Thanks in part to Trump's bombastic and unpredictable style — but more likely due to his lack of friends in Washington — members of Congress have suddenly realized that maybe, just maybe, it's a bad thing that the President of the United States can unilaterally blow up the world.
And when I say "President of the United States" I don't mean that as a metonym for the US government as in the phrase "Washington today is considering a pact with Mexico."
No, a single specific individual really does have the ability to make that decision and give that order — unimpeded in any way.
This fact — which should daily be regarded by all Americans as an excellent illustration of what a farce "constitutional government" is — is now a topic of debate in Washington. It is now being suggested that some of those alleged "checks and balances" we're always being told about might be applied to the most destructive and apocalyptic power enjoyed by a US government agent.
Congressional lawmakers raised concerns about President Donald Trump's ability to use nuclear weapons during a hearing Capitol Hill Tuesday amid bipartisan anxiety over launch process procedures and indications that the administration has considered the option of a first strike on North Korea.
Members of the Senate foreign affairs committee called into question a decades-old presidential authority to deploy nuclear weapons in what was the first congressional hearing on nuclear authorization in decades.
You read that right. This is the first time Congress has considered the question of a president's nuclear-warmaking prerogatives in decades. Congress, on the other hand, has been quite busy during that time holding hearings about steroid use in sports, and violence on television.
As it stands right now, the president can start a nuclear war all by himself. We're talking about first strike capability here, and not about merely a response to military action by another state.
The LATimes tells us how easy it is:
All he has to do is call in the military officer who carries the “football,” the bulky briefcase containing the nuclear codes, and work through a brief procedure to transmit launch orders to U.S. Strategic Command...There are really no checks and balances,” said Bruce G. Blair, a former nuclear launch control officer who is now a researcher at Princeton University. “The presidency has become a nuclear monarchy.”
"Nuclear dictatorship" probably better captures the reality of the situation.
Thus, all the president has to do is decide — perhaps based on whatever unreliable information the CIA is feeding him — that now is the time to unleash a nuclear holocaust on, say, North Korea. Once the bombers are flying, or once the missiles are launched, of course, we'll then have to hope that none of them are interpreted as threats to major nuclear powers like China and Russia, both of which are right next door.
Indeed, it's this unpredictability of how a nuclear strike might get out of hand has long been a limiting factor on the use of the weapons. During the Vietnam War, for example, using nuclear weapons were discussed as a possible alternative to the failed bombing strategy at the time. The problem strategists encountered was the sheer volume of unpredictable consequences that could result from usage.
The downsides of starting a nuclear conflict are immense, both in terms of global diplomacy, and in terms of actual risk to the American population.
But even with this reality staring us in the face, Washington is so obsessed with maintaining an aggressive military stance, that it's unwilling to seriously consider any limitation on the President.
This why we should expect no real changes out of these Congressional hearings. Not surprisingly, Congress has already taken any meaningful change off the table:
This pretty much sums up how Washington's foreign policy works. Limiting the power of the President in any way, we're told "would be an unfortunate precedent." After all, this Trump guy may be a jerk, but all the other Presidents are totally wonderful human beings. We wouldn't want to limit their power to blow up the planet.
Ultimately, the panel warned against legislative changes to rein in the President's authority to exercise nuclear authority."I think hard cases make bad law, and I think if we were to change the decision-making process in some way because of a distrust of this President, I think that would be an unfortunate precedent," said Brian Mckeon, who previously served as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during the Obama administration.