I Know Trump’s Secret Plan To End Terrorism. It Should Be The Only Issue In This Election.
Trump’s “secret plan” to end terrorism is easy to dismiss. But he has a plan and it is the only issue that matters in this election…
In the NBC News Commander-in-Chief Forum moderated to no one’s satisfaction by Matt Lauer, Donald Trump was asked about his self-described “secret plan” to end terrorism. The claim to have a foolproof plan to end terrorism “very quickly” has long been part of the free-wheeling verbal incontinence that comprises one of Trump’s stump speeches. Matt Lauer probed gingerly around the topic, referencing Trump’s standard line that he can’t divulge the details because he needs to remain “unpredictable” in order for his strategy to succeed. Darn the luck.
Trump has found a way to avoid discussing the details of his plan but he’s done a terrible job keeping the central idea secret. His plan revolves around nuclear weapons. In several interviews and in private comments that have been leaked to the press, Trump has expressed a much broader view of the appropriate uses for nuclear weapons than any previous president or candidate. He explicitly refused during a March 23rd Bloomberg interview to rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS and scornfully challenged Chris Matthews in an MSNBC interview a week later, “Somebody hits us within ISIS — you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?” According to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, he also pestered a foreign-policy advisor during one briefing with the question, “If we have [nuclear weapons], why can’t we use them?”
Trump has occasionally prefaced his bellicose statements about nuclear weapons by saying that he would only use them as a last resort, but his apocalyptic rhetoric and lack of alternative strategies indicate he’s already decided it’s time for the last-resort option. In the wake of the Orlando attack, Trump said that without extreme measures “we are not going to have a country anymore…We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore.” Moreover, his suggestion that it would be reasonable to attack ISIS with a nuclear weapon if they “hit” us should set off alarm bells because, of course, ISIS has hit us. More than once. Both the San Bernardino and Orlando massacres were carried out by professed ISIS sympathizers. It will happen again.
The idea that a President Trump may be planning to chuck nukes in the general direction of terrorists — or at least threaten to do so — should surprise no one. Early in the campaign, Trump advocated forcefully and on multiple occasions that the US kill the family members of terrorists as a deterrent against future attacks because “they care about their [families’] lives.” Nuclear weapons would only provide the opportunity to apply the same strategy on a grand scale. Trump never repudiated the brutal logic of his original strategy, but he was forced to drop the plan in the face of withering criticism and military leaders who stated flatly that US soldiers would not follow such an illegal order. But the president alone has the authority to launch a nuclear strike, with or without the consent of his generals. Trump has stopped talking about killing terrorists’ families, but he continues to push his secret plan and promises to “bomb the hell out of ISIS.”
Trump has blasted through most conventions for how presidential candidates conduct themselves, but he knows advocating nuclear war would be an election loser. While he claims his plan must remain secret, he tips his hand so clearly that he provides a dog whistle for his nuclear intentions. He repeatedly states that his plan requires that he remain unpredictable. That is not an arbitrary choice of words. There are many contexts in which unpredictability is advantageous, but it plays a uniquely prevalent role in nuclear strategy. Political scientists have written extensively about Nixon’s “Madman Theory” and the strategic advantage one can gain in a nuclear standoff by convincing your adversary that your intentions are unpredictable.
Trump clearly knows this. In just two interviews that touched on the issue of nuclear weapons, Trump used the word “unpredictable” no fewer than five times (on Face The Nation and Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect). It is no coincidence that both his comments about nuclear weapons and about his plan to end terrorism are peppered with that particular word. It is a clear signal that his plan involves making nuclear threats, if not nuclear strikes.
The Bloomberg Politics headline for Trump’s interview on With All Due Respect sums up the centrality of nuclear weapons to his approach to terrorism: “’Unpredictability’ on Nukes Among Trump Keys to Muslim Respect.” Trump says he will not rule out the nuclear option, but his rhetoric goes well beyond a statesman’s prudent hedging of options in an uncertain world. In that interview, Trump set an ominous tone, particularly in light of his frequent claims to have a “very quick” and “foolproof” plan to end terrorism. “The first thing you have to do is get them to respect the West and respect us.” He noted the potential role of nuclear weapons to earn that respect, and that “…at a minimum, I want them to think maybe we would use them.” Trump never specifies what he would do if the minimal approach of dangling nuclear threats doesn’t win him the respect he wants, but backing down would certainly not be consistent with his get-tough strategy.
Months of coverage have numbed the electorate to Trump’s extremism, but it is difficult to overstate how different he is from all previous presidential candidates. He is not constrained by precedent, higher principles, or morality. He reflexively attacks everyone who threatens him regardless of the costs or principles involved. He has denigrated a war hero of his own party and gold-star parents whose son died fighting terrorists. He has insulted the military leadership with the preposterous claim that he knows more about ISIS than the generals. Religious morality is of so little concern to him that he has said he’s never done anything for which he has sought forgiveness from God.
Trump respects power, and power alone, as evidenced by his prodigious praise for brutal dictators. Most notably, he expressed admiration at North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s willingness to kill his own uncle because he saw him as a threat. He regularly heaps ridicule on the fact that the US adheres to the Geneva Convention and international laws while terrorists are “chopping off heads…[and]…drowning people in steel cages.” He has vowed that if elected president, the US will “fight fire with fire.” Will Trump’s fire come in the form of a mushroom cloud?
Those who might hope that Trump’s advisors would dissuade him from such a colossal blunder are ignoring extensive evidence to the contrary. In the greatest miscalculations of his campaign — attacking U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel and the Khan family, and advocating the murder of terrorists’ families — Trump doubled down again and again over multiple days, weathering blistering denunciations from luminaries of his own party and providing plenty of time for those around him to communicate how poorly the spectacle was playing out in the media and persuade him to change tack. Yet his advisors had little success in restraining him. He changes course only once it is clear to him that he is not getting what he wants.
The notion that Donald Trump lacks the temperament to be put in command of the US nuclear arsenal is not a wild conjecture about how he might respond in some highly improbable future scenario. He has provided ample reason to conclude that if elected president he would consider using nuclear weapons in a desperate and ill-conceived attempt to end terrorism. It is a morally indefensible strategy and it is not a risk America should be willing to take.
This article was originally published on CitizenZZero.com