergen
“The Madman Theory is a compelling account of the chaos, feuding, blowups, and repeated course corrections of President Trump’s foreign policy. For those who question whether any of this matters, Sciutto documents clearly and persuasively the damage the Trumpian upheaval has done to America’s long-term national security interests.”
— Michael Isikoff
“A lot has been written on Donald Trump’s foreign policy. Not much of it has been based on careful and extensive reporting. In this book, Jim Sciutto combines fine reporting with intelligent analysis in a way that is unusual and enlightening—and entertaining.”
— William Kristol
"The greatest strength of The Madman Theory is that its 'question' and 'answer' approach serves only as a guide. The book doesn't tell us what to think. It simply asks us to assess Trump's rhetoric and action alongside that of his advisers and against what actually happened. A study of history, strategy, and politics, Sciutto's conclusion is hard to rebuke."
— Washington Examiner