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Monday, September 12, 2016

Does Donald #Trump's secret plan to defeat #ISIS involve using nukes?

The 1964 presidential contest between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater saw the first important presidential attack ad of 20th century. It is now universally known as the "Daisy" TV commercial for LBJ. The ad showed a pretty young girl picking pedals off a daisy. This is suddenly interrupted by an atomic blast. It never mentions Barry Goldwater, but the message was clear, the extremist Barry Goldwater might nuke us if he is allowed to become president. The ad built upon a lot of pro-war talk and one pro-nuke comment by Goldwater and the political chatter that followed.

The Daisy ad is generally given a large role in winning the election for the Democrats. After using this nuclear scare tactic to win, LBJ went on to lead a bipartisan campaign that would drop the equivalent of 640 Hiroshima size atomic bombs on Vietnam. The 1964 election and the successful use of the fearmongering tactics employed by the Johnson campaign against Goldwater, as exampled by that ad, to elect the president that would have half a million US soldiers in Vietnam, killing and being killed, before the end of his first term, has been used as a cautionary tale in this election as the Clinton Democrats mount a similar campaign against the Republican Donald Trump. They warn that the Clinton campaign is again employing this tactic to scare voters into voting for her as the lesser of two evils. Many argue a vote for one of the 3rd party candidates, Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, is a good way to break this vicious cycle. Louis Proyect supports Jill Stein, and he thinks this is a repeat performance. He said as much on his Marxmail list:
In fact the dynamics of the 1964 election were JUST like those today. Voting for anybody but LBJ was considered the same thing as voting for Goldwater who everybody thought was ready to blow up the world with hydrogen bombs.
A comparison of the alleged nuclear threat coming from the Republican presidential candidates, then and now, might be useful in determining if the fear that the GOP hawk, if elected, would use nukes, was justified in 1964 or is justified today. The parable about the boy who cried wolf should also be remembered. Just because the fear generated by the Daisy ad was artificial and probably not justified, that doesn't mean this is also true about Donald Trump in 2016. Donald Trump has shown a fascination with nuclear weapons in many statements he has made on the campaign trail. For this reason the question of whether Donald Trump would be inclined to use nuclear weapons should be addressed seriously on its own merits and not blown off with references to the Daisy ad more than a half century ago. However, that is where we will begin.

The twenty years that followed the near complete destruction of two Japanese cities with only two bombs saw policy discussions in the United States government that would be judged insane by any rational standard today. For example, in 1950, General Douglas MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons in the Korean War. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Omar Bradley did propose to the Joint Chiefs that nuclear weapons be placed at MacArthur's disposal in July 1950. This proposal wasn't adopted, however ten B-29 bombers were transferred to Guam, and President Truman also authorized the transfer to Guam of all the bomb components except the fissile core. On 6 April 1951 President Truman arranged for the transfer of nine Mark 4 nuclear bombs to military control for possible use in Korea, but they were put under Strategic Air Command authority because it was feared MacArthur might use them "prematurely." Five days later Truman relieved General MacArthur of command. That's how close the US came to nuking Korea.

In April 1954, when French defeat in Vietnam was looming at Dien Bien Phu, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asked French Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault, a simple question "Would you like two atomic bombs?" Bidault declined, he says, "because he knew… that if this killed a lot of Viet Minh troops then it would also basically destroy the garrison itself." Ten years later, Barry Goldwater again raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Vietnam and it cost him the election. History.com remembers:
Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona), running for the Republican Party nomination in the upcoming presidential election, gives an interview in which he discusses the use of low-yield atomic bombs in North Vietnam to defoliate forests and destroy bridges, roads, and railroad lines bringing supplies from communist China. During the storm of criticism that followed, Goldwater tried to back away from these drastic actions, claiming that he did not mean to advocate the use of atomic bombs but was “repeating a suggestion made by competent military people.” Democrats painted Goldwater as a warmonger who was overly eager to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Though he won his party’s nomination, Goldwater was never able to shake his image as an extremist in Vietnam policies. This image was a key factor in his crushing defeat by opponent Lyndon B. Johnson, who took about 61 percent of the vote to Goldwater’s 39 percent.
This Goldwater proposal wasn't in any way reasonable, even for those times, but then, neither was what was actually done to Vietnam by the "peace" candidate LBJ. See  Vietnam: American Holocaust to hear my opinion of that war. From a political point-of-view, what made Goldwater's proposal toxic and therefore exploitable was the one word "nukes." Because when people think about nukes, size doesn't matter, the Democrats were successful in using a relatively modest proposal to use tactical nukes instead of Agent Orange and thermobaric bombs, to sell Goldwater as the candidate ready to blow up the world with thermonuclear war. The United States did go on to kill about three million Vietnamese with things like napalm and cluster bombs, but hey, no nukes! With that bit of history under our belts, let's look at how matters stand with Donald Trump.

