What happens when a world-famous serial blurter of untruths and provocations suddenly blurts a mild and mannerly truth?
Jaws drop. “He can’t mean it.”
Other jaws tense. “What’s he saying? What does he mean?”
Just such a moment happened during President Donald Trump’s visit to South Korea, the most vulnerable target on earth should the current crisis with North Korea burst into war.
The President was visiting Camp Humphreys, an American military base about 40 miles outside Seoul, and the very place that could be ground zero should the worst nightmare, not just war, but nuclear war with North Korea ever take place. Camp Humphreys is where American nuclear weapons – if they were ever sent to South Korea — would be stored, and targeted.
Many of the reporters covering Trump’s visit are aware of this, including, I’ll bet, the reporter for the NY Times, who watched the President slide into a bench seat at a long mess hall table and babble back and forth with the troops. If Trump was aware of Camp Humphrey’s nuclear war context, the Times reported, “he did not show it. At times, his tone was almost blithe.”
And then, the jaw-dropping moment: The Times report continues, “Before being briefed by American and South Korean military commanders, he said of the confrontation with the North: “Ultimately it will all work out. Because it always works out — has to work out.”
May I suggest that this soothing locution may have been the sanest, truest 2 sentences Donald Trump has ever spoken?
If the Times was aware of this, their representative “did not show it.” No way the Times reporter was gonna blurt, “Huh? You really think so? Did you tell this to South Korean President Moon, or to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un?”
Instead, the Times reports pins what seems to be a deeper skepticism on Camp Humpreys’ base commander, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who the Times noted, “wore a grim expression as he listened.”
Can’t fool him, the Times seemed to say, while not saying, and you can’t fool us.
I mean what the Hell kind of global crisis is it, if one can confidently state, “Ultimately it will all work out?”
What a lot of stress and strain on America’s emotions and its Federal budget would have been saved, if someone — maybe even a President — had stated these obvious truisms at the beginning of the Cold War?
Back then, America was waking up to its first exposure to the real danger of a sudden, massive, destructive foreign attack, nuclear weapons delivered by the Soviet Union.
Back then, as now, the conventional political discussion was all chest-thumping toughness about the damage we could do after an enemy badly damaged us with a nuclear first strike. Of course, it never happened.
Not because the US and the USSR got to like one another or respect each nation’s differences. No, it was because, there was no credible scenario for military action by either side that didn’t come with an unacceptable risk of intolerable losses.
As the blurter-in-chief said, in fewer characters than many of his Tweets: “Ultimately it will all work out. Because it always works out — has to work out.”
I hope the President remembers that he said this, and even more, I hope that he really believes it. If so, for Northeast Asia, the United States and the whole rest of the world, we may finally be heading in the right direction.
Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He is the author of the new book Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s International Security Advisory Board.
His commentary has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Financial Times, Kyodo News, Moscow Times, Foreign Policy, The Hill, Daily Beast, and Huffington Post. He has appeared on ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, PBS, MSNBC, Fox News, BBC News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NHK, Russia Today, and Al Jazeera.
Cirincione worked for nine years in the US House of Representatives on the professional staff of the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Government Operations. He is the author of hundreds of articles on nuclear weapons issues, the producer of two DVDs, a frequent commentator in the media, and he appeared in the films, Countdown to Zero and Why We Fight. He previously served as Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress and Director for Nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has held positions at the Henry L. Stimson Center, the US Information Agency and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He teaches at the graduate School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.