The Nuclear Power of the Presidency

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S1: The following recording may contain explicit language I can’t get more explicit than May with literal say it may.

S2: It’s Tuesday, January 28, twenty twenty from Slate, it’s the gist. I’m Mike PESCA. There are a few modes of Donald Trump that are more annoying than others. Donald Trump windmill oncologist could ignore that one. Donald Trump pantomime truck driver. Got it. Cute, but Donald Trump, press critic bit less compelling than all the others.

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S3: Here he was during a press conference announcing a peace plan between the Israelis and other Israelis about the Palestinians. He singled out his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo statesmanship during a recent interview with Mary Louise Kelly from NPR.

S4: That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job. I knew yesterday.

S5: You think you did a good job on her action.

S3: That’s good. Thank you, Mike. So here is the job. Pompeo did on Mary Louise Kelly. He complained during an interview about Iran, which was a good and useful interview for the administration. I thought he complained when she changed the subject to Ukraine. He stumbled badly, handling the questions about Ukraine. He characterized as unnamed sources a critic to which Mary Louise Kelly immediately named the source because it was during public testimony. So that embarrassed him. He complained that they had an agreement that they wouldn’t talk about Ukraine. This was contradicted by Mary Louise Kelly. We have some of that change of subject Ukraine. Do you owe Ambassador Maria von Eviction apology?

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S6: You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That’s what I intend to do.

S3: Soon after the interview, the State Department put out an official communique. Saying that Ukraine was never to be part of the interview, it violated the parameters of the interview he wrote. Mary Louise Kelly lied to me twice first last month and setting up our interview and then again yesterday. All right. So we do have documentary proof about if she lied to him and his staff and setting up the interview. Now he’s the one who’s lying. There is a documentary trail and it shows that quite clearly Mary Louise Kelly was telling him she’d be asking about more than Iran, asking about Ukraine. Now, there are no documents to show that Kelly agreed to an off the record conversation with Pompeo. That’s what he says. But it’s implausible that she did so it’s more likely that Kelly never understood it to be off the record was called into his room and he started screaming at her. In any case, Pompeo in no way disputes that. He yelled at Kelly for what he thought was a lie. But it wasn’t a lie. It was something that he was wrong about. In other words, asking about Ukraine also. Pompeo doesn’t it all dispute that he quizzed Kelly on geography, that he called for a blank map to be produced? Why the State Department has blank maps lying around? I don’t know. Maybe so someone could pencil into existence the country of Namba.

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S7: Zambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.

S3: Namibia would be interested to hear that, but the blank map was produced. Mary Louise Kelly, who has a master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge. In fact, correctly identified Ukraine, which is the second largest country in Europe, next to Russia.

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S1: Literally, it’s next to Russia. The point is, Ukraine is not a tough country to find on a map. And then the smears all began. By the way, another reporter, NPR reporter, was kicked off a flight with Pompeo, which is too bad because of the in-flight movie goes out. They can have a lot of fun playing geography bee and that that is the behavior that warranted a presidential ad. A boy, the president lauding the nation’s top diplomat for his handling of that reporter. Even in the fetid Trump world brain, what was that handling even to them was the handling that Mike Pompeo showed himself to have been conned by someone who made him look stupid? I mean, if everything Mary Louise Kelly did was exactly as Mike Pompeo said it was, then she got one over on him and made him look like an idiot. So how did Pompeo handle her? And so we heard the comments. The crowd of Yamaka wearing Friends of Israel laughed. They laughed. What a fine joke, slash. What a display of the human propensity to compensate for discomfort via laughter. Such a good look. Such great audio. Such a great point. It really is diplomacy at its finest. Does anyone have a blank map of behavior? Let’s see if the administration can find decency on the show today. I shpiel about the defense of that guy. The very guy we’re talking about. Yeah, the sneering bullying guy on the floor of the U.S. Senate. But first on to a lighter, less depressing topic. Nuclear bombs. Fred Kaplan, Slate’s own Fred Kaplan, is an expert on nuclear war and the theories driving it.

