It has become almost an automatic knee-jerk reaction: whatever Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump says is added to the quickly amassing evidence that Trump is dangerous and must be defeated at all costs. I have seen few moments of reflection on what Trump may mean with respect to the context within which his words arose. If Trump said it, it must be stupid, crazy, evil, racist, misogynist, and more. His questions regarding nuclear weapons belong to the first category: stupid (and dangerous).
For the sake of transparency, let me say that I have no voice in the American elections, as I am not an American and I do not live in the United States. I am a concerned bystander, wondering about the pickle Americans are in regarding the upcoming elections. I speak for neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton.
In the video featured here, MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough reported that an anonymous foreign policy expert claimed that Trump had asked three times about nuclear weapons. Trump finally asked, according to Scarborough: “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” This drew an incredulous response from Hayden: “Wow!” and an admonition to America and Republican leaders to “Be careful.”
John Noonan, who was national security policy advisor to Jeb Bush and foreign policy advisory to Mitt Romney and is now a national security commentator and analyst, had harsh words for Trump in light of his thrice-asked question about nuclear weapons. Noonan’s scorn is not surprising, since he has prominently placed #NeverTrump on his Twitter Profile.
At least Noonan did acknowledge that one must ask about the reliability of anonymous sources.
Yet he did not let that stop him in continuing with his diatribe against Donald Trump.
What is wrong with asking questions? Especially questions about the use of nuclear weapons when everyone knows how serious that issue is? Why is the anti-Trump camp using a question as evidence of incompetence and, worse, dangerousness?
Let us get this straight — there is no indication that Donald Trump asked why nuclear weapons are bad. We only know that someone anonymous apparently said that he asked why they are not to be used. That is not necessarily a simplistic question requiring a look of disdain in response.
So let me ask you this, Ben Hatch Novelist — how did you answer your son? Perhaps you need to look to your answers to understand why he repeatedly asked you the same question. Tell me, did it go something like this, or did you keep him going around and around in circles from 1 to 3 and back again until he just gave up?
- You are too young. (But WHY?)
- The law doesn’t allow you to drive till you are older. (But WHY NOT?)
- Stop asking silly questions. (But, Daddy, WHY?)
- You cannot reach the pedals and see through the window at the same time. (Oh. That makes sense.)
I have a few questions of my own regarding Trump’s nuclear question. The public does not have a videotape to provide the context within which Trump supposedly asked the questions about nuclear weapons, and that leaves room for wondering what really took place.
- Did Trump really ask such questions? (His campaigners deny that he did; whom do we believe? Let us continue as if he did ask.)
- What were the exact words of the question Trump asked about nuclear weapons? (This might give us an idea of where the question was coming from.)
- What was his tone of voice and physical demeanor when he asked these questions? (This would provide evidence regarding whether or not Trump was being stupidly contrary, deliberately baiting, or really had something he wanted to understand.)
- Did the foreign policy expert make the effort to try to understand what Trump was really asking or did he assume Trump is stupid/crazy and dangerous and therefore does not merit being taken seriously?
- Did the foreign policy expert even attempt an answer after the first two times Trump asked the question, or did he make Trump repeat his question needlessly?
- Does the foreign policy expert (and the public) understand that a newcomer into the political and national security arena has questions experienced politicians no longer ask? (Or no longer feel they need to ask because they think they already understand the basics.)
Final question: does nobody even see that there is a problem here when a foreign policy expert tells tales outside of what should have been a private meeting? People question Trump’s ability to keep secrets. Not giving him a very good example of how it is done, are you, foreign policy expert?
Trump’s Question Is Far From Stupid or Crazy
Trump apparently asked why nuclear weapons are not being used if they are in our possession. I am not convinced that is what he really asked. But the question requires a far from simple response. In fact, NATO Review has devoted a number of articles to consideration of the need to revise thinking on the topic of nuclear capacity and deterrence. For example, the magazine provided a summary of the February 2016 Munich Security Conference that examined whether or not NATO has to alter its stance toward Russia, among other things. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg might have come closest to dealing with the issue Donald Trump raised in his question about nuclear weapons.
“Deterrence starts with resolve. It’s not enough to feel it. You also have to show it.” This is true in both the conventional and the nuclear realm.
The New York Times report on Donald Trump’s question about nuclear weapons hinted to me that the powers-that-be may have been so threatened by it as to require the general derision to which Trump and his supporters have become familiar.
The question has, like so many of Mr. Trump’s comments, sent shock waves. But nuclear experts say it is shocking not just for the statements themselves, but for the uncomfortable truths they expose, perhaps unwittingly, about nuclear weapons.
Somehow that reminds me of Forrest Gump.
[Photo by Evan Vucci/ AP Images]