A friend recently forwarded me a “news” story about current (but not then) Republican frontrunner, Ted Cruz. In it, Cruz was quoted as saying that gay people are “out to exterminate us,” and that the answer was for southern states to “build a nuclear bomb and use it to defend our right to believe in God as our one true Father.”
A few chuckles later I gently informed him that he had been taken for a satirical ride by the spoof news site, Newslo.
But the scary part was that the article was more than slightly believable. With all the bellicose rhetoric — and yes, outright lies — being bandied about by Republican candidates, it wasn’t so far fetched to believe that Cruz would use nuclear weapons, against gays or whomever.
Whomever would probably be Iran, based on comments Cruz has made so far. A strong critic of the Obama administration’s Iran deal, Cruz told an Iowa audience during the recent Caucus that: “If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the test may not be underground measured by an earthquake, the test may be in the skies of Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles. We need a president who with unmistakable clarity stands up and says under no circumstances will the nation of Iran ever be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
How exactly a Cruz presidency would stand up and say no to Iran is unclear, because nuclear weapons haven’t really come up much on the presidential campaign trail. Yes there was the infamous triad debacle when Donald Trump fumbled the question on the Republican CNN debate about which of the three legs would be his priority. “For me, nuclear, the power, the devastation, is very important to me,” Trump said, actually making it sound like he rather relished a nuclear holocaust.
This ominous drift was further compounded by the inept burbling of Trump spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, who sounded like an extra in Cabaret during her laughable effort at damage control on The O’Reilly Factor. “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?” she blurted.
None of this is comforting. While the absence of discussion among candidates about nuclear power is perhaps a good thing — it’s simply too irrelevant as a 21st century energy source to be worthy of mention — the silence on nuclear weapons policy is more ominous. If next November we elect a Republican president who could, albeit not easily, decide to obliterate Tehran or Moscow or Pyongyang, shouldn’t we know how he or she feels about the “use” of nuclear weapons?
Or perhaps it doesn’t matter what the candidates say. After all, President Obama stood in Prague on April 5, 2009 and pronounced that: “today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
That got him the Nobel Peace Prize, which some would like to see rescinded since Obama has now announced a plan to squander one trillion in taxpayer dollars over the next three decades on a new generation of nuclear warheads, bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Hillary Clinton distanced herself from this plan while campaigning in Iowa, saying: “I’m going to look into that. It doesn’t make sense to me.” Bernie Sanders pointed out that the entire military budget of $600 billion is “larger than the next eight countries.” But the Republican stable have all at least alluded to their support for maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear weapons cache.
According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the U.S. is already spending $35 billion a year on its nuclear arsenal. While it’s true that this bigger bill is largely because costs are higher today than during the Cold War, it doesn’t excuse the deliberate flouting of the commitment to disarm, binding under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which the five “official” nuclear weapons states have signed.
That’s why it was alarming to read that the Center for American Progress had just released a report on “how the Obama administration and Congress can modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal within its existing budget constraints — without undermining its moral boundaries in the battle against nuclear proliferation and its conventional capabilities to confront our current national security challenges.”
The report’s intent is to offer cost-saving options to reduce the projected $1 trillion price tag, and it does recommend cancellation of the new cruise missile and other cuts for a $120 billion savings. But accepting “modernization” rather than abolition perpetuates the broadly-held Washington view that we continue to “need” nuclear weapons. If we never drop this approach, how can we ever fully disarm?
The answer is, we won’t. The CAP report takes for granted that the U.S. will continue to violate the NPT, writing: “Nearly every missile, submarine, aircraft, and warhead in the U.S. arsenal is nearing the end of its service life and must be replaced” [emphasis added.] Replaced. Not abolished.
Although he was trying to say the opposite in Prague, Obama in effect confirmed this view when he said: “if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.”
The President of the United States does not have his finger literally on the trigger that would launch nuclear weapons. But the prospect of someone as crazy as Cruz or as megalomaniac as Trump making that decision is chilling.
Mind you, if polls are to be believed, Trump supporters would happily give him the green light to launch, as long as the target is the fictional city of Agrabah, an invention of Disney’s “Aladdin” and which Trump fans seem to believe is an actual ISIS hotbed. Which is almost as frightening as the prospect of Trump carrying around the infamous nuclear Football.
There is no scenario under which we “need” nuclear weapons. No, not even for deterrence. Because the only way deterrence can work is if we can be 100% certain it will. Failure of deterrence has consequences so catastrophic that the risk of failure has to be zero. Since that is impossible, so is deterrence.
So on we go to New Hampshire, with that apt refrain humming in our heads:
“What good’s permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away?
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret.”