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S4: Thirty seven years ago, he wrote the first ever look at the strategies, if you will, of nuclear war. It was called the Wizards of Armageddon. So this book is kind of a sequel which has decades more research, more declassified documents, decades more standoffs, decades more missile technology and decades more wisdom accrued by the author of The Bomb. Presidents, Generals and the Secret History of Nuclear War. Fred Kaplan. To me. Nuclear bombs are a little like vinyl records in that they’ve become almost collector’s item. I mean, you know, the aficionados know they’re the most powerful things out there and really the best way to listen to music slash kill a lot of people at once, but they’ve fallen by the wayside a little bit. In fact, if you talk to a person born after, I don’t know, mid 1985 or let’s say 86, they won’t really take nuclear bomb seriously. Sure. There’s the pro forma. Of course we have them. Of course, they could blow up the world. How many times over what I mean? They don’t feel the power and threat of nuclear bombs on a gut level. A new book by Fred Kaplan called The Bomb puts this all in perspective and makes us realize that the history of the bomb is fascinating. But most importantly, our current situation with nuclear bombs is just as dangerous as it’s ever been. The bomb, presidents, generals and the secret history of nuclear war. Fred Kaplan is here. Thanks for coming on again, Fred.

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S8: Well, it’s always a pleasure to be here, though. You’re pushing my buttons about the talk of vinyl.

S4: Rick, I know I said that on purpose because that’s like the exact Venn diagram of you and your interests. I mean, I met you 10, 20 years ago, and I knew that you were a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Boston Globe. And then I heard about your working with less aspin and researching nuclear weapons. But I guess back then, the big your big credit was you wrote this very important book called The Wizards of Armageddon. Up until then, no one was really taught. People in the 80s were very much concerned about the bomb and the bomb and the Minuteman missile. And the imex missile was a national campaign issue. Right. And you were kind of the first person to talk about the actual the wizards of Armageddon were the people who kind of calculated kill rates and where to strike first. And that hadn’t happened then. So what was the impact of that book? How did that book change the way people looked at it?

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S9: Well, it’s funny. You know, the title was a provisional title. It was a joke. I couldn’t think of anything better. It has since become in the lexicon. You go to conferences of strategists, they talk about, well, we wizards of Armageddon without quotation marks or even irony.

S10: Yeah. It’s like the best line of the writers. Yeah. Like they like being. They don’t understand the the oxymoron of Wizards of Armageddon.

S8: So it’s true. I mean, you know, I had been taught it in grad school by one of these wizards and I realized, man, this guy is unknown stories he’s telling me are unknown. So I went and interviewed everybody, about 160 people. And that was also the heyday of the Freedom of Information Act. I got thousands of documents declassified, some of which I’m told have been Reclass Hawkins.

S4: So, I mean, you could get a copy of your book from like the 86 printing. And it had stuff in there that now the government.

S9: I think that’s right. My 83 book, actually. But yeah, but the bomb is different. The bomb, it tells some of the same story although brought up to date obviously. Yeah. But also from the viewpoint of the policymakers of the decision. Right. When I wrote Wizards of Armageddon, it came out in 83. There is almost nothing that had been declassified, for example, about what John Kennedy personally thought or said. Yeah. About nuclear weapons or how he tapped his teeth together when he was very concerned with the secret tapes, which we now know about who they were now. Yeah. People knew him, you know, they existed. A lot of it is based on archival stuff that’s been recently declassified. And the later stuff, especially about the Obama and Trump administrations is from interviews with people.

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S4: And it is told through presidents and generally speaking and they all different circumstances. They all had different weaponry available to them. They all had different enemies, or at least the Soviet Union was a different levels of strength. But I saw continuity and not too much difference between the strategies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, even through Nixon. I didn’t see so vastly different take on how to use nuclear weapons as a deterrence.

S9: Here’s the thing, and this is true up to now, there’s sort of parallel lines here. On the one hand, you have the military, especially strategic command, as it’s now called. And the people look at this stuff in the joint staff, they’ve been running along pretty much the same path forever.

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S8: Yeah. And during the holiday from history that you mentioned about like from the end of the Cold War on when nobody paid any attention to this, we didn’t know it was going on.

S4: But it was well, it was it in a disquieting ways. That’s the real deep state who is pursuing their agenda.

