Could Trump Start a War? Speak Up

August 10th, 2017 · 2 Comments · Be a Mindful Activist

The last few days have felt to this baby boomer like the extremely tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962, when the United States and world clung on a precipice that could bring the start of a nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Yet, in this case, the situation of the two countries’ heads of state involves no adults. To be sure, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is an irrational, cruel, and maniacal ruler of North Korea. However, the United States now has a president, Donald Trump, who is wholly unfit for the job. He’s a narcissistic man who shows little understanding of the rule of law, ignores and doesn’t care to grasp the consequences of what he says and does beyond how it pertains to his own gain, and is highly irrational and, at times, cruel.

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, President Trump, at an appearance in his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Understandably, his statements caused shock waves globally.

Donald Trump has control over the nuclear codes of the United States. Let that sink in for a moment. A man who exhibits little to no impulse control, bullies to try to get his way, and shows continually that he will ignore facts possesses this most awesome responsibility for the planet. It’s likely, in my view, that behind the scenes Trump is already asking about why he shouldn’t use nuclear weapons. If you have any doubts, watch the interview that Trump gave to Tim Russert in 1999 during which he embraced the possibility of launching preemptive strikes against North Korea, even with potential nuclear fallout over the Korean peninsula. Consider his disturbing responses during the 2016 campaign, when he said, for one, that nuclear proliferation “was going to happen anyway” and saw possible benefits if Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea were to have nuclear weapons.

Let’s be clear: A catastrophic war could happen between the U.S. and North Korea. No amount of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cooing that the American people “can sleep well,” following President Trump’s outburst – in effect, seeking to soothe the shocks and make the unreasonable seem reasonable – should allay one’s fears. In the 48 hours since the president’s bombastic, unprecedented presidential threat, the administration has not evinced a cohesive strategy. If your instincts are that this is not right and that strong reasons exist to feel afraid, they are well-founded, in fact wise. Let’s look at why this is the stark reality and what actions we can take.

This President could either order or mismanage the United States into a war that would mean devastating consequences and cause possibly hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths. Various scenarios make this threat real. We are in uncharted territory with an American president who acts and speaks often without consulting others in his Cabinet or Administration, or due consideration of consequences. He doesn’t care to know and understand history. As former Defense Secretary William Perry decried in a statement, President Trump appeared to threaten first use of nuclear weapons, a departure from the policy of deterrence that presidents of both parties have followed for many decades.

“Nuclear Insanity”

It’s worth repeating and examining fully: The control over the U.S. use of nuclear weapons is in the hands of one person, the president. Congress has no say in the decision. Various arms and national security experts have warned for a long time that the situation of putting this control in the hands of one person is dangerous and foolhardy. Calling for an end to this “nuclear insanity,” author Joseph Cirincione has written, “In America, the world’s greatest democracy, there are no checks and balances on the president’s ability to launch nuclear war.” The president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, Cirincione has urged Congress to pass legislation that would enact specific safeguards and Congressional checks and balances on the president’s authority over nuclear weapons. Trump being president makes it all the more imperative.

Yet, for the most part, the networks and other media haven’t directly focused on this control over nuclear weapons nearly enough during the Trump presidency. Moreover, they haven’t covered the process of President Trump’s decision-making with the military on North Korea sufficiently, as this crisis has intensified. What are the exact discussions? Has the president said to any in his inner circle since his blunt warning whether he would order the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea? Who, if anyone, is advising him? Who is in the room? These questions and more, particularly with an irrational person as the president, should be central to coverage right now.

These are uncomfortable but necessary questions in the time of Trump’s presidency, and the Washington Post, for one, raised them in an article this week that took an illuminating historical angle. In 1973, Harold Hering, an Air Force major with the responsibility to turn the keys in a nuclear missile launch, posed the question, “How can I know that an order to launch my missiles came from a sane president?” Richard Nixon, who was growing depressed as the Watergate scandal engulfed his administration, was president. As the Post article explains, Capt. Hering would not stop questioning the launch protocol and eventually was forced to retire from the military. (In an interview with Radiolab last year, Hering relayed his experience in the 1970s.) This is the hard questioning and reform of the launch protocol that need to take place.

Beyond a president’s deliberate orders, a war with North Korea could happen because of miscalculations. Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis has pointed to this risk. In an April interview with the Toronto Star, Lewis said that even if Trump doesn’t intend to start a war, his loose talk is very risky. “…the fear I have is [Trump will] say something that the North Koreans will interpret as a sign that an attack is coming, and they’ll overact,” Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif., told the Toronto Star.

Vigilance and Voices

None of this is to neglect Kim Jong-un’s treachery or minimize the perils of North Korea’s continuing development of nuclear arms capabilities. The U.N. Security Council action to enact stiff sanctions on North Korea, in a unanimous vote on Saturday, Aug. 5 that China and Russia joined, was a step in a good direction. However, President Trump stomped all over this action with his intemperate threat of “fire and fury” that has worked initially to back the U.S. into a diplomatic corner and ratcheted up tensions.

This alarming situation is why it’s crucial to stay engaged as citizens at this frightening time. Here are suggested actions:

Call the White House. Urge continued diplomacy, in which the U.S. works with countries in the region, particularly China. Tell the White House that the President’s “fire and fury” statement was wrong strategically and destructive.

Call or write to your Senators and your Congressman or Congresswoman in the House of Representatives. Voice your opposition to the President’s threat of a possible pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons.

Tell all Republicans to find their backbones even more. If you are represented by a Republican senator or member of the House of Representatives, tell that member of Congress to have the courage to stand up to President Trump’s unstable leadership.

Contact the media. Urge the media, from newspapers and magazines to television networks and talk shows, to examine the situation with President Trump’s control over nuclear weapons. Express your support to reforming the policy to establish firm checks and balances over one person’s authority to launch nuclear weapons.

Support groups that are working for nonproliferation, such as the Ploughshares Fund. Others are finding ways to counter the Trump Administration through resistance groups that arose out of the Women’s March in January.

Continue support of the investigations into Trump, his associates, and the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Don’t be silent. In other times, some immediately have recognized the perils of going along with disturbing actions and the widening cracks within civilized society while others stood by only to see terrible and tragic consequences. Some leaders’ excuses for President Trump and continual rationalizations should not deter others. This week, some columnists and officials said that people were overreacting in their fears and concerns about Trump’s actions. The country is only 200-plus days into the Trump presidency, and the chaos and threatening atmosphere this president has created should spur us onto continued vigilance and resistance. Trust your instincts that this is not a man who is equipped to lead as president of the United States and, in fact, could take the country into a horrific war.

Millions have worked before to change the course of history. This presidency is one of those times. Our world depends on it.


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Colleen

    Come on, Americans. This isn’t a Republican/Democrat debate anymore.

    Please forward this column to everyone you know.

    • Susan DeMark

      You are so right, Colleen! This goes much deeper than party differences and policies. So many of us have not seen anything like this in our lifetimes and hope that integrity, competency, and values that stand for something laudable in the world can return soon to the U.S. presidency.

      Thank you!


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