This is what happens when you give a toddler the power of life and death:
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.
It’s no shock that Trump would thumb a provocative tweet that risks igniting a new nuclear arms race. We knew something like this would happen, although I do wonder how many of his voters pondered, for even a millisecond, the profound implications of handing him the nuclear codes.
It’s tempting to simply dismiss his tweet as dark comedy, as a throwback to “Dr. Strangelove” characters like General Buck Turgidson, who proudly proclaimed in the War Room that we would outfight any nuclear adversary: “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed! But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops! Uh, depending on the breaks!”
But this is serious business. Trump’s Thursday sentence fragment can be interpreted any number of ways — and that’s its most dangerous flaw, because bad actors around the world can read it however they choose. Nuclear profileration experts, who work this highly sensitive issue for a living, understand that uncertainty is the worst of all possible signals. Trump has no clue about that. He merely sees nukes as his newest toys. Beauty queens, reality show contestants, nukes … it’s all grist for his sandbox.
Speaking of proliferation experts — the people who labor daily to lower the global temperature — here’s Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. He tells CNBC: “It is completely irresponsible for the president-elect or the president to make changes to U.S. nuclear policy in 140 characters and without understanding the implications of statements like ‘expand the capacity.’ He must have leaders around the world trying to guess what he means. This is bush league.”
What’s bush league is that Trump is sending mixed signals. When he says he wants to “greatly strengthen and expand” nuclear capability, is he signaling that he wants to shelve our longstanding bipartisan arms reduction policy? Is he signaling that he wants to build better warheads with more speed and range? Or is he just saying that he wants to modernize the arsenal — as President Obama has recommended?
Maybe Russia, China, North Korea, India, and Pakistan will simply accept the latter, most benign, interpretation. But some of those nations could just as easily divine the opposite — that Trump is jonesing for a nuclear buildup, a new flexing of American nuclear muscle that would somehow prompt competitors to unilaterally disarm (Trump: “until such time as the world comes to its senses”).
But that reading is likely to prompt those nations to ratchet up their arsenals, not stand down. North Korea already views America as a nuclear threat — in September, it announced its plans for a “qualitative and quantiative buildup… in light of the increasing U.S. threat” — and Trump’s tweet is sure to confirm their perception. As non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione (a veteran on this issue since the 1980s) points out, “This is how arms races begin — with a battle of words.”
Two of Trump’s spinners have been busy trying to mop his slop. Spokesman Jason Miller says the tweet merely signaled Trump’s desire “to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength,” and spokesman Sean Spicer says there won’t be a new arms race because Trump’s tweet will force other countries “to come to their senses, and we will all be just fine.”
Oh really? It just so happens that, earlier today, Trump spoke by phone to the “Morning Joe” hosts and he said: “Let it be an arms race… We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
This is what I meant when I warned, umpteen times during the past year, that this guy was a clear and present danger to the security of this nation. But hey, if we’re willing to entrust our lives to a know-nothing reality TV star, then we get what we deserve. And what an amazing plot arc for America! To quote Bill Pruitt, a producer on “The Apprentice”:
“Some clever producers were putting forth a manufactured story about a billionaire whose empire was, in actuality, crumbling at the very same time he took the job, the salary, and ownership rights to do a reality show. ‘The Apprentice’ was a scam put forth to the public in exchange for ratings…What’s shocking to me is how quickly and decisively the world bought it. Did we think this clown, this buffoon with the funny hair, would ever become a world leader? Not once. Ever.”
Happy holidays, everybody. Peace on earth.