At this point in my life my political goals are fairly simple. I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to grow up in a free country. And I don’t want them to ever suffer the horrors of war, especially a nuclear winter spawning kind of war!!
Sometime ago I posted my concern about the danger to a cornerstone of our democracy – abuse of the free press – if candidate Donald Trump were to become President. Now I want to express an even bigger concern about how his personal character and foreign policy attitude might play out in a Trump Presidency.
Trump’s rhetoric is aggressive, inflammatory, and frightening to at least some world leaders. He is fond of bragging about his intention to be unpredictable on the world stage. But predictability among world leaders is essential for stability in the world order. Can we afford an unpredictable President with vast quantities of weapons at his disposal?
The last time a President demonstrated unpredictability and used inflammatory rhetoric, the result was a destabilization of the international balance of power and a near nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The date was September 26, 1983, and the President was Ronald Reagan!
From the beginning of his Presidency, Reagan used harsh and absolute terms of good versus evil to describe the United States’ relationship with the Soviet Union. Reagan’s rhetoric was for that time but is otherwise similar to what we hear from Trump. He used phrases like “evil empire” to describe the Soviets and declared that we would leave them on “the ash heap of history”.
His words and behavior had a devastating effect on the thinking of Soviet leaders. Soviet Chairman Yuri Andropov came to believe that Reagan was actually preparing to attack the Soviet Union. In response to that perceived threat, the Soviet military developed an immediate first strike strategy to assure mutual destruction if the United States were believed to have launched missiles toward the USSR.
Then the unthinkable happened. At the same time NATO was preparing to engage in the most realistic war games ever in Europe a Soviet intelligence system detected the launch of multiple US missiles toward the Soviet Union. The detection was erroneous. But the world was saved from nuclear war at that specific moment only by a lowly Soviet Lieutenant Colonel. He took it upon himself to decide the detection was erroneous and therefore did not initiate the alert to retaliate.
The crisis lasted 6 more weeks with the Soviets on highest alert and expecting an attack from NATO and the United States at any time. The smallest miscalculation during that time could have set off a nuclear exchange. The USSR only relaxed and the crisis dissipated when NATO finally completed a series of war games and began to stand down without attacking. And at the time we did not even know how close we were to the annihilation of hundreds of millions of people!
After the Administration discovered how close we had come to a potential nuclear holocaust Reagan decided he should engage rather than taunt the USSR. That decision eventually led to strategic arms reductions on both sides. Can we be so lucky the next time we act unpredictably?
Now, fast forward 35 years or so. We already have nuclear weapons in the hands of an unpredictable and paranoid North Korean dictator who is often threatening to use them. What if Trump is elected and continues his inflammatory rhetorical style? North Korea is probably much more paranoid and not nearly so rational in its thinking as the Soviet Union was in 1983! Could North Korean leaders also misinterpret some event or US intention and launch a military strike against our interests, or those of South Korea or Japan?
If that were to happen can anyone even imagine that a President Trump would not order a counter-attack? From what he says and how he behaves, we have no evidence to suggest he would not act aggressively in the heat of the moment and have no strategy for de-escalation. That is a scenario no one should discount and it could quickly escalate into a nuclear exchange. North Korea could never win of course, but all of humanity would lose. That is my worst fear and a major reason why I think Trump is not just too uninformed but too dangerous to be President.