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Scarborough aghast because Trump asked an adviser why we can't use nuclear weapons
It's actually a very good question. And the answer is: We can.
I don't mean to minimize Donald Trump's complicity in the horrible few days he's had, even though it's clear to me that the Khan thing was a Democrat/media ambush. Trump cannot indulge that type of indiscipline if he hopes to win in November. If he hasn't figured out by now that the news media will take any excuse to twist something he does into an massively overwrought hubbub, then someone had better sit down and get it through his head this afternoon.
And here's a good example. If you're wondering why Trump doesn't have tons and tons of "experts" advising him on various things, it might be because some of those who have spoken with him have turned out not to be very trustworthy. Apparently someone with experience in international affairs had one such conversation with Trump some months back, and as soon as it was over he ran to self-impressed MSNBC host Joe Scarborough with a take on what had happened.
Scarborough, the one-time Republican congressman who now acts as an insufferable scold toward just about everyone on his old side of the aisle, reported yesterday with a tone of horror that Trump had asked three times in an hourlong briefing why we bother making nuclear weapons if we can't use them. Here's how that sounded:
Clearly, Scarborough wants you to infer from this that Trump thinks using nuclear weapons would be a great idea and we should get over any hesitation to do so. And in the current news cycle, with everyone buzzing about Trump "attacking Gold Star families," it almost sounds believable.
But it's not. In fact, the question Trump asked is a very good one. The nuclear deterrent is completely useless if there is absolutely no chance, under any circumstances, that would consider using nuclear weapons. In fact, if you listen further on into the interview, former CIA director Michael Hayden even explains that the system is designed to be able to be used very quickly.
So Trump, who thinks like a man who looks for every advantage when dealing with other parties, asks a very rational question: Why bother to spend billions on an asset if there is no chance you will use the asset? He could have had any number of reasons for asking the question. He might have wanted to hear the strategic thinking of the man who was supposedly there to offer advice. He might be considering scaling back any further investment in nuclear weapons, and he might have wanted to hear if his adviser would offer a good reason to do this, or not to do this.
But here's what really bothers me about this whole thing: Leaders have to be free to seek advice and ask questions, and sometimes to really get the information they need, they need to ask questions some would consider outside the box. Sometimes you're forcing someone to actually put some thought into a question rather than just assuming that the answer is obvious. It's good that leaders ask such questions. It challenges the people around them, and sometimes the answers they get challenge them.
But in this case, the man who was supposed to be there to provide advice turned around and ran to a member of the media, talking about a question that had been asked without necessarily explaining what the purpose of the question was. So Scarborough goes on TV and gives everyone the impression that Trump can't wait to launch nukes, just because he had asked a perfectly rational question that any candidate for president ought to be asking. That makes it harder for a president to receive good advice, because you can't ask frank and honest questions if you're not sure the person you're asking won't run to the media and misrepresent what you asked and why.
By the way, the premise of the question is wrong, which I suspect Trump knows. We can use nuclear weapons. To do so would obviously be a grave and serious decision, one that is not to be taken lightly. But it's an option we can't simply write off in any and every situation. There might be a time when we have no choice. A president who isn't prepared to exercise that option when it's the only one America has left is unfit for the office. America's adversaries know that Obama and Hillary will not oppose them when they cross lines and threaten others. So they run wild.
If a President Trump is unwilling to rule out any option in the use of American power, maybe America's adversaries should be aware of that.