Trump on Nuclear Weapons: "By Whatever Means Necessary" Part 1
July 22, 2016
Ronnie Dugger / Reader Supported News
Starting 32 years ago, Donald Trump has spoken publicly about nuclear weapons much more and much more alarmingly than Hillary Clinton. During the present presidential campaign, the candidates have almost totally avoided and ignored the only "issue" that rivals climate change in its threat to life on earth. In contrast, Trump has been sharring his attitudes and thoughts on the subject. He has been brooding about nuclear weapons during much of his adult life.
Trump on Nuclear Weapons: "By Whatever Means Necessary"
Ronnie Dugger / Reader Supported News
(July 15, 2016) -- Starting 32 years ago, Donald Trump has spoken publicly about nuclear weapons much more and much more alarmingly than Hillary Clinton. During the present presidential campaign, the candidates have almost totally avoided and ignored -- an ominous and dreadful concord of denial and silence -- this, the only "issue" that rivals climate change in its threat to the fate of life on earth.
In contrast, though, Trump, in his campaign, has been showing his attitudes and some of his thinking on the subject. He has been brooding about nuclear weapons during much of his adult life.
Trump believes nuclear weapons will certainly be used again. He fears the proliferation of heads of state who are mentally off and will use them against us. In the 1980s he said that the deterrence that works with the US vs. Russia wouldn't work with, in his example, India v. Pakistan. He has contemplated the US bombing nuclear weapons plants in foreign nations.
Three decades ago he revealed a hope and plan he had to be the chief negotiator for the US with the USSR. "The Big Two," as he said, would plot and act together, we with trade power and they with "their powers of retaliation," to coerce or force other nations to abandon their nuclear weapons so that "[b]etween those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries."
Trump and Russia's President Putin have now struck up a warm alliance through the media.
As President Johnson once exclaimed angrily to me over dinner in the White House in 1967, "I'm the one who has to mash the button!" If Trump is nominated and elected, for four or eight years he will be the one and only American whom we have trusted with total deciding power and control over the launch and detonation, or not, of our country's nuclear weapons, almost 5,000 of which are kept night and day on hair-trigger "launch on alert" by our military fellow Americans at airbases and in submarines and silos.
Gorbachev, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush achieved treaty agreements that reduced the world's nuclear weapons arsenals by about 85%, but our country and Russia together still own about 90% of all the omni-potent nuclear weapons that are left on the earth.
Any one or a small swarm of these shiny phallus-like atom-exploders, on command by the president into his always-with-and-near-him "football" of nuclear codes and commands, can kill and maim the people and destroy the existence of any city or nation on earth.
The second Cold War and a new nuclear arms race have begun since Russia annexed a nearby island and moved militarily into Ukraine, and the US and NATO, breaking a US promise under the first Bush, have moved troops and nuclear-weapons equipment into nations smack-dab up against the eastern border of Russia. The new Putin-era arms-and-H-Bombs race also entails most notably China and England.
While "Russia" was still the dictatorial and communist USSR locked with the US in the mass-overkill first H-Bomb race, we and they very nearly fell into a potentially life-ending nuclear war. Donald Trump, then in his late 30s, had been nurturing a notion, an idea in fond prospect, that he become the principal US negotiator with the USSR and that the two countries work together to strip lesser nations of their nuclear weapons, leaving them and us astride the world unchallengeable.
He had been thinking about this for some time, and his "good friend" and adviser Roy Cohn (famous as Senator Joe McCarthy's sidekick during McCarthy's anti-communist crusades) told him that his forthcoming interview with reporter Lois Romano in 1984 was just the time to reveal his thoughts.
He was 38 then, already rich and famous. Romano, after the interview, wrote about "his fantasy of becoming the US negotiator on nuclear arms limitations with the Soviets. . . . He wants to talk about how the United States should negotiate with the Soviets. He wants to be the negotiator."
While acknowledging that someone else might be chosen, she reported, "He would know what to ask the Russians for, he says." Quickly he would learn about nuclear missiles: "It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is about missiles . . . . I think I know most of it already. You're talking about just getting updated on a situation . . . . You know who already wants me to do this? Roy . . . . I'd do it in a moment."
Three years after that, Ron Rosenbaum (who is the author of an insiders' book on nuclear-war thinking in Israel, How the End Begins) opened one of his magazine pieces, "Donald Trump with his finger on the nuclear trigger . . . . China yes? Moscow no? Donald Trump with the power to destroy life on earth."
In Trump Tower three decades ago Rosenbaum had learned from Trump, in his office, of his special interest in the subject. " . . . he confided to me he was talking to 'people in Washington,' 'even the White House,'" and while they were talking Trump took a ("probably rearranged") call from Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. "'I won't be nuking anyone,'" Rosenbaum quoted Trump, then adding last March, "He didn't sound eager to pull the trigger . . . . There had to be a deal!"
Trump denigrated President Reagan's negotiations for arms control treaties with Soviet premier Gorbachev. He had been told by his uncle, Dr. John Trump, a scientist-professor at MIT, that a few years back "only a few brains in the world" comprehended nuclear technology, but now thousands and thousands do and "someday it'll be like making a bomb in the basement of your house . . . . very frightening."
