Today brings us the news that “Fifty prominent Republican foreign policy and national security experts” have come out and said that a President Trump “would be the most reckless President in American history.” The group writes:
He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Speaking of nuclear arsenals, today also brings us Esquire’s Robert Bateman, who published an interview (“Here’s Why Trump Can’t Be Trusted with the Nuclear Codes”) of yet another critic of Trump from the right. Bateman began his piece this way:
John Noonan knows nukes. He has spent his entire life in the defense community, first as the son of a career Naval officer, then as a student in military institutions, then as a United States Air Force launch officer within the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICMB) system. He’s spent countless 24-hour shifts 100 feet below ground, surrounded by ten nuclear missiles to which he has the launch codes. After leaving the Air Force, he became a spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee and served as a national security advisor to both Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.
Before this election, Noonan was mostly behind the scenes, a powerful man who worked in the shadow of even more powerful politicians. That is, until Donald Trump came along and started running his mouth about using nuclear weapons with the flippancy with which most of us deploy angry-face emojis.
Bateman’s now-famous “tweet storm” against the Republican candidate has since presented him with many opportunities to educate Americans about an uneducated and ineducable Trump, this Esquire interview being the latest. You should read the entire piece. It is sobering. But I wanted to highlight a few things Noonan said,
a nuclear exchange between two major powers would reshape the world in a drastic and nightmarish way, take the lives of millions, and have catastrophic environmental effects that would last generations. So we’re not playing with Lincoln Logs here either.
And yes, it’s a hell of a responsibility. Consider this: The president gives an order. But a missileer, or a submarine or bomber crew, all have to choose whether or not to follow that order. In a sense, the decision to release nuclear weapons isn’t the president’s alone. It’s shared by everyone in that chain of command. Don’t get me wrong, I would have done my duty and I can damn near guarantee everyone on alert right now wouldn’t blink either. But think of that as an added responsibility of the presidency: You aren’t just ordering nuclear release—you are asking everyone in that chain of command to own it, too, and to live with it for the rest of their lives.
Okay. There is that. And there is this:
Think of the world as a playground. Does the bully—the five-foot-tall third grader with a pituitary disorder—pick on the star athlete or the 60-pound weakling? They’re not going to punch the athlete in the nose because they’ll get socked right back, so they go for the weakling every time. In America’s case, we don’t just stand up to the nuclear-armed bullies—we also stick up for the weaker kids. Russia, to wit, could impose its will on the small Baltic democracies because Russia is big and they are small. It’s American resolve, backed by nuclear weapons, that keeps Russia in check. That’s what you call deterrence.
This is what I hear from Trump: that he wants to flip that equation and make the United States the bully. That is, We’re big and we have nukes and we can use them to kill terrorists in Raqqa and Mosul. Stop us if you dare. It’s how he’s run his businesses for decades: I can do whatever I want. In the business world, it was shady and unethical. In the national-security world, it’s downright dangerous.
I don’t think it’s empty talk either. His spokesperson said a few months ago, “what good is a nuclear triad if you can’t use it?” That could the stupidest thing ever said in the history of presidential campaigns, which puts it in the running for stupid thing ever said in the history of humanity. Nuclear weapons are like an understanding between the athlete and the bully: You don’t screw with me and I won’t screw with you. It’s a way for the two biggest kids on the block to communicate with each other in no uncertain terms. That Trump allegedly believes that nukes are solutions to low-intensity problems like ISIS and Al-Qaeda is raw, unfiltered insanity.
There is plenty more in the interview, including Noonan calling Trump a “petty thug.” But perhaps the most insightful thing he said about Trump’s character has to do with his lack of “respect for this country,” in that he has failed to do any of the work, like learning things about the world, that any serious candidate for president should consider it his duty to do:
When Mitt and Jeb ran for office, they studied. They asked questions. They had a hunger and desire to learn, because they knew that the demands of leadership are unforgiving. Ignorance is a choice. And Trump’s choice—to not do the work—is essentially saying “I don’t care about you or the demands of this office.”
I’m not sure if, in Trump’s case, ignorance is a choice he has consciously made or a result of a faulty mental system (I tend toward the latter). Either way, what remains is the ignorance. And as Noonan and other prominent Republicans make absolutely clear, it is damned dangerous.