There are a lot of reasons why it’s Donald Trump who’s sitting in the White House (though technically right now in New Jersey) deciding what the United States of America is going to do about North Korea. You know the big ones, we don’t need to go over them.
But on this day, in the wake of Trump’s insanely irresponsible fury and fire rhetoric, let’s give a special little shout out to those brilliant people who argued that Hillary Clinton was more likely to start World War III than Donald Trump. I’ve been looking back over some articles from last year and am reminded that it was a surprisingly robust theme, this idea that Clinton was more dangerous than Trump. I doubt many votes hinged on this single issue, but it became a key talking point in the larger narrative that Clinton was corrupt and unprincipled and there really wasn’t much difference between her and Trump.
Most of this nonsense came from the anti-Clinton and anti-Democrat left. Here, for example, was Jill Stein, a reliably useful idiot, appearing on C-SPAN last October: “On the issue of war and nuclear weapons, it is actually Hillary’s policies which are much scarier than Donald Trump who does not want to go to war with Russia.” She favored Trump on Russia, of course, because she herself was a Friend of Vlad.
A whole phalanx of journalists on the left spent most of 2016 in the following basic posture. Yes, Donald Trump is horrible. That practically goes without saying, but I’ll say it, just so it’s on the record and I can note in the future that I said it. But now that I’ve said it, what I really want to talk about is Hillary. She’s the real danger. The true evil. Look at how the neocons love her, rushing to support her over Trump.
The point of this column is not to defend Clinton’s policies. She was somewhat too hawkish for my tastes. I’ve written critically of her vote for the Iraq War many times. And it’s the darkest irony of her political life that a vote that seemed the politically “safe” one at the time ended up crippling her politically for the rest of her career. It almost certainly cost her the Democratic nomination in 2008 and it damaged her badly in 2016, when Bernie Sanders hammered away at it.
On some other matters, I think she got an unfair rap. She wanted to do more in 2011 to help the anti-Assad fighters in Syria. True, there’s a chance her position might have kicked off a fateful escalation. But it’s hardly a certainty that it would have. Her instinct was to try to stop a slaughter, which in the end the United States and the rest of the world shamefully just let happen.
But this isn’t about her. It’s about a mindset on the left that helped give us President Trump. It’s a view of the world rooted in the conviction that Democrats and liberals, not Republicans and conservatives, are the real enemies of progress, because you expect malevolence from the latter, while failure by the former to stop them is the real problem.
It’s bizarre logic that I daresay most people who hew to it in politics would reject in every other aspect of their lives. It holds Republicans and conservatives to no standard of behavior, and Democrats and liberals to a high standard that they will almost always fail to meet. And of course this mindset completely ignored Trump’s numerous personal traits that made and continue to make him dangerously unfit to be the commander in chief.
Last year, it was all hypothetical. Now it’s not. I don’t think any of these people could say in an honest moment that they’re reassured that it’s Trump who’ll be calling the shots here rather than Clinton.
The president of the United States, as you know, is never more than a few feet away from the famous nuclear football. If the president decides to launch nuclear warheads, the aide carrying the football retrieves a “biscuit” that has launch codes the president will read to the Pentagon’s Military Command Center to verify that it is he who has made the decision. Pentagon officials may protest, but ultimately, it’s the president’s order, and it must be obeyed. The order is then sent to five launch crews spread across the country. They all turn a key at the same moment to initiate launch. But in fact, only two of them have to. Three of the five launch crews can refuse the order, refuse to turn the key, and still, the bombs will go out. This process will take less than five minutes from the moment the president makes up his mind, and the rockets will be on their way.
I don’t think even Trump is psychotic enough to start a nuclear war. But I’m not positive he won’t, and neither are you. The president is supposed to consult the generals. But what if he’s up at 5 a.m. watching Fox and something sets him off?
Remember Clinton’s powerful ad from last October featuring that nuclear missile launch officer? His name was Bruce Blair. “Self-control,” he said in that ad, “may be all that keeps these missiles from firing.”
I got in touch with Blair Wednesday.
“Trump is fulfilling expectations of lashing out dangerously at North Korea and raising the risk of a conflict that escalates to nuclear war,” he emailed.
“He has proven time and again to be easily baited and unable to apply a deft hand at diplomacy. We should have an unconditional high-level dialogue with North Korea but time is running short with Trump as well as Kim Jong Un engaging in nuclear brinksmanship and actually preparing for both conventional and nuclear conflict. We are now in a position to launch an immediate nuclear strike with 80 aim points in North Korea, including leadership bunkers as well as nuclear launch sites, and Trump can order this strike with a single verbal command to the Pentagon war room.”
But of course, Clinton was the dangerous one.