When It Comes to Arms Control, Clinton Might Be Even Weaker Than Trump

The idea of putting our national security in the hands of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton does not engender confidence. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr Commons)

The idea of putting our national security in the hands of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton does not engender confidence. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr Commons)

Disclaimer: This post by no means represents an endorsement of Donald Trump for president.

On June 1, Hillary Clinton gave a national security speech that served, in large part, as an attack on Donald Trump. “We cannot put the security of our children and grandchildren in Donald Trump’s hands. We cannot let him roll the dice with America.”

Between Trump’s bluster and an uncertainty about who he might appoint to positions such as secretary of state and defense, it’s difficult to speculate about the danger a Trump presidency might pose to national security. Though should he be elected and rumors that he might appoint Ron Paul secretary of state come true, we would likely see the least interventionist American administration since Thomas Jefferson’s. If only from her record as secretary of state, we already know that Hillary Clinton sees the United States as the world’s arbiter, a task better left to a world body, as well as a promulgator of democracy. Both necessitate armed intervention.

At Consortium News, Robert Parry reacted to the speech thusly:

Hillary Clinton made a strong case for why handing the nuclear codes over to a President Donald Trump would be a scary idea, but there may be equal or even greater reason to fear turning them over to her.

For, in “perhaps the most likely area where nuclear war could break out – along Russia’s borders – Clinton comes across as the more belligerent of the two.” In fact, writes Parry:

Clinton’s neoconservative interpretation of what’s happening in Eastern Europe is so upside-down and inside-out that it could ultimately become the flashpoint for a nuclear war between Russia and the West.

If the situation in Ukraine heated up …

How would President Hillary Clinton respond? Would she … [activate] NATO military forces to counter this “Russian aggression”?

Given what we know about Clinton’s tough-talking persona, the odds are good that she would opt for an escalation – and that could set the stage for nuclear war.

Meanwhile, in her speech, Ms. Clinton said of Trump that

… it’s no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons, and said this about a war between Japan and North Korea – and I quote – “If they do, they do. Good luck, enjoy yourself, folks.”

I wonder if he even realizes he’s talking about nuclear war.

If you read interviews with Trump from when he was on his way up and at his peak in business, it’s obvious that the version of Trump we see today is either dumbed down, tired, or lazy. Trump may not have been exposed to as much information about nuclear weapons as a former secretary of state such as Ms. Clinton. But few are aware that he once sought to interject himself into the national dialogue on nuclear weapons – and actually made a lot of sense.

Twenty-nine years ago journalist Ron Rosenbaum visited with him. Trump told Rosenbaum that he had read Deadly Gambits by Strobe Talbott (Vintage books, 1985), a book I am just finishing reading. Its subhead, “The Vivid Inside Story of Arms Control Negotiations,” is putting lipstick on a pig. The book is tedious and even for someone like me, steeped in nuclear weapons and disarmament, difficult to follow. However sharper Trump may have been then, it seems less likely that he had read Deadly Gambits than had it summed up for him by someone who read it.

Rosenbaum calls Deadly Gambits the “inside story of the Reagan administration’s pathetic and fraudulent nuclear weapons negotiations with the Soviets.” He further describes the administrations as pretending “to seek an arms control agreement while deliberately sabotaging any chance of a real deal in favor of foolishly conceived arms-race escalations.” He then writes that it “occurred to me in the aftermath of reading Deadly Gambits: What could we possibly have to lose by placing all nuclear negotiating in the hands of Donald Trump?”

Trump wasn’t necessarily opposed to nuclear weapons — it wasn’t disarmament in which he was interested, but nonproliferation. He said of his scientist uncle:

“He told me, ‘You don’t realize how simple nuclear technology is becoming.’ That’s scary. He said it used to be that only a few brains in the world understood it and now you have a situation where thousands and thousands of brains can easily understand it, and it’s becoming easier, and someday it’ll be like making a bomb in the basement of your house. And that’s a very frightening statement coming from a man who’s totally versed in it.”

This is where Trump really makes sense:

“The fact is, it’s already very late. It’s one of the great problems of the world. Not one of them. It is the.”

I especially liked that because it expresses my belief that nuclear weapons are The First Question. Because if nuclear war ever breaks out and the world is reduced to an unrecognizable state, all other issues currently deemed essential — from climate change to poverty to injustice – will have been rendered moot. No world, no problems.

Arms control negotiations appealed to Trump’s instinct for the chase of the deal. Rosenbaum again:

He spoke about Deadly Gambits and the bureaucratic sabotage that has destroyed the possibility of a deal on arms control between the superpowers. And why our negotiators wouldn’t know how to make a deal if they found one staring them in the face.

“I will tell you,” Trump says. “There is a vast, vast amount of difference between somebody who has consistently made great deals—and I don’t say me, by the way—of whatever nature, and there aren’t that many of those people, by the way; you have maybe a roomful of them in the whole country. There’s a vast difference between somebody who’s been consistently successful and somebody who’s been working for a relatively small amount of money in governmental service for many years, in many cases because the private sector, who have seen these people indirectly, didn’t choose to hire these people, any of them, because it didn’t find them to be particularly capable. But then, years and years later they get slightly promoted, promoted, promoted. The private sector has passed them by and all of a sudden these people are negotiating the lives of you and your children, your families, and I tell you there’s a tremendous amount of difference.”

Of negotiators such as those chronicled in Deadly Gambits, Trump said:

“They have no smiles, no warmth; there’s no sense of them as people. Who the hell wants to talk to them? They don’t have the ability to go into a room and sell a deal. They’re not sellers in the positive sense.”

Selling arms control like real estate? Why not? In any event, it seems obvious that Donald Trump had given nuclear weapons and arms control a lot of thought.