S8: It’s not the deep state. But look, there’s somebody who’s been we all know there are nuclear weapons. Somebody is in control of it. Right. Somebody is making plans for their use if they have to be you. Right. We don’t know anything about it. We don’t. We dismiss. It is as improbable. Right. But then there are the presidents and there have been several presidents who have confronted crises where they have to start thinking about this. And most of them haven’t really thought about it before it. Mulholland, why should they then? They’re. Given the briefings they’re presented with the options and most of the presidents that we know about look at this and they say no way am I doing this right.

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S10: There might be a guy in the Pentagon saying, you know, like in Dr. Strangelove, Ken, I’m not going to say our hurt doesn’t get messed up, but 10, 20 million tops. Yeah. You know, it’s titled I knew a guy who said, if there are two Americans and one Russian left, we win. Yeah. That was one of the commanders of Strategic Air Command in 1960.

S9: Wow. So the president’s look at this and they say, no, I don’t think we want to do that. And that has come in. Kennedy was a clear example. And even Eisenhower and Nixon and others, they looked at these options very, very closely.

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S8: The difference now and this is what makes the book pertinent, I think, and why I was driven to write this book because I didn’t think I would ever write another book about nuclear war. Is that Trump is not known to be a guy who looks into the details of things. Who thinks through the implications in the Cold War, there used to be a concept kind of as a fright figure known as the clever briefer, somebody who would brief Khrushchev or whoever Brezhnev, whoever, and was a clever briefer and would convince him that, yeah. Mr. Premier, there is a way that we launched at this time with these weapons against these targets, we could pull it off.

S9: And the fear is that Trump, who has a very cavalier notion toward nuclear weapons to begin with and no cleverness about it, doesn’t look into these things deeply, seems to be among every president you can think of since Hiroshima. The guy who is most susceptible to the clever briefer, definitely most susceptible.

S1: Yeah. Yeah, it would seem. And also a guy who, you know, just hires from Fox News. So maybe John Bolton does whatever he does as essentially a mole in the State Department during the Bush administration. And these just fall three levels down. But my God, too, to appoint him to the level. National security adviser, you’ve invited the clever briefer inside the tent.

S9: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So that’s. And, you know, speaking of which, I mean, when I first came up with this idea, I thought I would call it fire and fury. But then I was preempted on that. Right. But when what isn’t still known, what I learned when interviewing some people for this book is that during that period of firing fury, when, you know, Trump was saying, you know, not have the North Koreans attack us, we’ll respond, which, you know, that’s part of that’s doctrine. And it’s useful for them to say if they keep talking bad about us. And if they start testing weapons and missiles, we will unleash fire and fury like the earth has never seen. What isn’t known is that at that time, there was serious war planning going on against North Korea, new kind of war plan that included the use of nuclear weapons, that laid out scenarios that for the first time did not assume the first step being, say, North Korea invading South Korea. No, it was North Korea launching a provocative missile as a test or something. And we respond accordingly. And in that year, the North Koreans conducted 15 missile launches during all of them. There was a conference call among all the four stars who were involved in that kind of conference call. There would be if there was warning of a Soviet missile attack in the old days in a couple of cases. General Mattis, who is the secretary of defense at the time, if it looked like a peculiar test, he had the authority to order the firing of ballistic missiles, not nuclear, but conventional ballistic missiles that were in South Korea against the North Korean test site. And though nothing was said about this explicitly, the hope was that it would not only destroy the test site. But maybe some North Korean officials who happened to be watching it because Kim Jong un was known to go watch some of these things. And on two occasions he actually fired ordered the firing of missiles not inside North Korea, but.

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S11: Out toward the Sea of Japan, right in parallel with the North Korean missile, and the South Koreans joined him, and so this was at his joint show of force. Like you’re testing a missile worth we’re putting all this was in serious stuff by this new report because I had a new report. Good job.

S9: And and I’ve been doing this for a while. Then also with some options in this war plan included what some people later described as a bloody nose, where basically you punch him in the nose and he bleeds and Kim Jong un will be so wiped out by this that he’ll retreat. Well, that was an option. But most of the military people, including those who knew something about Korea, thought, OK, but it’s actually more likely that he’s going to retaliate. And if that happens, you know, I mean, the Seoul capital of South Korea is within range of hundreds of chemical missiles. And U.S. personnel there was thinking that an escalation that began even with this firing of conventional missiles on the test site, which Mattis had been authorized to do on his own cognizance, if he wanted that, that could lead to war and all the way up to nuclear war. So there was what went when Trump in other words, when Trump made that line about fire and fury.

