Lessons from the Cold War

Creative Commons photo by Project 404

With the recent news of the escalation of incendiary rhetoric between the United States and North Korea, sometimes it is hard to tell the differentiate between the words of President Trump and those of Kim Jong-Un.

While Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argues America’s diplomatic efforts are working, others are speculating such bold language is undercutting those plans and playing into the hands of the North Korean military apparatus.

We have people in Guam so worried that a strike is imminent they are telling people what to do if missiles are launched. And, while China in the past has been mentioned as a power player in the region, its leaders may not be willing to do all the heavy lifting required to resolve this situation diplomatically.

An analysis of military options leaves many wanting another solution. Regime change, for example, might sound appealing if we can prevent elements of the then-exiled leadership from doing the same to us. And, before some of those who don’t like Trump get too interested in this prospect, what we’re talking about on either side is an invasion by a foreign power, deposing the leadership by (quite possibly deadly) force and the installation of a government favorable to the invaders. Such a scenario only sounds appealing to those leading the raid.

Much talk has been expended as to whether nuclear weapons would be used in such an exchange. People are asking questions such as What would a first strike look like? Should we be building more such weapons?

My favorite question is whether Donald Trump has the authority to launch a nuclear strike. Are you kidding? Of course he does. The law supports it and, the last time I checked the nuclear “football” containing the appropriate launch codes travels with President Trump wherever he goes and is not sitting in a safe in Paul Ryan’s office.

People may advocate a revision to this policy, which is a valuable discussion to have but one that should be conducted in a reasoned fashion, rather than as a knee-jerk reaction to a president that many don’t trust. The two-person rule protocol already exists, so one madman or woman can’t usher in nuclear Armageddon arbitrarily. The question is how many people should be involved in this process and who has the final say? Is it the President and a majority of his cabinet? The aforementioned Ryan or the Senate Majority Leader? Do we need the leadership of both parties to sign off? Can Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., override them? These are but a handful of questions to be considered and ones that should not be entered into hastily.

Perhaps it’s time to take a step back from the brink of atomic annihilation and look to the past for some examples of how to deal with this issue. While one naturally would reflect on what has been done with North Korea traditionally, it may well be time to admit those approaches haven’t worked (North Korea has taken years to develop the weapon is not is threatening to use it. The country’s aggressive stance didn’t begin on January 20, 2017).

If we look to the Cold War, we find examples of Republicans and Democrats using tough language and actions to help check the power of the USSR. Their methods were not considered weak by any means and they had the added benefit of working. Both sides would agree that we’d prefer our lives not become the embodiment of R.E.M.’s 1980s classic “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”

As more a Weird Al fan myself, I’d rather have Trump’s legacy be (at worst) remembered for its “Word Crimes” on Twitter, and not “Christmas at Ground Zero“.

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