Op-Ed | Trump: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

The subtitle of the 1964 classic Stanley Kubrick nuclear war farce “Dr. Strangelove” is “or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

While that subtitle is part of the film’s satire – nuclear weapons are indeed very serious and frightening and cannot be brushed aside – there is something to be said for knowing when to keep a level head about the problem.

Many of my fellow Democrats have expressed that they might prefer the equally conservative but more mainstream Vice President Mike Pence to Donald Trump, due solely to the president’s authority to launch U.S. nuclear weapons.

To me, the risk of a nuclear war still remains fairly small, while the Pence agenda – in concert with Paul Ryan – remains a very high risk with huge ramifications as well.

So, how have I found a way to “stop worrying and love the bomb” or at least relegate it to a lower-tier fear?

Regarding Russia

A recent public remark by President Trump and a glance back toward Ronald Reagan, his predecessor in the Oval Office as a television aficionado turned conservative tribune.

At a recent press conference, rambling well past an hour, Trump said that the best way to show his independence from Russia would be to fire missiles at a Russian Navy submarine off the U.S. coast – but that he would not do so, of course.

By way of explanation or proof, Trump uttered the incredible (and accurate) phrase:

I’ve been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say, because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.

By this remark, Trump meant that launching a (nuclear) World War III by attacking Russia directly would end poorly for everyone, which is why he could not even consider it.

Nuclear holocaust

Back in 1983, President Reagan and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were given an advanced screening of the made-for-TV sensation, “The Day After.” That film, which rocked the nation, depicted exactly the scenario Trump described, in as horrifying terms as possible.

Ronald Reagan, in his diary and memoirs, said that he began shifting the country’s nuclear war policies in response to the film, which had made him “depressed.”

It is almost certain that Trump himself has seen the film as well – probably at the time – considering his voracious consumption of television.

True, Trump is known for his uncontrolled and impulsive remarks. True, he clearly did not hesitate to authorize smaller, ill-conceived military actions such as the recent failed raid in Yemen.

But it is probably reasonable to believe him when he says that he would not be starting World War III because a “nuclear holocaust would be like no other.”

The real threat

Trump and his agenda are absolutely a threat, but most of that threat is a very real and already very present one. The damage will be less instantaneous and less visible than a nuclear war, but it is exceptionally much more likely.

Vice President Pence shares that agenda and a record to back it up. But he won’t generate the matching level of opposition that both men deserve, and so I don’t prefer him to Trump.

And at any rate, as “Dr. Strangelove” shows – after all the arguing is over, the other outcome is over pretty quick.

Originally published at The Globalist.

Op-Ed | (Non-) Nuclear Trump: The Ahmadinejad of the West?

This past weekend, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad abruptly launched an English-language Twitter account and released a video, in English, of himself announcing the account.

It was an unlikely development from someone who was nearly toppled from office by street protests in 2009 organized via Twitter – especially given the U.S. government’s request at the time for the company to ensure smooth operations of the service.

But on the other hand, Ahmadinejad has likely felt muzzled since leaving office in 2013 due to term limits. His relationship to the state had deteriorated anyway in his second term between the protests and the sanctions on the country.

Supreme Leader Khamanei also recently suggested that it would be bad for the country if Ahmadinejad were to seek a new term in 2017.

Trump and Ahmadinejad

Twitter, as demonstrated by the new U.S. President, Donald Trump, allows totally unfettered messaging to supporters and the media, without interference by anyone.

Perhaps the former Iranian president decided to follow suit.

In February 2017, Ahmadinejad sent a lengthy letter to Trump, officially objecting to the Muslim ban, which affected Iran, but also offering advice and personal experience on leadership – from one “human to another human.”

He noted that Trump’s election had been an upset:

It can be inferred from the political and media atmosphere in the US that the result of the election has been (in spite of) the status quo, and beyond the will and prediction of the governing body and the main system behind the scene of the U.S. political stage.

Like Ahmadinejad in 2005, Donald Trump was elected as the hardliner candidate. Both rose to win an upset victory from the back of the pack, running on a conservative but populist and nationalist message.

Similar loose talk

In Ahmadinejad’s case, his policy pronouncements and speeches were not the final word in policy, subject to the Supreme Leader’s support ultimately.

To some degree, that appears to be the case with Trump as well, surprisingly. (Sometimes, someone like Steve Bannon sticks an order in front of him and Trump signs it without reading it.)

What is certainly true for both men, of course, is that their off-the-cuff remarks or deliberated provocations still terrify half of their respective home countries and most of the countries around the world.

For all his loose talk about nuclear weapons, it was always a bit difficult to tell whether Ahmadinejad was really perpetually hovering over the launch buttons on the country’s (non-nuclear) arsenal or just blustering. Trump keeps everyone guessing in much the same way.

Would he or wouldn’t he?

At a recent press conference Trump said unprompted that the best way to show his independence from Russia would be to fire missiles at a Russian Navy submarine off the U.S. coast – but reiterated that he obviously would not do so.

Change a few nouns and it would be Ahmadinejad threatening to reduce Strait of Hormuz sea traffic – including U.S. vessels – to smoking wreckage.

Trump also added, as justification for his restraint:

I’ve been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say, because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.

A hidden restraint?

That attitude, too, is familiar to fair-minded Iran observers. Throughout Iran’s controversial nuclear energy program development, Iran’s leaders have been very careful to point out that they believe nuclear weapons are immoral and proscribed, and that the program is peaceful.