S11: This was after we. That this was environment is not one of his typical blustering off the top of his head kinds of remarks.

S9: This was there was serious stuff going on.

S4: Yeah. And that what you said, I think would strike a listener is, yes, that’s true and troubling. But actually, it’s interesting to me that every one of those clauses contains an agenda item that serious people have thought about for a long, long time. For instance, you said, you know, the North Koreans have biological weapons. Well, that alone, that’s a conundrum because we understand what to do, where the United States has a doctrine of what to do. If you’re attacked or someone is attacked with a nuclear weapon, you can respond with a nuclear weapon. But what about a biological weapon? And Obama had to figure something out on that.

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S9: That’s right. Obama when he first came in. Remember, he came in, he gave the speech talking about reducing the role of nuclear weapons and national security policy. Somewhere down the road, eliminating them from the face of the earth. Maybe not in his lifetime, but we will take concrete steps toward that kind of thing. One of the things he considered was getting rid of the first use policy. Now, most people don’t realize this, but since the beginning, we have an explicit policy and every president has approved it of having the option to use nuclear weapons before anybody else does. And the reason for this initially was, well, the Soviets invade Western Europe and our troops can’t take them. We have nuclear weapons. And that is even if they don’t do this, this is the deterrent. This is the ultimate to turn. And in fact, anytime any previous president talked about getting rid of those nuclear weapons during the Cold War, the French and the Germans would go nuts.

S11: Yeah, Carter wanted to do it. And he was convinced because not that the Americans didn’t convince him, the NATO allies. Oh, no, they didn’t. You’re terrible. There was a part in the book that got me a little worried. I forgot what it was. You’ll remember that Obama was considering a plan. I think they adopted it. And it turns out that the Carter administration had already been through this all and just named it a very good thing without it.

S9: That had to do with the no first use idea. Yeah. Obama came up with a very interesting spin on this. He goes when Gates told him, well, we might have to go first. Have were tact by biological. He was okay. You know, he played law professor, University of Chicago. He’d said, okay, what countries do we really have to worry about here? Well, there’s Russia. There’s North Korea. There’s Iran at the time. Yeah, maybe Syria, you know. And so he went down. He said, okay, well, how about we do this? And this became a declaration. We will not use nuclear weapons first against a country that doesn’t have nuclear weapons and that has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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S4: Throughout the book, the idea that using nuclear weapons as a deterrent against another nuclear state. But the situation we see ourselves in now is using conventional weapons as a deterrent to a state about to acquire nuclear weapons. And so far, the United States and its allies have done some clever, surreptitious things to try to thwart states from getting nuclear weapons, but never the full scale war, the full scale invasion. Do you think that that could happen?

S8: Well, you know, Trump has stated it as a threat several times. And by the way, you know, even Obama said we will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. You know, he negotiated his way out of it. Everybody has said that. What did that happens? Yeah. What did it happens? You know, you make all these threats. Why does it not happen? Well, I think part of it really is deterrence. I think the existence of nuclear weapons probably has prevented a few words from taking out even even nuclear disarmament. People believe that it does. Hape throws a little scare into you before you start messing around with something that might escalate all the way.

S4: Fred Kaplan is the national security columnist for Slate, the author of six books now the latest being The Bomb Presidents, Generals and The Secret History of Nuclear War.

S12: Thank you, Fred. Thank you.