Is Trump being given the "Daisy" treatment?

I hadn't given much thought to Donald Trump's position on nuclear weapons before I went looking for his response to the debate question about the nuclear Triad for this post, Why doesn't "What's the Triad?" trump "What is Aleppo?". I found what I was looking for, proof that Donald Trump didn't know the first thing about how the US nuclear arsenal was organized, but I found something else as well - a troubling fascination with the power of nuclear weapons:

[CNN, 12/15/15]
HEWITT: What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible; who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important.
Powerful and important are basic Trump themes, but is he talking here about the weapons or the person chosen to control them? Trump certainly thinks he's so powerful and so important.
But we have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ball game. Frankly, I would have said get out of Syria; get out — if we didn’t have the power of weaponry today.
He goes on to say we can't afford to leave because nuclear weapons are so powerful but there is another interpretation to that comment.
The biggest problem we have is nuclear — nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon.

That’s in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.
Trump speaks a rare truth here. This is a bigger problem even than the Alt-Right white nationalist aspects of his organization. He is absolutely right. Nothing could make things go as bad as quick as some madman and maniac in control of the most powerful nuclear arsenal on Earth. These statements got me started but they hardly justify the Daisy treatment or my headline. There is more.

This week Think Progress reported:
On Wednesday’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough claimed Donald Trump asked a “foreign policy expert” who was advising him numerous times about “why can’t we use nuclear weapons.”

Prefacing his comments by saying he’d “be very careful here,” Scarborough said: “Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump, and three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times, he asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, we can’t we use them?’… Three times, in an hour briefing, ‘Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?’”

That quote comes around the one minute point of this video:

Joe Scarborough is MSNBC's Republican host so that buys him some credibility on this story. Still it is hearsay evidence. On the MSNBC Chris Matthews show, Trump said he might use nuclear weapons and questioned why we would make them if we wouldn’t use them. This we can hear for ourselves.

Donald Trump tells Chris Matthews he would respond to an ISIS attack with a nuclear weapon, MSNBC, 30 March 2016:
MATTHEWS: Where would we drop — where would we drop a nuclear weapon in the Middle East?

TRUMP: Let me explain. Let me explain.
Somebody hits us within ISIS — you wouldn't fight back with a nuke?

MATTHEWS: OK. The trouble is, when you said that, the whole world heard it. David Cameron in Britain heard it. The Japanese, where we bombed them in 45, heard it. They`re hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking of maybe using nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to hear that about an American president.

TRUMP: Then why are we making them? Why do we make them?
On Fox News, 31 March 2016, Trump said he was open to nuking Europe because it’s a “big place”

TRUMP: Well, I don’t want to take cards off the table. I would never do that. The last person to press that button would be me. Hey, I’m the one that didn’t want to go into Iraq from the beginning. The last person that wants to play the nuclear card believe me is me. But you can never take cards off the table either from a moral stand — from any standpoint and certainly from a negotiating standpoint.

BOLLING: Donald, I understand they are not taking the cards off the table for ISIS or Islamic terror. But when Chris expanded to Europe, what about that?

TRUMP: Europe is a big place. I’m not going to take cards off the table. We have nuclear capability. Now, our capability is going down rapidly because of what we’re doing. It’s in bad shape. The equipment is not properly maintained. There are all lot of talk about that. And that’s a bad thing not a good thing. The last person to use nuclear would be Donald Trump. That’s the way I feel. I think it is a horrible thing. The thought of it is horrible. But I don’t want to take anything off the table. We have to negotiate. There will be times maybe when we’re going to be in a very deep, very difficult, very horrible negotiation. The last person — I’m not going to take it off the table. And I said it yesterday. And I stay with it.
Perhaps most disturbing is an interview he gave to Bloomberg in which he again said he might use nuclear weapons against Daesh, which he calls ISIS. Is this his secret plan to quickly destroy ISIS? Is this why he says it will be "foolproof" and "absolute" in its effectiveness? In his April foreign policy speech he promised "ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president. And they’ll be gone quickly." How does he plan to accomplish that? What's his secret? Below he says he would use nukes on Iraq/Syria as a "last resort." Is this why he now says he will give his generals 30 days to come up with a plan and then decide whether he likes their plan of his secret plan better? Another very troubling aspect of this interview is his emphasis of making Muslims respect us. Why is he linking the question of respect to nukes?
In the wake of the Brussels terror attacks, Donald Trump fleshed out aspects of his national security strategy that include weighing whether NATO is obsolete, an emphasis on the virtues of unpredictability on the part of an American president, the potential use of nuclear weapons against Islamic State as a last resort and a single-minded focus of earning the respect of Muslims around the world.

