Guest column: Nuclear weapons are not to be trifled with, and this president is trifling

When President Trump is criticized, he invariably responds, sometimes rationally, sometimes not.

 

Unfortunately, this “counter-punching” may have worked in New York real estate, but does not work in the world of diplomacy. Diplomacy requires private exchanges of views, so participating parties are not publicly humiliated or cornered during sensitive negotiations.

The president needs to act like the head of the world’s most powerful country, not a predictable juvenile who can be played. And he is easily played. If Russia’s Putin wants to make Trump pliable, he says Trump is a great leader. If dictator Kim Jong-un wants to get headlines and make our president look foolish, he can throw out an irresponsible insult, and our President Trump will respond in kind.

He just can’t help himself.

But when insults and threats are exchanged between countries with nuclear weapons it’s no longer a game. If the North Korean dictator acts stupidly, even more reason for our president to be presidential.

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The recent low point between these two leaders occurred when Kim Jong-un stated “a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office.” Predictably, the president took the bait. He tweeted “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger &more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

This was a ridiculous statement from President Trump. Putting aside that there is no “nuclear button” on his desk, why get into a wrestling match with a pig? The president gets muddy, and the pig likes it.

This is from the Wall Street Journal’s Jan. 3 editorial about the president’s tweet: “… many of Mr. Trump’s voters wonder if he has any sense of self-restraint. He was trolling a dictator, and boasting about himself in the process, which makes the president look small. …But more troubling is that Mr. Trump looked to be trifling with the world’s most serious security threat – a nuclear-armed rogue nation.”

The Journal has it right.

Let’s not forget that our inexperienced president has had a difficult time grasping the significance of nuclear weapons and their deployment.

During the campaign, he suggested that Japan and South Korea could develop nuclear weapons. He didn’t know that the nuclear triad consisted of three components of our nuclear deterrence: bombers, land-based missiles and submarine-based missiles.

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In office, he hasn’t demonstrated the necessary focus to understand nuclear policy.

Former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, one of our country’s most respected experts on nuclear policy and disarmament, commented on Trump’s tweet: “The failure to distinguish nuclear weapons from other weapons – treating them as just another weapon that is usable – increases the risk and lays the foundation for some kind of catastrophic blunder.”

The most solemn responsibility of the U.S. president is to protect its citizens. But the president appears to be a slow learner, and still talks casually about nuclear weapons. It is as if the designated hitter for the Yankees shows up on his first day and doesn’t know what a bat is.

A year later he knows what it is, but doesn’t know how to use it. The president appears not to know how to use, or not use, the huge bat the American people have entrusted to him.

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My Navy experience has given me great respect for the incredible destructive power of nuclear weapons. I served at sea on nuclear-armed ships, and ashore participated in studies to determine nuclear requirements and their destructive effect. Our president doesn’t need that much background, but he does need to be a responsible custodian of these weapons, and not use them as the subject for school yard taunts against an unpredictable, nuclear-armed dictator.

Four Republicans and three Democrats served as president when I was on active duty. I never doubted that they were responsible and temperate stewards of their enormous nuclear responsibilities. President Trump’s erratic behavior provides no such confidence.

I submit to President Trump’s supporters that avoiding a nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies is more important than a tax cut and conservative judges. If the president continues these dangerous and irresponsible tweets, his fitness for office will remain in doubt.

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The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah. His email address is EdConant420@gmail.com.

 

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