On Thursday, Donald Trump went nuclear. Specifically, the president-elect appeared to upend a decades-old bipartisan consensus that less is more when it comes to nuclear weapons.
This tweet was widely interpreted as a declaration of Trump’s intent to pursue nuclear proliferation. But could that really have been what he meant? Why would Trump want to give the world’s other nuclear powers an excuse to proliferate when America already has enough weapons to wipe out humanity so many times over — and when arms races are so damn expensive. Surely, the words “nuclear capability” were meant to signify a modernization of our existing arsenal, like president Obama is already pursuing.
On Thursday night, Trump’s communications director Jason Miller said that Trump had meant just that.
“President-elect Trump was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it — particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes,” Miller said in a statement. “He has also emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength.”
Then the president-elect had a Friday-morning chat with MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. And she gave him the opportunity to say, in no uncertain terms, that he was not trying to kick-start a new arms race.
“Let there be an arms race,” Trump replied, “because we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
Future White House press secretary Sean Spicer clarified Trump’s remarks on the Today Show.
“Other countries need to be put on notice that he is not going to sit back and allow them to undermine our safety, our sovereignty,” Spicer said, apparently arguing that Trump had threatened an arms race so as to prevent one.
If one squints very hard one can make out a scintilla of logic in this premise. Shortly before Trump’s nuclear tweet on Thursday, Vladimir Putin told the Russian people, “We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.”
Thus, when Trump says he wants an arms race because America would win it, he really means, “Vlad, buddy, don’t do this. You’re not gonna like how it ends.”
Or, so Trumpworld would like us to believe.
“If there is going to be an arms race,” the Today show’s Matt Lauer began to ask Spicer.
“There is not going to be,” Spicer replied.
“He says, so be it, we will match them at every turn.”
“But there is not going to be because he is going to ensure other countries get the message he is not going to sit back and allow that,” Spicer explained.
Can’t you just feel Trump making America safe again?