'Mad' may just work, if you are Greek

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2012, 12:00am


Richard Nixon had a 'mad men' theory of international relations. No, it had nothing to do with men in tailored suits doing hanky-panky with gorgeous blonde secretaries, as in the hit US television series. Rather, the late US president believed that when two opponents were caught at an impasse, the one who acted most irrationally and looked ready to adopt the nuclear option would gain an advantage. A rational actor might, therefore, behave like a wild man just to throw his enemies off balance.

That may be what Alexis Tsipras is up to in Greece. The obscure civil engineer has been catapulted to the forefront of international politics by leading his radical left coalition, Syriza, to a surprising second place in the Greek poll on May 6. By refusing to form a coalition government, he has almost single-handedly forced a general election next month.

He ran on an anti-austerity platform against belt-tightening measures imposed by Germany. By threatening to derail commitments made by Greece in exchange for funds to keep it afloat, he has been called 'a rabble rouser', 'dangerous and unscrupulous', 'the champion of Greek outrage'.

He may or may not be all those things. But by acting wildly, he has managed to soften even German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel, who said yesterday she would discuss stimulus programmes to get Greece's economy growing again and that she was committed to keeping the country in the euro zone. This is surely a significant climbdown from the bleak and relentless austerity she has hitherto insisted on and a more sensible and humane course to take.

The vast majority of Greeks are against austerity but want to stay in the euro zone. That is like trying to square the circle. Tsipras' kamikaze-like intervention has helped break the impasse, or at least changed the terms of the debate. He may yet turn out to be a rational politician once he is handed actual power - or a madman like the ancient Alcibiades, the wild-child nephew of the great Pericles, who led Athens, the world's first democracy, to ruin. Let's hope it is the former, for everyone's sake.