I was writing up a response to comments on my last post about The Donald and the clear and present danger he presents to the security of the U.S. and the world. It got so long that I found myself writing, "I should just write a whole post about this," so here it is.
The general tenor of the comments I was responding to was: Yes, in theory the president has the power to launch nukes, but in practice cooler heads would prevail. Somewhere in the chain of command, someone would realize that Trump had run off the rails and refuse to relay the order or turn the key.
Some select quotes from Steven Lefevre:
[a soldier refusing a nuclear launch order] would prevent a nuclear first strike. And in the meantime, a response could be organized. Congress could convene an emergency session and rescind the War Powers act. They could impeach the president. They could immediately defund the military chain of command... I have trouble believing that all US military personnel, esp. those literally with their fingers on the button, are just going to blindly follow nuclear strike orders.
and Peter Donis:
Me: Anyone who refused the order would be arrested and court-martialed and replaced with someone else.
Peter: On whose orders? The President's? The same President whose SecDef just refused to confirm a nuclear launch order?
These arguments miss this crucial point: the danger is not that Trump would wake up on an otherwise uneventful day and say, "You know, what Kim Jong Il said about my hands really pisses me off, let's nuke Pyongang." The nightmare scenario goes more like this: Kim Jong Il says something about Trump's hands. Trump responds by insulting Kim. Kim responds by mobilizing the DPRK army. This alarms the Chinese, who respond by imposing a naval blockade at the Malacca straight and the South China Sea. In the midst of escalating tensions there is sudden news of an explosion in Seattle. Trump goes on TV and announces that the U.S. has been attacked by North Korea. It was a nuclear warhead, but fortunately it failed and only the conventional explosive detonated. Is it true? Who the hell knows. No independent confirmation is available, but President Trump is on TV saying, "Believe me folks
, it was a nuke, and it was the North Koreans." In retaliation, Trump has just issued orders to counterstrike by nuking Pyongyang and all of North Korea's known nuclear sites because, "We can't just sit around like pussies waiting for another attack hoping the next one will also be a dud too." Secretary of Defense Chris Christie concurs with the order.
Under those circumstances, do you really expect a member of the military to refuse a launch order? Or, if they do, for that refusal to stand for more then thirty seconds?
What about the other possibilities? Yes, Congress could convene an emergency session and rescind the War Powers act. The problem is that rescission would not become law until the president signed it, which, under the circumstances, would be unlikely. A pocket veto
cannot be overridden by Congress, and least not for two weeks. By then it's way too late.
The only thing Congress could do immediately without Trump's approval would be to remove him from office through the impeachment process. But the problem is that in order to stop Trump from launching nukes they'd have to do it not in a matter of days or even hours, but minutes
. That might be theoretically possible, but I sure wouldn't want to bet the planet on those odds.
The danger that Trump poses is not that he'll suddenly go crazy with no warning. Quite the contrary, he's given us ample warning. The reason Trump is dangerous is that he gradually, deliberately, and -- what is most distressing -- effectively
moves the needle towards crazy. A year ago it was unthinkable
that a presidential candidate who had actively avoided the draft could get away with saying that someone who volunteered to serve in Viet Nam was not a war hero because he was captured and held as a POW. It was unthinkable
that a presidential candidate could casually lob around phrases like "Bomb the shit out of 'em" and survive politically. It was unthinkable
that a U.S. presidential candidate could actively condone violence against peaceful protesters
and "opening up libel laws" in order to silence the press
. Thanks to Donald Trump, none of these things are unthinkable any more. They are part of our reality. In the span of one year Donald Trump has made us forget a big chunk of what sanity and civil society even look like.
There is a long, long list of things that used to be unthinkable that Donald Trump has made normal (in just over one year too!). Hence I take little comfort in the idea that he won't start a nuclear war because it would be unthinkable, that in some as-yet-to-be-determined way cooler heads would prevail in that case when they have failed to prevail up to that point. Turning the unthinkable into reality is Donald Trump's stock in trade!
That is why he must be kept as far from the mechanisms of power as possible.