Posted by Curt on 23 December, 2016 at 9:55 am. 2 comments already!



I hate to knock him for rattling his saber at Russia after knocking him so many times for slobbering over Putin, but can he maybe find an intermediate foreign-policy setting between “Kremlin toady” and “full nuclear release”? Good lord. How about “repairing relations with Moscow is a top priority but we will honor our NATO commitments”? Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

It all started with a tweet, as most major American policy developments likely will over the next four years.

What prompted that? It’s anyone’s guess, but Putin said something yesterday about strengthening his own nuclear forces so that they “can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.” You would think Trump, having spun so dependably for Russia on the DNC and Podesta hackings, would have shrugged that off. Instead he grabbed his phone and booted up Twitter, and when Mika Brzezinski followed up this morning by asking him what he meant about “nuclear capability” if not a new arms race, he apparently told her, sure, he’s ready for a new arms race if need be. And just like that, the new Cold War between the U.S. and Russia took an unexpected turn.

What does he really mean, though, when he says we should “strengthen and expand [our] nuclear capability”? The Times has a fun piece out parsing his tweet word by word, noting how many different ways it could be interpreted. Maybe he means nothing more than that we should “modernize” our existing weapons, a policy Obama has pushed for years. Maybe he means we should make those existing weapons more powerful, with higher payloads. Maybe he means we should deploy those weapons more aggressively, re-stationing some of them in eastern Europe. Maybe he means we should develop new delivery systems, like space-based platforms. Or maybe he means we should start building new weapons, a momentous reversal of the last few decades of denuclearization. Also, what’s with that bit at the end about the world “coming to its senses”? Is that aimed at Putin, to warn him that we’re prepared to build up our nuclear offense if he insists in trying to out-maneuver our missile defense? Or is it a more prosaic reminder that so long as any other country maintains a nuclear arsenal, the U.S. will maintain one too?

A statement that can be read practically any way you want to read it isn’t worth much diplomatically, although as a general expression that Trump won’t be intimidated by Russia or anyone else, I suppose it’s useful. It could be that Trump is smarting from all of the attacks on him lately for appearing to side with Putin over the CIA on the hacking matter and wanted to show Americans he’s prepared to stand up to him as president, even if that means an arms race. Or, if you prefer a more basic alpha-male reading of Trump, maybe he got annoyed when Putin said yesterday, “We can say with certainty: We are stronger now than any potential aggressor. Anyone!” If there’s one thing Trump seems to find intolerable, it’s being seen as weak; he’s spent months defending Putin from hacking accusations, which is bad enough, but now here’s Putin implying that he and Russia will be the stronger partner in their new relationship with the U.S. That’s transparent nationalist nonsense aimed at his domestic Russian audience, which, you would hope, Trump would realize. But maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he took all of Putin’s saber-rattling blather yesterday as a bit of a punch and, true to form, he counterpunched. Voila: New arms race.

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