Ahmadinejad, himself, was a staunch defender of the civilian nuclear program on the grounds of sovereignty and anti-colonialism, but he also called nuclear weapons “illegal” and immoral and supported global non-proliferation.

Typically, Iran’s leaders point specifically to the Iran-Iraq War and Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons on young Iranian soldiers as a reason Iran does not want WMDs. They also sometimes cite religious reasons for a ban.

At one point, in 2008, the Supreme Leader even indirectly urged Ahmadinejad to dial back his over-enthusiastic rhetoric on the nuclear issue, which (unlike in the United States) is not really under presidential authority anyway.

One must hope along similar lines, therefore, that when the White House under Trump “considers all options” in situations such as North Korea’s recurring threats, it is not seriously contemplating the literal nuclear option.

Originally published at The Globalist.

Republicans still trying to milk 9/11 for political points

Senate Republicans somehow think it’s symbolically important to vote against the Iran Nuclear Deal on 9/11 this week.

They probably forgot that 9/11 was an attack by Sunni extremist citizens of the Gulf countries that oppose Shia Iran, and that Iran and the Iranian people rallied to us on 9/11, extending a hand of support — and then they attempted to assist us with the reconstruction of Afghanistan before being slapped down by the Bush Administration. So, less symbolic than ironic.


AFD Radio Excerpt

Aug 19, 2015 – Ep. 139: Interview with Ambassador Nicholas Burns on the Iran Nuclear Deal

Aug 19, 2015 – Ep. 139: Interview with Amb. Nicholas Burns

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Guest expert Ambassador Nicholas Burns on the Iran nuclear deal. And: Discussion of the Republican debate and Planned Parenthood. Hosts: Bill, Kelley, Nate. Produced: August 14th and 16th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– The details and benefits of the Iran deal from Ambassador Nicholas Burns, former lead U.S. negotiator
– Nate, Kelley, and Bill discuss the first Republican debate and the Trump phenomenon
– Kelley explains the latest opposition to Planned Parenthood

Episode 139 (56 min):
AFD 139

Guest Bio: Nicholas Burns

Ambassador Burns is the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for the Programs on the Middle East and on India and South Asia. The Diplomacy Project focuses Harvard’s students, fellows and faculty on the importance of diplomacy in the 21st century global environment. He is also a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board, Director of the Aspen Strategy Group, and Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group.

As a career Foreign Service Officer, he was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008; the State Department’s third-ranking official when he led negotiations on the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement; and was the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. He has also served as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Greece and State Department Spokesman.

Related Links for Segments 2 and 3

CBS News: Trump on Iraq and Jeb Bush
Business Insider: “Jeb Bush: ‘Taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal'”
AFD: “The surge is a lie. A really dangerous lie.”
AFD: “When The Party’s Over: The 1820s in US Politics”
Washington Post: “Ben Carson’s tortured defense of his fetal tissue research”
Washington Post: “How Planned Parenthood actually uses its federal funding”

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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

August 12, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 138

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Key news stories from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran (and how it all relates to or affects U.S. policy in the region). People: Bill, Kelley, Nate. Produced: August 10th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Syria: The U.S. bombs fictional terror groups and Turkey bombs the Kurds.
– Iraq: On air conditioners and nation-building.
– Yemen: Saudi Arabia’s war and a horrific humanitarian crisis.
– Iran: Will the Iran Deal survive Congress? Will it change US-Israeli relations?

Episode 138 (56 min):
AFD 138

Related Links

AFD: Syria Archives
AFD: Iraq’s air conditioner uprising
AFD: Yemen War Archives
AFD: Iran Archives

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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Make peace, not war, easier in Congress

The anti-Iran hawks will get to vote against the nuclear deal, without sinking it – The Globalist:

To nix the deal, the Senate must ultimately be able to vote through a resolution against it by a veto-proof majority. And that would require 67 out of the 100 US senators coming out to vote against it (along with 290 U.S. House members).
[…]
As a general principle, of course, this is probably not a strategy to be recommended. The people’s representatives should, after all, be taking meaningful votes on most international agreements.

But for a particularly delicate multilateral negotiation involving war and peace, it is an ideal setup to stack the deck against the former and in favor of the latter.

Remarkably, even the United States Constitution did not set a two-thirds threshold for Congress in making declarations of war – a feature seemingly rendered moot since World War II. A mere majority in each chamber could plunge the country into war.

It has been far too easy for the United States to choose the path of war casually. The structure of the Congressional role on the Iran Deal fortunately makes it much harder in this one instance – while still letting the “bomb bomb bomb” caucus formally register its hawkish preferences.

It might not look it to the rest of the world, but by U.S. political standards in 2015, that’s a win-win.

 
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July 22, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 135

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Wages in America; Iran nuclear deal. People: Bill, Kelley, Nate, and Greg. Produced: July 20th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– A unified econo-moral argument for the necessity of dramatically higher U.S. wages tied to productivity gains.
– Why the Iran deal is a good one (and why Iran’s nuclear program is not our biggest concern in the region).

Episode 135 (55 min):
AFD 135

Related Links

The Globalist: “Americans Need Better Pay Before Longer Hours”
Mic: “How Many Hours You Need to Work Minimum Wage to Rent an Apartment in Any State”
– Clinton Campaign on Twitter: “Hillary called on companies to share profits with workers…”
LA Times: “Who gave up what in the Iran nuclear deal”
New York Times: “Congress to Start Review of Iran Nuclear Deal”
Haaretz: “Lapid: Knesset must investigate Netanyahu’s failure to thwart Iran deal”

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