Wheeling in the man in a cage

I was once the legal strategist for the defendant sued by a seriously mistaken, but furious and totally convinced plaintiff. After several generous settlement efforts failed, I got the defendant a fierce litigator, the kind you wheel into court in a cage. He demolished the plaintiff’s cases so thoroughly that the court made the plaintiff pay the defendant’s legal fees.

With President Obama’s administration in its last days, and President-elect Trump’s foreign policy beginning to take shape, I wonder if this story may not foretell a very successful Trump foreign policy.

President Obama has conducted a thoughtful, rational foreign policy that was often very successful. Nevertheless, today the US faces a multitude of cruel, dangerous, and often extremely aggressive international enemies—Putin’s Russia, Xi’s China, the Ayatollah’s Iran, ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, assorted dictators—all armed to the teeth and itching to impose their will.
In this dangerous environment, the aggressive talk of President-elect Trump has raised great fear and uncertainty.

For instance, as economic historian Barry Eichengreen wrote in the online blog Project Syndicate on December 14, 2016,
“Whether Trump slaps a tariff on Chinese goods, repudiates the North American Free Trade Agreement, packs the Federal Reserve Board, or undermines fiscal sustainability remains to be seen. Conceivable outcomes range from mildly reassuring to utterly catastrophic. Who knows what will happen?”

But when I think about the lawyer in a cage, I begin to wonder if Trump’s aggressive policies might be just what we need. He is the temperamental opposite to the cool, rational and decent Obama; hot-headed, angry, unpredictable and not very nice. In a normal world—as with sane litigants—Obama’s approaches would be much the better. But facing a world with extremely dangerous, unpredictable, and unscrupulous leaders arrayed against us, an aggressive President might be just the ticket.
To be sure, Trump arrives with an apparent admiration for Putin and a clear desire to negotiate friendly deals with him. But so did all the recent American Presidents, who soon learned that he is deceitful and intent on pursuing his own interests regardless of the cost to Russians and others. With people like him, as with the plaintiff in my case, the only solution is force. The same holds for terrorists, and perhaps for China as well.

A couple of caveats: in writing this, I am assuming that Trump is a patriot, neither a loyal Russian agent nor just an impulsive, monumentally greedy bully out for his family’s glory. I am also assuming that Trump can be kept in his cage, as it were, and will not launch nuclear war, cancel the Iran agreement, or take other insane steps that people like Eichengreen fear. It is both Trump’s strength and a cause for concern that he is so unpredictable. And that means there is a very good chance that these assumptions could be wrong.

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