“Trigger Warning”: If you like Trump, you probably won’t like what follows. I suggest you move along because there’s nothing you’ll want to see here- Thank you! Management.
If you do want to read, I suggest you open up a new browser rather than read this in your email box.
“Heck, I reckon you wouldn’t even be human bein’s if you didn’t have some pretty strong personal feelin’s about nuclear combat.”-Major T.K. (King) Kong. B-52 pilot: “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.“
In early 1962 (that date is crucial), historian and author, Barbara Tuchman’s book, “The Guns of August” was first published. Her seminal work on the causes of the outbreak of the First World War detailed the assumptions, miscalculations, misconceptions and misunderstandings among the European powers that set in motion the collision course that led to the greatest slaughter in history, until, of course, the next world war. There is the counter-narrative, developed years later, that the conflict wasn’t an accident- the result of a series of miscalculations- but rather, it was Germany’s intention from the start, to plunge Europe into conflict so it could dominate the continent, regardless of diplomatic posturing and blundering that preceded the outbreak of hostilities. Either way, the book was read by President John Kennedy, an avid reader of history. He was so deeply affected by it that he gave copies to his Cabinet and military advisers and demanded that they read it. He also wanted “every officer in the army” to read it too.
History has recorded that during “The Missiles of October” crisis with Cuba and the Soviet Union, in 1962, JFK kept thinking of the book’s premise of how quickly events can spiral out of control and lead to consequences no one wanted to see happen. How, when the leaders of countries in July and August, 1914, gave ultimatums that, when rejected, compelled mobilization which, in turn was met with counter-mobilization and new ultimatums to demobilize, or else, and of course, no leader wants to be seen as “weak” and the cascade of moves and counter-moves results in events taking on a life of their own, overtook the people involved. This “lesson” helped Kennedy step back from the brink.
Clearly, to Kennedy, the events of October, 1962 were similar to the events of July/August,1914 as detailed in Tuchman’s book. I think a case can be made: that book, it’s fortuitous time of publication and JFK’s deep interest and understanding of history may have well saved the world. Does anyone doubt if Trump had been president instead of JFK, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading this, because civilization, as we’ve known it, would have come to a calamitous end sometime in the second half of October,1962?
I’ve been largely silent about Trump since the beginning of the year. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been immersed in following the perpetual madness of the petulant boy-king that haunts the White House and by extension, the world. However, his recent comments on North Korea have shaken me to the core in a way I haven’t felt since the dark days of the Reagan Administration and the periodic diplomatic crises that at the time, could have quickly escalated disastrously. Still, the 1983 crisis surrounding KAL 007 has nothing on what appears to be unwinding in August, 2017. As we now know of that crisis, those involved at the highest levels did understand that the shooting down of a commercial airliner was, in fact, a disastrous error on the part of the Soviets. So, as scary as the threats, pronouncements and bleating, at the time, appeared, as history has shown, cooler heads did prevail.
I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked at what Trump said when he threatened of North Korea,
“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Yet, I have been stunned, nonetheless. Setting aside the actual incoherency of the statement, as an avid reader of history myself, I am well aware that no president in the modern nuclear age has ever leveled such a threat at anyone. Yes, Harry Truman, in July, 1945, did warn Japan that “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” But we were, after all, in a state of declared war. It was also before the era when a perceived threat of annihilation could be countered with a response that if not equal would still be catastrophic.
The fact is Trump is threatening to launch a nuclear attack on North Korea. Cue the “assumptions, miscalculations, misconceptions and misunderstandings” that surround the opening steps of this dangerous dance. Does anyone think such talk does anything other than to make Trump feel like a “big, swinging dick”? “Talking heads” have been speculating as to “who’s his audience?” His base? The Chinese? The DPRK? I think, in this case, he was his own audience.
I imagine that he views himself as Travis Bickle, the mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran in the 1976 movie “Taxi Driver” who decides to clean up the mean streets of NYC. In one iconic scene, he stands in front of a mirror rehearsing a confrontation, pulling a gun after saying, in various ways, for effect: “Are you talking to me?”, concluding with: “You talkin’ to me?… You talkin’ to me?… You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?”
Bill Clinton was famous for his ability to “compartmentalize.” Most famously when he was able to separate the ongoing
impeachment witch-hunt by the Republicans by acting as if it was “business as usual,” being as presidential as if he wasn’t being hounded out of office. Trump is dangerously incapable of this. No doubt some of the hostility and belligerence he has been spouting towards the North Koreans is being transferred from the various investigations that threatens to completely (and justly) unravel his Monarchy. That’s what makes him so dangerous. He has the mentality of someone who would declare that if he’s going down, then he’ll take everyone with him. He has the ability to do it. Trump’s very own Götterdämmerung. I know, I know: Godwin’s Law.
The fact is, there is nothing or no one standing in the way of Trump launching Armageddon. Just last week the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said, if he was instructed by Trump to launch his nuclear missiles at China, he would obey “in the context of underscoring the U.S. military’s oath of allegiance to whoever holds the office of the president of the United States.”