“They have to respect us,” Trump said of Muslims in a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin and John Heilemann set to air in its entirety on Wednesday’s episode of With All Due Respect. “They do not respect us at all and frankly they don't respect a lot of things that are happening—not only our country, but they don't respect other things.”

“The first thing you have to do is get them to respect the West and respect us. And if they're not going to respect us it's never going to work. This has been going on for a long time,” he said. “I don't think you can do anything and I don't think you're going to be successful unless they respect you. They have no respect for our president and they have no respect for our country right now.”

Trump's vision for how he would earn Muslim respect included such controversial proposals as returning to outlawed harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding; monitoring mosques in the U.S.; and leaving open the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons against the Islamic State.

“I'm never going to rule anything out—I wouldn't want to say. Even if I wasn't, I wouldn't want to tell you that because at a minimum, I want them to think maybe we would use them,” he said.

“We need unpredictability,” Trump continued. “We don't know who these people are. The fact is, we need unpredictability and when you ask a question like that, it's a very sad thing to have to answer it because the enemy is watching and I have a very good chance of winning and I frankly don't want the enemy to know how I'm thinking. But with that being said, I don't rule out anything.”
In the past year there has been a lot of speculation about why Donald Trump is running for president. Maybe Marco Rubio nailed it last February when he called Trump “a lunatic trying to get ahold of nuclear weapons.” For a megalomaniac like Trump there could be nothing else so powerful or so important, and in case you were wondering, if President Trump ordered a nuclear strike, no one could stop him. As Derek Johnson wrote in the Huffington Post, 7 Sept 2016:
There are no firewalls — legal, political, operational or otherwise — between a president’s itchy trigger finger and civilization-ending weaponry.
In 1964, the Democrats were able to use one comment by Goldwater about using tactical nukes in Vietnam to paint him as a maniac or madman that would start a thermonuclear war if elected. It was a cynical electoral strategy, but it worked. Although Goldwater was never tested because he didn't get a chance to wage the Vietnam War his way, the Democrats were like the boy who cried wolf to paint him as a madman that couldn't wait to use nukes on somebody.

Barry Goldwater has also been used as an example of an extreme racist running for president in a similar effort to claim there's nothing really new and dangerous about the Trump campaign, but the Goldwater - Trump comparison fails on the question of nukes as it does on race. As I have written before, Goldwater rejected klan support at a time when the RNC leadership sought it, so he wasn't extreme on the question of white supremacy as compared to the mainstream GOP leadership in 1964. In 2016, the GOP leadership considers any klan affiliation toxic, but not their candidate. Similarly, we can see that Goldwater's thoughts on using tactic nukes in Vietnam, as crazy as it sounds to us today, was not far removed from the military thinking of the day, and probably was proposed to Goldwater by someone in the Pentagon, as he claimed. Today, its extremely unlikely that any US general would advocate using nuclear weapons the way Trump has proposed. Its been said that his focus on nukes has lost him military and foreign policy advisers. By the military standards and ethics that have kept the United States from nuking anyone since 1945, with the result that no one has been nuked since then, Trump's views on using nuclear weapons is extreme. If he is elected president of the United States, he will represent a clear and present danger to the world. It doesn't help to complain that the boy is crying wolf again when the wolf is at the door.

There is enough chance that Donald Trump will use nuclear weapons if he is given that power to deny him the White House on that ground alone. The Real Clear Politics pollsters say Trump faces a hard ceiling of 40% and can only win in a four-way race. Last week we saw a concerted effort to take out Gary Johnson, who takes votes equally from Clinton and Trump. Now that Gary "Aleppo" Johnson has been diminished,  his right leaning supporters may return to Trump while his left leaning supports can shift to Stein. It is the Stein campaign that gives the attacks on Johnson the power to alter the election in Trump's favor. This yet another reason Jill Stein must quit her spoiler bid which can only result in President Trump's finger on the nuclear trigger.

Trump can only win if Jill stays in!

My other recent posts relating to this unique election cycle:
Why doesn't "What's the Triad?" trump "What is Aleppo?"
Green Party Jill Stein's campaign in context
What should the Green Party do?
Greens could give White House to Trump as poll numbers even
Why Green Party's Jill Stein should drop her presidential bid
Amy Goodman should address this extremely important statement by her guest
How Jill Stein Tweets for Trump
HuffPost item shows how @JillStein campaign whitewashes @realDonaldTrump
Trump tells his '2nd Amendment people election will be stolen to prepare for insurrection
Trump didn't threaten Hillary, he threatened violent insurrection
Meet Green Party's Jill Stein, Putin sock-puppet & Assad apologist

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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