Corralling The Fire And Fury President

11/20/2017 08:50 am ET
Pool via Getty Images

Cross-posted from TomDispatch.com

Speaking of the situation on the Korean peninsula, he predicted that there would be “the greatest slaughter.”  He later requested 34 nuclear weapons for possible use in connection with the Korean situation.  He would later claim that he had considered dropping “30 to 50 tactical atomic bombs” and had suggested laying a “belt of radioactive cobalt” with “an active life of between 60 and 120 years” across the northernmost part of Korea.  And no, this was not President “Fire and Fury,” nor was it part of the present crisis with “Rocket Man.”

The year was 1950, the Korean War was underway, and the person in question was General Douglas MacArthur who, in terms of pure megalomania and self-regard, was surely the Donald Trump of his moment.  As it happened, the general was gunning not just for Koreans but for a Democrat by the name of Harry Truman, a president who would, in the end, act as a commander in chief should.  In a move deeply unpopular in its moment, he would dismiss his war commander (whom he dubbed “Mr. Prima Donna”) only to watch MacArthur come home to a 19-mile New York City ticker-tape parade (and 3,000 tons of dropped paper) seen by more than seven million cheering spectators.

The Korean War was subsequently fought to a draw without atomic weapons, belts of cobalt, or anything else that might, in the end, have led to a global nuclear conflagration, in part because a president was able to corral an over-the-top general.  Almost three quarters of a century later, the question, when it comes to that same peninsula and those same weapons, is: Who could corral a president with a yen to use them and the “sole authority” to do so?  We’re talking here about a man who, in the 2016 election campaign, wondered aloud to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews why in the world, when it came to nuclear weapons, we would be “making them” if we weren’t planning on using them?

At this very moment, Congress is exploring what, if anything, can be done to contain such a president, a man who, as a member of his own party suggested, could set the U.S. “on the path to World War III.”  Few in that body, however, offer much hope of reining in presidential powers in the nuclear realm, which means that the only thing standing between an “unstable” commander in chief and a type of weaponry not used since August 1945 might be the U.S. military itself ― in other words, a crew trained above all to follow the orders of its commander in chief.

This is the context in which to consider “The Trump Doctrine,” Michael Klare’s chilling look at the urge of both President Trump and key figures in the Pentagon to normalize nuclear weapons as a basic war-fighting tool in the American arsenal.  Just imagine what it might mean, given The Donald, for such weaponry to be made ever more ― it’s a term that should take your breath away ― “usable.”

CONVERSATIONS