“I’m Not Saying We Wouldn’t Get Our Hair Mussed”

In March 2016, candidate Trump said he wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons in the Middle East or Europe.

In August 2016, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC claimed that “several months ago, a foreign policy expert went to advise Mr. Trump. … Trump asked three times, in an hour briefing, ‘why can’t we use nuclear weapons?'”

In January, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced imminent plans to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, President-elect Trump tweeted “It won’t happen!”

Last month, the U.S. government announced that North Korea had indeed tested an ICBM. The Trump administration responded by saying America would use “the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat”. 

On Tuesday, sources in the administration leaked an analysis of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities:

North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.

The analysis, completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency, comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country’s atomic arsenal. The United States calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The President immediately issued “an extraordinary ultimatum”:

“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… [Kim Jong Un] has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before”…

The President received encouragement from one of his most prominent evangelical supporters, pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas:

“When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. I’m heartened to see that our president … will not tolerate any threat against the American people. 

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis (the former general whose appointment as Secretary of Defense required special dispensation from Congress) issued a statement:

The United States and our allies have the demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack… The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who occasionally shows some sense, indicated that the President is ready to launch a preemptive strike: 

“I do believe Donald Trump will not allow Kim Jong-un to get a missile to hit America with a nuclear weapon on top, and it’s a matter of time until that capability exists….So, I hope we can do this [with] diplomacy and sanctions [and] war would be terrible, but if there’s going to be a war, it’s going to be in the region, not here in America….Isn’t your primary purpose as President of the United States to protect the American homeland from a nuclear weapon attack by a guy like Kim Jong-un?… He’s gonna pick homeland defense over regional stability and he has to.”

Note for Sen. Graham: Please read the Vox article “North Korea Is More Rational Than You Think”. It’s very hard to see why North Korea would want to start a war.

After Secretary of State Rex Tillerson downplayed the situation, saying there is no “imminent threat” and “Americans should sleep well at night”, Sebastian Gorka, a top presidential adviser (and neo-Nazi), declared: “The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical”, apparently suggesting that the issue of war and peace is a purely military matter. 

Finally, the President today expressed the opinion that his previous ultimatum “maybe wasn’t tough enough”. He told reporters that North Korea “better get their act together or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world”.

Well. I hope the North Korean leadership understands that you can’t believe a word that comes out of Trump’s mouth. When it comes to making threats or promises, he might as well be what the Chinese call a “paper tiger”. A normal response to his bombast would be “yeah, right, Donald, why don’t you go play golf or watch TV?”

But our President is also stupid, ignorant and lacking in normal human emotions, so nobody knows what he might decide to do. He does have the ability to launch a nuclear strike without anyone else’s approval (a problem that needs to be fixed). I don’t think he’d do that, however. I think it’s more likely he would authorize a non-nuclear attack on North Korea designed to eliminate the country’s leadership or slow down it’s nuclear program. The likely outcome of that would be a major war that wouldn’t be limited to the Korean peninsula.

The Atlantic has a long article on “How to Deal With North Korea”. Its subtitle is “There are no good options. But some are worse than others.” Its conclusion is “every option the United States has for dealing with North Korea is bad. But accepting it as a nuclear power may be the least bad”:

Although in late April Trump called Kim “a madman with nuclear weapons,” perhaps the most reassuring thing about pursuing the acceptance option is that Kim appears to be neither suicidal nor crazy. In the five and a half years since assuming power at age 27, he has acted with brutal efficiency to consolidate that power; the assassination of his half brother is only the most recent example. As tyrants go, he’s shown appalling natural ability. For a man who occupies a position both powerful and perilous, his moves have been nothing if not deliberate and even cruelly rational.

And as the latest head of a family that has ruled for three generations, one whose primary purpose has been to survive, as a young man with a lifetime of wealth and power before him, how likely is he to wake up one morning and set fire to his world?

The same logic applies to Iran and its nuclear program. There is no easy way to stop technologically-advanced countries from obtaining nuclear weapons, especially when unfriendly nations already have them. Fortunately, however, there is no reason to think any country on Earth would use them, unless it was to retaliate against an invasion or an earlier nuclear attack. If that happened, we could only hope the damage would be limited, as it was in Japan seventy-two years ago this week. As long as some countries have nuclear weapons, other countries will acquire them. Unless the nations of the world agree to eliminate them, and, if necessary, join together to force recalcitrant nations to give them up (and keep them out of the hands of terrorists), nuclear weapons will pose a continuing threat.

In case you didn’t catch it, “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed” is from Dr. Strangelove. General “Buck” Turgidson is vigorously arguing for a preemptive attack on the Soviet Union: “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops.”

Presumably, the real-life President will receive better advice than the fictional President Merkin Muffley (if only that nice egghead President Muffley was Commander-in-Chief right now).