“I was a good student. I understand things,” President Trump assured America on Wednesday. “I comprehend very well, okay? Better than, I think, almost anybody.”
But many within the White House beg to differ. In leak after leak, anonymous administration officials paint the president as less teacher’s pet than class clown — one who refuses to do his homework, demands the Cliffs Notes for every reading assignment, and struggles to comprehend the most basic aspects of the curriculum.
The latest SOS from the West Wing was intercepted by Reuters:
In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.
When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.
Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.
New START is pretty fundamental to U.S.-Russian relations. At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed his support for the agreement. Trump, himself, was aware of the treaty’s significance — if not of its proper name — last year, when he complained that Russia outsmarted Obama on “START Up.”
To avoid such lapses in memory, presidents typically request an in-depth briefing from the National Security Council before dialing up world leaders. But, according to Reuters’ sources, Trump received no such briefing before hopping on the horn with Putin. (Considering that Trump has often bragged about being too smart to read long things, it seems safe to take Reuters’ word on this one.)
Under New START, the United States and Russia committed to reducing their respective supplies of strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550 by February 2018. This would leave America with a big enough atomic stockpile to induce a civilization-destroying nuclear winter at least 15.5 times.
But many Republicans think that isn’t nearly enough. When the Senate ratified New START in December 2010, only 13 Republicans voted in favor. Granted, some of the naysayers may have been motivated less by opposition to deproliferation than by fear of Obama’s radioactivity with the GOP base.
The source of Trump’s antipathy for New START is similarly unclear. On the one hand, the president has expressed enthusiasm for a new arms race. On the other, he has called nuclear weapons the “single greatest threat we face” — and has a habit of disparaging any deal that he did not, himself, negotiate.
At any rate, it appears that Trump’s tolerance for Putin’s transgressions has its limits: If Vladimir wants to kill his political enemies, who are we to judge? But if that wily Muscovite tries to extend our mutual commitment to reducing the global supply of apocalyptic weapons, he’s got another thing coming.