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Tags: trump | nuclear | hyten | foreign | russia

American Adversaries Ignore Trump's Nuclear Braggart

American Adversaries Ignore Trump's Nuclear Braggart
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs the White House November 21, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Trump and his family are going to his Mar-a-Lago resort for the Thanksgiving holiday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Eli Lake, Bloomberg Opinion By Tuesday, 21 November 2017 09:08 PM Current | Bio | Archive

As 2017 comes to a close, much of Washington is pondering what was once imponderable: What if President Donald Trump orders a nuclear strike as rashly as he tweets?

Senator Bob Corker, Trump’s former ally and the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, held hearings this month on the president's authorities over nuclear weapons. Trump and nuclear weapons is frequent topic for Washington’s favorite televised conversation, “Morning Joe.” Over the weekend it came up at an annual confab for national security professionals and deep thinkers known as the Halifax Forum.

At a panel aptly titled “Nukes: The Fire and the Fury,” Gen. John Hyten, the man whom Trump would order to launch a nuclear weapon, made headlines. When asked about the prospect of pushing back against an illegal order, he said of course he would:

“If it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?,’” Hyten said. “And we’ll come up with options, of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

It’s easy to understand why all of this would seem alarming. It’s true that Trump did at one point promise “fire and fury” if North Korea continued its threats. It’s also true that Trump has been obsessed with nuclear weapons for decades. He pushed hard in the 1980s to lead disarmament talks with the Soviet Union on behalf of President Ronald Reagan.

That said, the immediate danger today is not that Trump may in the future try to start a nuclear war; rather, it’s that his own words ring increasingly hollow. This is where it’s worth examining what Hyten said right before his very quotable remarks in Nova Scotia.

When talking about the U.S. plan to modernize its nuclear arsenal (something that began under President Barack Obama) Hyten said his goal was “to create the room for diplomacy and sanctions to work.” That means deterrence. So even though Hyten would refuse an illegal order, it’s important for America’s adversaries to believe that America will use its nuclear weapons if it must.

For threats like that to work, North Korea, Russia, Iran and China need to know that the president is in charge, that the government’s strategy and actions flow from its chief executive. But on nearly every foreign policy there is a chasm between what Trump says and his government does.

Russia? Trump keeps saying he wants a good relationship with President Vladimir Putin. And yet the State Department has closed down Russia’s consulate and spy base in San Francisco, and the Justice Department has forced its state propaganda channel to register as a foreign agent. Trump’s diplomats have shown no signs of lifting the sanctions Putin has been trying to get America to lift since he invaded Ukraine.

Iran? Trump threatens to tear up the nuclear deal if U.S. allies don’t address its deficiencies. And yet his top advisers assure these allies that Trump’s decision to “decertify” the bargain was meant to create leverage and that there are no plans for the moment to reimpose the crippling sanctions Obama lifted. Meanwhile, Trump promised in October to begin rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East. And then this month he issued a joint statement with Putin to work cooperatively with Iran’s ally, Russia, to stabilize Syria.

Trump has tweeted that his predecessor spied on him. But his government has yet to declassify the records of White House unmasking of Trump team officials. Trump refuses to endorse the mutual defense provision in the North Atlantic Treaty, and yet his national security adviser, defense secretary and secretary of state continue to assure allies this commitment is ironclad. Trump came close to threatening regime change for Venezuela at his U.N. speech in September. Two months later, there is no evidence the U.S. has done anything to back up his words.

When Trump came into office, the fear was that his tweets and pronouncements represented radical changes in foreign and domestic policy. After 10 months in office, he has shown us that they don’t. Instead the government itself is disconnected from the man whom Americans elected to lead it. Trump’s top advisers increasingly appear to manage their boss.

And this is the real challenge for American strategy today. Even if Trump gave an order out of the blue to bring fire and fury to the Korean peninsula, it’s likely the military would disobey it. It’s a relief to know this. But it’s also evidence of another problem: The president’s word is worthless. His bluster is not evidence of command, but rather a form of abdication.


Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun, and UPI. To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© Copyright 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.


EliLake
As 2017 comes to a close, much of Washington is pondering what was once imponderable: What if President Donald Trump orders a nuclear strike as rashly as he tweets?
trump, nuclear, hyten, foreign, russia
834
2017-08-21
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 09:08 PM
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