“Fire and fury”: How Donald Trump’s views on nukes have gone backwards over time
Even a stopped Doomsday clock might be right once per century
Since I first published this piece abck in August, President Trump has continued to up the rhetorical war with Kim Jong Un, even if the actual weapon-based war has yet to materialise. Most recently, he tweeted that his own Secretary of State should give up on diplomatic options, saying the US would “do what has to be done”.
Overlooking the fact that “Rocket Man” (Trump’s slightly weak name for Kim Jong Un) has only been in power since 2012, this does at least give us some historical context to the president’s predecessors. But Trump’s views on nuclear war haven’t always been quite so black and white, as the article below will explain…
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According to the Doomsday Clock – the timepiece that measures how close we are to nuclear armageddon – the time is two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. That’s not a good place to be, but the truth might be even worse if you happen to be in a different timezone. Off the top of my head, let’s just say it looks considerably bleaker for anyone sitting in Pyongyang or New York right now.
Why? Because Donald Trump has opened his diplomatically insensitive mouth again, this time to goad North Korea over its persistent threats to the USA. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told journalists at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.”
The weakness, of course, is that ultimately it didn’t matter. Trump was elected. So what do we know about his attitude to the end of the world?
The most worrying anecdote, as alluded to in the video above, was his briefing with an unnamed foreign policy expert. According to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Trump couldn’t see the downside of a nuclear strike. “Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump,” said Scarborough. “And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them, why can’t we use them.”
It’s important to note that Trump denied the anecdote had any truth to it at the time, but then he also denied saying global warming was invented by the Chinese, when the evidence is still right there on Twitter’s servers and has been retweeted over 100,000 times.
But Trump’s views on nuclear weapons are – or at least were – a little more nuanced than his recent outbursts on the subject would suggest. In 1987, he met reporter Ron Rosenbaum – who at the time was working for Manhattan Inc. Rosenbaum had agreed to meet Trump – then a humble business tycoon – because he reportedly had some thoughts on how to scale back the threat of nuclear war. Rosenbaum was sceptical of this, but agreed to meet Trump anyway. As he wrote this year, recounting the event:
“When I sat down to lunch with him to ask him about his nuclear ideas, I was trying to strike a balance between two conflicting internal reactions: snark at Trump’s demeanour – there was his extended, odd riff about Muammar Qaddafi’s pilot, for example, a key source according to Trump. There was an implication that we needed to bomb the French to stop them from supplying the Libyans. And yet on the other hand, it was an undeniably serious subject that deserved more attention.”
Trump claimed to be in high-level discussions with the White House of the time, when it was run by another celebrity-turned-statesman: Ronald Reagan. You can read the whole piece over at Slate, but Trump’s overall tactical plan seemed to involve opening up negotiation channels with Russia, so that together the two could apply pressure upon nations such as Pakistan and Libya (it was 1987), forcing them into giving up their respective nuclear ambitions. Here’s the relevant paragraph (just one: even if Trump’s worldview has shifted, his verbosity hasn’t):
“Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the US and the Soviet Union,” Trump says. “Between those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries. So we should use our power of economic retaliation and they use their powers of retaliation and between the two of us we will prevent the problem from happening. It would have been better having done something five years ago,” he says. “But I believe even a country such as Pakistan would have to do something now. Five years from now they’ll laugh.”