Sunday, December 4, 2016

Trump's Taiwan phone call and strateg(er)y

Wow.  Trump hasn't even been inaugurated yet, and he has already caused at least a minor international incident.  But, is there more to it?  The Taiwanese President (whatever-- fuck you, Chinese government) called to congratulate him, and Trump took the phone call.  Officially, we don't recognize the Taiwanese government because China is a bigger trading partner, and oh yeah, they've got lots of nukes.  So, we tend to tread cautiously around their oh-so-delicate sensibilities.

Anyway, Trump did a no-no.  What's the deal?  Two interpretations.

1)  Occam's razor says Trump is a venal idiot.  Somebody called to congratulate him, so of course he took the call.  It took him days to disavow the endorsement from David Duke.  Why?  Trump is all about reciprocity.  Your worth as a person is determined entirely by whether or not you like him.  So, the President of Taiwan likes Trump?  Taiwan must be awesome!  If that plays into his China-bashing, then so be it.  Strategy?  What's that?

2)  Trump's approach to international relations depends on his capacity to make and carry out dangerously self-destructive threats.  He will threaten anything from trade wars to actual wars, any of which would be harmful to the US to carry out.  How could he make those threats credible, when the US would suffer from the implementation of those threats?  Well, there's the problem, and it was the theme of the "Political science and craziness" series I did back in August (links below).

Here's the gist.  Suppose you and I are in an enclosed space, and I threaten to detonate a grenade if you don't give me $20.  If you think I am sane, you won't do it because you will know that I won't think that my life is worth $20, and blowing up the grenade would take me with you.  On the other hand, if you think I am crazy, I might do it, so you might give me the money.  Key book:  The Strategy of Conflict, by Thomas Schelling.

The point is that there is a strategic benefit to being seen as crazy and willing to do stupidly self-destructive things.  How can you create that impression?  By doing stupidly self-destructive things, at least at a small scale.

Like, maybe, taking a phone call from the President of Taiwan, sticking a finger in the eye of China in a way that we haven't done in decades for no other obvious reason.

Occam's razor still says Trump is a venal idiot.  But, I wrote that "Political science and craziness" series back in August.  Interpretation 2 is a bit (or more) Rube Goldberg, but cannot be discounted completely.  If you have to bet, though, always bet on the Occam's razor interpretation.  Screw gillette.  Occam is still the best a man can get.

Links to "Political Science and Craziness"

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V


  1. Replies
    1. Not that I would ever BET against Occam, but on the Rube Goldberg side, someone had to hand Trump the phone, and chances are high that whoever did that had a higher IQ than Donny-boy.

    2. Story that's come out is that Dole (who's a Taiwan lobbyist) has been pushing this for a long time.
      So, there's still a likelihood that this just "happened" because forces pushed for it, and normal pols have been saying "What? Are you fucking stupid or crazy or both?" but we got to a bunch of folks that can't find their assholes with both hands and a flashlight.

    3. I did catch that one, but be careful with such metaphors. Pence takes them literally.