In an era in which campaign rhetoric can become government policy, it’s worth considering something Donald Trump said the other day at a campaign event. Specifically, he talked about the relative readiness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal compared with that of Russia. Trump said, “Frankly, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has built up their military again and again and again. Their military is much stronger. He’s doing nuclear, we’re not doing anything. Our nuclear is old and tired and his nuclear is tippy-top from what I hear. Better be careful, folks, okay? You better be careful.” Hmmm.
While Trump has made an art of being unpredictable and vague throughout this campaign, his statement is no doubt puzzling, if not downright baffling, to the military and national security experts who are observing his candidacy. It makes one hypothesize about a future scenario in the early days of his administration, where a President Donald Trump stands in the Oval Office early one morning with his coat off, looking in the mirror, putting the finishing touches on his hair presentation for the day. In walks the distinguished chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., in full dress uniform. Dunford is a man of remarkable accomplishment, dignity and poise. He has two master’s degrees, is a graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School and served as the 36th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
President Trump, without averting his gaze from the mirror, says to Dunford: “I know nuclear, okay? I know nuclear better than the generals do. Our nuclear is old, I can guarantee you. Putin is building up the military again and again and again. You better be careful. From what I hear, their nuclear is tippy-top.”
Dunford holds his pose, raises his chin and without changing his expression, thinks to himself, “Geez, what an idiot! Is there any duct tape and chloroform nearby I could use to restrain this guy while I take his nuclear launch codes?” But what the general probably says out loud is something along the lines of, “Well, sir, that’s an interesting observation. We will do a full review of the Russian nuclear arsenal to determine the level of tippy-toppiness the Russians have achieved. We should all be careful, and I will spread your sentiments throughout the command.”
Anyway, you get the idea. How bizarre is it that a potential president of the United States talks this way? Trump “hears” that the Russian nuclear arsenal is “tippy-top”? What’s the point he’s trying to make? That we need to modernize America’s nuclear arsenal? Why doesn’t he just say that? And why not dedicate a couple of coherent paragraphs to the issue? Let’s face it: People are bailing on Trump. He is losing support in the public polls, and experts within the GOP who have signed up for his campaign are backing off left and right. Trump offers no hints that he can be serious, and he is offering little reason to be taken seriously by those who care about the issues. He is starting to present himself more as a menace than as a candidate.
And this isn’t the first time Trump has made an inane comment about the U.S. nuclear arsenal. What could be more important? Recall that during one of the Republican primary debates, he didn’t know what the nuclear triad was, that is, that America has nuclear weapons delivery capabilities from air, land and sea. He didn’t know that, but now he knows the Russian nuclear arsenal is “tippy-top”? Are you kidding me?
When will it end? When will we wake up and the nightmare be over?