Wait a minute! Didn’t Nuremberg establish that “it’s illegal to obey an illegal order”? As a cog in the wheel of the nuclear “chain of command” shouldn’t a military commander take into account what, if anything, is going on that requires him to participate in the destruction of civilization? The answer is, unfortunately “no.” It’s no secret that our “nuclear triad,” you know, the one Trump knew absolutely nothing about last year, as a candidate, is built for speed, not deliberation. The people trained to “fire away” will simply go through the motions they have been rehearsing for decades. It’s not their job to ascertain if launching is appropriate, wise or a “good idea.”
Joe Scarborough recently claimed, “Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them.” To anyone who has any idea of the nature of nuclear weapons, the question answers itself. The fact we have a man who can “push the button” asking such a question is reason enough to move him as far from that button, as possible.
We can only hope that the billionaires who inhabit his cabinet conclude that their own lives and fortunes are in jeopardy as long as he remains Commmander-in-Chief, and that before Trump throws a world ending hissy-fit, it’s best to relieve him of that ability. We can only hope.
Hi Brian. I haven’t been following your blog cause, honestly, I can hardly keep up with my life, let alone yours. I hear you will be visiting Marin soon and I hope that we can connect at that time. But tonight, I was drawn to read your rant against Trump and thought I’d put a different light to it. Remember there are always other view points besides yours and Rachel Maddow’s. 🙂
Today, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said that the President’s words should make American feel more secure. His words project that the U.S. has the capacity to fully defend itself and to defend our allies. The Governor of Guam (which N.Korea is threatening) said that “As an Amer. citizen, I want a President that says that if any nation such as N. Korea attacks Guam, attacks Honolulu or attacks the West Coast, that they will be met with Hell and Fury.” It’s important to be strong and speak their language.
Do you remember what Ronald Reagan said about Gaddafi? “I find him not only a barbarian, but he’s flaky. He also nicknamed him Maddog of the Middle East. The dems didn’t seem to mind this. They talk about Trump’s reckless rhetoric, yet it is the non-reckless rhetoric that has got us to this place. A report came out today that said that Obama knew as early as 2013 that N. Korea had miniaturized a nuclear head to go on an ICBM. If this is true, that would be feckless on his part, to say the least. Trump is a negotiator. By speaking the same language, that’s how you get results.
Ret. US Army Col. Douglas McGregor said today that Pres. Trump is absolutely right. In the early 90s when N. Korea had begun to develop nuclear weapons, Gen. Colin Powell stated quite clearly and publicly that “if a nuclear weapon is ever launched by N. Korea, we will turn the country into a parking lot.” I also learned today that the four missiles that N. Korea says they will fire towards Guam next week, are liquid fuel rockets, old technology from the 70s, which can’t carry warheads because they will run out of fuel. These are hollow threats.
Do you remember when John McCain called Kim Jong-un a short, fat kid and mocked him? I suppose that was okay. It’s only when Trump says anything that half the country goes bonkers. Anyway, that’s my two cents.
I’ve finally got round to reading this, which seems appositive given the news today that Pyongyang has launched a missile over Japan. I think you’re right in your assessment that Trump’s rhetoric is counter productive.
There are a couple of things that I’m particularly worried about. First of all, it seems that DPRK seeks nuclear weapons because it sees these as a guarantee of its security (and that of the regime). The more bombastic rhetoric there is, the more that convinces Kim of the necessity of a nuclear deterrent, and the more it strengthens that perception among his people. You can guarantee that the ‘fire and fury’ soundbites will have made it into Korea, as it absolutely strengthens the perception of war with ‘the West’ that the DPRK government wants to create.
The second thing that concerns me is thay the Trump administration seems to have eschewed the normal diplomatic practices that find resolution to these things. Internally, the State Department is a mess. There are doubts about whether its usual system of briefings, and communiques are even being read by the White House. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Tillerson (not himself coming from a diplomatic background, but someone who has shown a modicum of sympathy to the department) has been routinely sidelined from important matters in favour of Jared Kushner and other Trump ‘insiders’. Why is this important? It’s important because these standoffs are often solved by back channel negotiations and trust for the other party. The Trump administration doesn’t seem to have the infrastructure to achieve this. There is no working national security team, and we’ve seen myriad policies being ‘announced’ in the last few months. Can China or DPRK really trust that what someone from the state department says is congruent with what Trump thinks? Can China or the DPRK really trust that what Trump and his surrogates say is congruent with what Trump actually thinks? As you allude to, this is why Kennedy was able to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There are also huge problems with his public diplomacy. Trump has made some bold claims (including ‘fire and fury’). If they’re made in public and made by the President, they’re hard to back down from. What does he do now that DPRK has continued to provoke? Threatening North Korea with military action should have been an option, but never in public (which makes me think that comment was less directed towards Korea and more towards his ego).
I also have doubts about Trump’s ability to bring together the stakeholders required to find resolution to the situation. China, Japan, South Korea will all have to be brought into negotiations and all clearly have different agendas. Does Trump have the ability to work out a resolution that pleases all sides? We know he’s not a detail guy, so does he have a Kissenger to his Nixon to do the dirty work for him? Given the quality of the staff in his administration (though I will concede that things have improved since Flynn has removed Gorka, Ban non, Mooch), I’d be very, very surprised if he does.
Anyway, it was a good post Brian. Thanks very much!