Madness is the only operational approach to foreign relations. The madness in question is the strong determination to achieve one’s ends regardless of cost, by any means, despite any objections. This type of madness can be that of a genius such as Bismarck or a simpleton such as Putin. The madness consists in their unwillingness to negotiate rationally in a give-and-take manner; the mad leaders don’t give—and in doing so, they invariably win.

Rational people mind their beer and chips rather than national ideas. Successful nationhood is always a bit mad: from the club-wielding Hebrews in Canaan to quasi-messianic Zionists in kibbutzim, also in Canaan. Another name for madness is passion, and it takes a lot of passion to prevail over enemies who want neither your house nor money but vague pride and sovereignty.

Western powers submitted to Ho and Gromyko because of their simple approach: “no” to any concessions. Affluent countries don’t really need the things they negotiate for, whether South Vietnam or ballistic missiles in Turkey, and give way once faced with unrelenting opposition.

War-making is irrational. Rational powers have no credibility in military matters. Obviously, they would rather negotiate than fight. Even when they fight, they do so for no apparent reason and follow no predictable pattern, like in Iraq.

Mad rulers understand others of their ilk well: Russia clamped down on Georgia but not on Lithuania because the West would have no choice but to react, at least with sanctions. The art of madness is to feel the extent of the other side’s bluff, and not cross the line.

Credibility hinges on zero tolerance for infringement on one’s interests. Russia lets Lithuania go thus far, but cannot allow the same freedom to Georgia because South Osetia and Abkhazia are de facto Russian provinces, a sphere of legitimate interest. Russia can tolerate them being nominally ruled by a friendly regime in Georgia, but not a pro-American one. The same holds for Ukraine: Russia would accept the Crimea as part of Ukraine insofar as Ukraine remains closely aligned with Russia (“Let me carry your bag, and you would carry me”). Israel’s credibility has been completely destroyed by her inaction in the face of rocket attacks: if semi-nomads from Gaza can lash out against Israel, then everyone can. It’s better to overreact and kill an extra thousand enemies than to expose your weakness by inaction.

Madness is a very safe strategy for a relatively self-sufficient power: no one wants to mess with a mad government, but few want to deal with it. Even the German government’s insane attitude elicited no substantial international opposition until 1939, when every Western European country finally felt threatened. Foreign powers refrain from messing with a mad government until a clear and present danger arises to themselves, and even that danger they are willing to discount. On numerous occasions, the US has betrayed its vassals to a mad enemy: South Vietnam and Georgia are just two examples; also note the Kurds and Hungary, whose populations were incited to revolt by US government radio and other agencies—and were then abandoned. On the other hand, the US is forthcoming to its allies when the enemies are rational: America diplomatically defended Egypt against Israel, Britain, and France in 1956. Rational governments normally lose conflicts with mad enemies because, rationally speaking, some territories or concessions—especially those of allies rather than one’s own—are not worth the risk of a major military confrontation.

Israel has a successful history of madness, defined as hyper-reaction: Jews took Arab hostages to exchange for Israeli MIAs, destroyed the entire Lebanese civilian air fleet in retaliation for the hijacking of Israeli planes, and shelled Jordan in response to terrorist attacks. Israelis did not apply the mad response to Egypt, and that country bugged us incessantly in wars of attrition. When Israel calmed down a bit with Lebanon, the PLO guerrillas increased their attacks, leading to the 1980 war. Even so, the PLO violence was moderate, largely in the spiral of Israeli and Palestinian strikes where the difference between attack and counterattack has evaporated. Overall, our mad reaction has critically deterred the enemy.

Though the policy of madness incurs setbacks in direct foreign investment, the extent of these setbacks is debatable. Western corporations both small and large dealt extensively with pre-war Germany and communist China. Investors line up for tenders even in Iran, despite the bizarre regime and sanctions. If Israel creates an internationally competitive economy, no amount of political adventurism will impede its development.

But haven’t it been said, An eye for an eye? Such a reading is simplified. The lawgiver really meant, half of your enemy’s eyes for half of yours. If the immediate Muslim enemies are sixty times more populous than Israel, then we should retaliate against sixty of them for each Jewish casualty. Also, criminals are fined two to five times the amount of immediate damage, in order to punish them for undiscovered crimes. Since killing the most wanted enemies in any strike is unlikely, we’re justified in avenging the damage five times over; five times by sixty times is three hundred times. And there was also a precedent set by Joshua bin Nun, who offered the enemies a choice between exile, surrender, and extermination. This lesson is fully applicable today.

Foreign policy of madness