Trump had heard, he said, from a pilot of Libyan Quadaffi's that the dictator there was "a total schizo . . . . He'd get into a plane, he'd scream, shout, slap people. He was crazy. You never knew. Trigger-happy." Rosenbaum reported in 1987: "Trump foresees a situation soon when such hair-trigger heads of state will have their hands on multiple nuclear triggers." He told the reporter this was "the" great problem of the world.
As the pair approached the iron gate of Club 21, Rosenbaum asked why there was little action against such proliferation.
"People don't believe the inevitable," Trump replied. "You know . . . it's always going to happen to the other guy." Over the writer's beer and Trump's Virgin Mary the sipping real estate tycoon berated US negotiators for thinking only about the US and the USSR when France was "openly and blatantly selling nuclear technology . . . to anyone and it's a disgrace."
In his writing then, coming to Trump's thinking of bombing suspected nuclear weapons facilities, Ron Rosenbaum now, as it were, took the floor:
So what's the solution? I ask him. How do you get the French to stop, how do you get French technology out of the hands of the Pakistanis at this point?
"I think you have to come down on them very hard economically or whatever way," Trump says. "I think the solution is largely economic. Because there are so many of these countries that are so fragile and we have a vast power that's never been used. They depend on us for food, for medical supplies. And I would never even suggest using it except on this issue. But this issue supercedes all other things."
"I guess the easy thing would be to say you go in and clean it out."
"Like the Israelis did with the Iraqi plant?"
"I don't necessarily want to advocate that publicly because it comes off radical.
"And you know, without a lot of discussion prior to saying that, it sounds very foolish and that's why I get very concerned about discussing it at all."
Trump continued that most US negotiators are long-term bureaucrats who don't get the deals done and that the masters of deal-making are "only a roomful . . . in the whole country." People from Harvard say a deal is dead. "I go in and make the deal . . . better than they could have." He said it was "now or never" and the people in Washington were not getting the deal done.
Rosenbaum asked why others don't feel his urgency. Trump then clearly declared his passionate and potentially momentous conviction, which he has expressed again during his presidential campaign, that nuclear bombs will be used again. This belief might well affect a president's actions in a perceived or actual nuclear crisis between or among nations.
"Those people think that because we have it and the Russians have it, nobody will ever use it because they're assuming everybody's not necessarily mad . . . . They don't see Quaddafi as the psycho he is. . . . I mean, what if he's got the bomb and something happens like the time we shot down two of his planes. And he's enraged and he can't see straight and he's got 20 missiles pointed at the United States. Washington, I mean, do you think there's a chance he won't press the button?"
So, Rosenbaum asked at the rolling top of the 20th century nuclear arms race, what is the Trump deal?
"It's a deal with the Soviets," Trump replied. "We approach them on this basis: We both recognize the nonproliferation treaty's not working, that half a dozen countries are on the brink of getting a bomb. Which can only cause trouble for the two of us.
"The deterrence of mutual assured destruction that prevents the United States and the USSR from nuking each other won't work on the level of an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange. Or a madman dictator with a briefcase-bomb team. The only answer is for the Big Two to make a deal now to step in and prevent the next generation of nations about to go nuclear from doing so. By whatever means necessary."
The only now-declared candidate to become the Republican Party's nominee for President of the United States next week in Cleveland continued 29 years ago:
"Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the US and the Soviet Union. Between those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries. So we should use our power of economic retaliation and they use their powers of retaliation and between the two of us we will prevent the problem from happening.
"Maybe we should offer them something. I'm saying you start off as nicely as possible. You apply as much pressure as necessary until you achieve the goal. You start off telling them, 'Let's get rid of it.' If that doesn't work you then start cutting off aid. And more aid and then more. You do whatever is necessary so these people will have riots in the street, so they can't get water. So they can't get Band-Aids, so they can't get food. Because that's the only thing that's going to do it -- the people, the riots."
And, Rosenbaum asked, what about the French? "I'd come down on them so hard," Trump said. " . . . if they didn't give it up— . . . If they didn't give it up— and I don't mean reduce it, and I don't mean stop, because stopping doesn't mean anything. I mean get it out. If they didn't, I would bring sanctions against that country that would be so strong, so unbelievable . . . "
Trump's recent flattery of Russia's President Putin and Putin's reciprocating de facto endorsement of Trump as the best candidate for US President thus brings closer to reality Trump's dream of being the chief US negotiator with the Russians, which as president he of course in fact would be.
The author wishes to thank Jeffrey Lewis on FP Online for assembling the reporting of Lois Romano in the Washington Post in 1984 and Ron Rosenbaum in the magazine Manhattan in 1987, reprinted in Slate last March 1.
[Editor's note: A second report from Dugger, on Trump on nuclear weapons follows.]
Ronnie Dugger won the 2011 George Polk career award in journalism. He founded the Texas Observer, has written biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, a book on Hiroshima and one on universities, many articles in The New Yorker, The Nation, Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, Mother Jones, and other periodicals, and is now writing a book for new thinking about nuclear war. email@example.com
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