Keep Trump in check

Cape Times - - OPINION -

THE broad de­bate over Pres­i­dent Trump’s fit­ness for the dif­fi­cult and de­mand­ing of­fice he holds has re­cently been re­framed in a more pointed and ur­gent way: Does he un­der­stand, and can he re­spon­si­bly man­age, the most de­struc­tive nu­clear ar­se­nal on earth?

The ques­tion arises for sev­eral rea­sons. He has threat­ened to “to­tally de­stroy” North Korea. He has re­port­edly pressed for a mas­sive build-up in the Amer­i­can nu­clear ar­se­nal, which al­ready con­tains too many war­heads. And soon he will de­cide whether to sus­tain or set a course to pos­si­bly un­ravel the im­mensely im­por­tant Iran nu­clear deal.

Doubts about his com­pe­tency were re­in­forced this week by Sen­a­tor Bob Corker, who charged that Mr Trump was treat­ing his of­fice like “a re­al­ity show”, with reck­less threats that could set the na­tion “on the path to World War III.”

Mr Corker says he is re­ly­ing on Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, to help “sep­a­rate our coun­try from chaos”.

Many have hoped, and still hope, that Mr Trump’s ag­gres­sive pos­ture is mostly theatre. But there is no un­der­ly­ing strat­egy to his loose talk, and what­ever he means by it, Congress has been suf­fi­ciently alarmed to con­sider leg­is­la­tion that would bar the pres­i­dent from launch­ing a first nu­clear strike with­out a dec­la­ra­tion of war by Congress.

As things stand now, the Atomic En­ergy Act of 1946, passed when there was more con­cern about trig­ger-happy gen­er­als than elected civil­ian lead­ers, gives the pres­i­dent sole con­trol.

He could un­leash the apoc­a­lyp­tic force of the Amer­i­can nu­clear ar­se­nal by his word alone, and within min­utes.

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