Reach­ing his peak in­co­her­ence

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus

— Per­haps the laws of po­lit­i­cal grav­ity are about to take hold in the case of Don­ald Trump. But the les­son of this ap­palling pri­mary sea­son cau­tions against dis­count­ing Trump’s ap­peal — which prompts an­other Trump col­umn, this one on the ut­ter in­co­her­ence of his pol­icy views.

It’s not sim­ply that Trump is wrong on pol­icy. Ted Cruz is wrong on pol­icy. Trump is wrong on pol­icy and ar­gues for pol­icy po­si­tions glar­ingly in­con­sis­tent with his as­serted prin­ci­ples. All politi­cians do this, sure. But Trump’s in­co­her­ence is clas­si­cally Trumpian — huge, gl­itzy, un­em­bar­rassed.

That phe­nom­e­non was on vivid dis­play last week, as world lead­ers gath­ered for a sum­mit on nu­clear non-pro­lif­er­a­tion. On this topic, Trump stands, or says he does, with the global con­sen­sus. He raised the is­sue in his dis­cus­sion with The Wash­ing­ton Post ed­i­to­rial board, in re­sponse to a ques­tion about whether he be­lieves in man-made cli­mate change.

“The big­gest risk to the world, to me ... is nu­clear weapons,” Trump said. “That is a dis­as­ter, and we don’t even know where the nu­clear weapons are right now. ... The big­gest risk for this world and this coun­try is nu­clear weapons, the power of nu­clear weapons.”

OK, and — leav­ing aside the strange sug­ges­tion that au­thor­i­ties don’t know where the nukes are — give Trump credit for em­pha­siz­ing the nu­clear risk.

Ex­cept, jump ahead a few days, to Trump’s in­ter­view with The New York Times and his CNN town hall. Given Trump’s ar­gu­ment that the United States should with­draw mil­i­tary pro­tec­tions from Ja­pan and South Korea, the Times’ David Sanger and Mag­gie Haber­man asked: Should those coun­tries be able to ob­tain their own nu­clear weapons?

Trump’s an­swer man­aged to com­bine his con­cerns about pro­lif­er­a­tion with open­ing the door to more. “There’ll be a point at which we’re just not go­ing to be able to do it any­more,” he said. “Now, does that mean nu­clear? It could mean nu­clear. It’s a very scary nu­clear world. ... At the same time, you know, we’re a coun­try that doesn’t have money.”

So the United States can’t af­ford a nu­clear de­ter­rent? The cost of main­tain­ing and mod­ern­iz­ing the U.S. nu­clear arse­nal was $24 bil­lion in 2015, and is ex­pected to to­tal about $350 bil­lion over the next decade, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice.

The cost of Trump’s pro­posed tax cuts is around $1 tril­lion — an­nu­ally. I’m no bil­lion­aire, but that doesn’t seem like a smart bal­ance of spend­ing pri­or­i­ties.

CNN’s An­der­son Cooper pushed Trump fur­ther on the con­flict be­tween his anti-pro­lif­er­a­tion stance and his will­ing­ness to al­low more pro­lif­er­a­tion — dur­ing which Trump opened the door to a nu­clear Saudi Ara­bia, closed it, and then cracked it open again.

Cooper: “So you have no prob­lem with Ja­pan and South Korea hav­ing ... nu­clear weapons.”

Trump: “At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re bet­ter off if Ja­pan pro­tects it­self against this ma­niac in North Korea, we’re bet­ter off, frankly, if South Korea is go­ing to start to pro­tect it­self ... “

Cooper: “So if you said, Ja­pan, yes, it’s fine, you get nu­clear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Ara­bia says we want them, too?”

Trump: “Can I be hon­est with you? It’s go­ing to hap­pen, any­way. ... It’s only a ques­tion of time.”

This is a rad­i­cal po­si­tion, even con­tained to South Korea and Ja­pan. “That would be an in­cred­i­ble catas­tro­phe,” said Kingston Reif of the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion. “We have a big enough prob­lem with sta­bil­ity in that re­gion with­out in­tro­duc­ing two new nu­clear weapons states.”

The corner­stone of U.S. nu­clear pol­icy for decades has been to pre­vent ad­di­tional coun­tries from ac­quir­ing nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity. The more coun­tries with nu­clear weapons, the greater the risk of use, and of tech­nol­ogy and ma­te­rial fall­ing into the wrong hands. China would likely re­spond by in­creas­ing its nu­clear arse­nal. Other coun­tries would lobby to go nu­clear. U.S. in­flu­ence in the re­gion — on trade rules that Trump cares about, for ex­am­ple — would wane.

“No con­tender for the pres­i­dency of the United States in ei­ther party has ever said that since nu­clear weapons were in­vented,” Michael Green of the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, who served on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil un­der Ge­orge W. Bush and ad­vised the Jeb Bush cam­paign, said of Trump’s view. “It would cost us enor­mously ... in terms of the steps we’d have to take to de­fend our­selves against a much more weaponized world.”

There are other ex­am­ples of Trumpian in­co­her­ence, but per­haps none so strik­ing, and so dan­ger­ous if taken se­ri­ously.

Ruth Mar­cus is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at ruth­mar­cus@wash­post. com.


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