I don’t think the assurances I’ve received today will be satisfying to the American people. I think they can still realize that Donald Trump can launch nuclear codes just as easily as he can use his Twitter account, without the checks and balances of the United States Congress.
That’s what Bob Corker said earlier this week following a congressional hearing on the President’s authority to order a nuclear strike.
Although Corker contends the question of whether it makes sense for one person to be able to order the use of nuclear weapons “shouldn’t be taken as something that is specific to anyone”, the timing is not a coincidence.
We previewed this hearing when Corker first announced it last week and in the process, we documented the recent history between the Tennessee Senator and the President.
This started back in August in the wake of the Charlottesville debacle when Corker told reporters in Chattanooga that Trump has “not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”
Fast forward six weeks (give or take) and Bob opined that Rex Tillerson, Gen. Mattis, and John Kelly are the only three people separating America from “chaos” – and by “chaos” he meant the President.
Well, that prompted a series of angry and increasingly ridiculous tweets from Trump, who called Corker, among other things, a gutless beggar and a man who “couldn’t get elected dog catcher.”
For his part, Corker suggested that the White House has become an “adult day care center” and told the New York Times that Trump might end up accidentally starting “World War III.”
And that’s hardly the whole story. For those in need of some Saturday comic relief, you can read the full background in the post linked above, but suffice to say this dispute is far from settled and this week’s hearing on the President’s authority to use nuclear weapons probably didn’t help. Here’s a clip of Sen. Chris Murphy’s comments:
As USA Today recounts, there was some push back in limiting the President’s capacity to call for a nuclear strike. To wit:
A retired Air Force general urged the Senate on Tuesday to proceed with caution when looking for ways to limit the president’s authority to launch a nuclear attack.
“Conflicting signals can result in loss of confidence, confusion or paralysis in the operating forces at a critical moment,” said Robert Kehler, former commander of the United States Strategic Command.
Two other witnesses also warned that any attempts to restrict the president’s power to order nuclear strikes could have unintended consequences.
“I’m not sure that’s a wise choice,” said Brian McKeon, a former top policy official in the Defense Department.
“I would be very wary of legislative fixes,” added Peter Feaver, a Duke University professor of political science and public policy.
But those weren’t the most interesting quotes. Kehler also reminded everyone that “the military does not blindly follow orders [and] that is true of nuclear orders as well.”
Basically, the military could simply tell Trump no, if they decided what he was doing was illegal, crazy, or both.
That point was driven home on Saturday in Halifax by Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command.
“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said when asked about Kehler’s comments to the Senate. “We’re not stupid people,” he continued. “We think about these things a lot.”
Well thanks, John. That is indeed comforting. Hyten would go to detail just what would happen in the event Trump ordered an illegal nuclear strike:
And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I‘m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.
Forgive me, but I’m not entirely sure that’s what Trump would say in the event he ordered a nuclear strike and the military told him no. “No” isn’t something this President likes to hear, and while John is understandably attempting to calm everyone down, it’s pretty obvious that the top U.S. nuclear commander understands the danger inherent in giving Trump the launch codes, otherwise he wouldn’t even be having this conversation in the first place, let alone in public, in front of an audience.