S1: And now the schpiel today in the impeachment trial and very likely acquittal of Donald J. Trump. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow took to the Senate floor to address the roiling revelations offered by John Bolton that would serve to offer a firsthand direct account of the president engaging in a quid pro quo on Ukrainian aid, seculars said. This is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts, thereby bravely and unexpectedly throwing his weight behind hearing from John Bolton under oath. I got to say, people surprise you all the time. And secular at no small cost to his own standing among conservatives and Trump sycophants rightly said We must elevate this testimony out of the realm of the rumored and into the coliseum of the confirmed. Good on you set. Wait, what’s this? It turns out I have vastly, vastly misunderstood the remark. The president’s lawyer was saying, since it’s unconfirmed, what we need to do is very desperately make no effort to confirm it. That is what we need to do. This needs to be ignored, even though we have the power to confirm, no, we must not do that. So I played a short clip, just him talking for a couple seconds because the president’s lawyers only took a short time for their summation. A lot of summation rested on the premise. In fact, hey, aren’t you glad we’re not taking up all your time here? There are some of you in this chamber right now that would rather be someplace else. And that’s why we’ll be brief. Well, that’s one of the reasons, I guess the house managers are relying on mounds of evidence and reams of information and piles of proof. I guess they weren’t briefed because they must not have been respectful of the senator’s time. Sometimes the man who says most says little, but other times the man who says almost nothing just doesn’t have a lot to say. If the epic poem of your people is, say, a limerick, maybe your people don’t have that grandiose story to tell. And this was the closing argument. This was supposed to be the sweeping statement. The president’s lawyers didn’t even offer a Dustbuster. The closing argument is supposed to have themes in scope and calls to action. Johnnie Cochran saying if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit with secular win pats Apollonia quickly rushing through their argument. I was left to wonder Previdi. The soul of wit were the ain’t shit. Here was Patsy Baloney, summarizing why an acquittal vote was incumbent upon this body.

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S13: What they’re asking you to do is to throw out a successful president on the eve of an election with no basis in violation of the constitution.

S1: Compelling. Except it’s very much constitutional. There is a clear basis, not on the eve of an election, and he’s really not that successful now. I’m not being argumentative just to be argumentative. Let’s just look at the no basis part of the argument. It very much does inform the others, because if there is a basis, a basis which is rooted in the constitution, a strong basis, I would argue then the supposed success of the president doesn’t matter. And the eve of the election shouldn’t matter either. By the way, January isn’t the eve of November. Did you know that the timeline of this investigation is the misdeeds of July were made known by the whistleblower in August? Nancy Pelosi began an investigation in September. They quickly hold hearings and impeach the president. Soon thereafter, by the way, that whole process was criticized as a rush job. And then there was withholding the articles of impeachment. But here we are today rather quickly. So what is Scipione saying, given that we went from misdeed to him arguing before the Senate in such a compressed timeframe? Essentially, the argument is impeachable acts can only occur in the first two and a half years of a president’s term. The last year and a half adds more of an impeachment free zone.

S13: Scipione summed up this way It would dangerously change our country and weaken, weaken forever. All of our democratic institutions, you all know that’s not in the interest of the American people. Why not trust the American people with this decision? Why tear up their balance? Why tear up every ballot across this country? You can’t do that. You know you can’t do that.

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S3: Just Chucky’s anyone anywhere near you guys. Brian Kemp. Okay. No, that’s right. OK.

S14: You can’t tear up the ballots. Yes. They were asking senators to overturn an election. Do you know why? Because that’s literally what impeachment and removal is. There is no way to impeach or remove an elected official without removing the elected official. And this is get in the weeds a little bit. Stay with me. How did the elected official. Yet to be an official, see where I’m going. He was elected, so yeah, removing an elected official necessarily overturns an election. Also, jailing a criminal turns that guy from a criminal to an inmate and putting down a rabid squirrel makes him an unknown squirrel, undoes his squirrel them. It’s simply how impeachment works, how the rules work, how the constitution works, whereas we see over and over again how they all don’t work. The impeachment trial and very likely acquittal of Donald Trump next goes to a round of Q and A’s. I do have one question for Republicans. If the compelling argument against removal is that you don’t want to tear up the people’s ballot, then what would ever warrant removal is the same answer as what could Trump do that would shock us? What could Trump do that could lead to any consequences? In other words, is the answer nothing?

S7: And that’s it for today’s show, The Gist associate producer Priscilla Alavi cannot find Ukraine on a map. That’s kind of not fair because it was a map of Brooklyn. Daniel Shrader produces the gist. He can find Ukraine on a map of Brooklyn. It’s like three blocks around Brighton Beach. The gist, just as impeachment is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. The Joker’s Wild is a game where knowledge is king and Lady Luck is queen will go off the board with constitutional law for a hundred for desperate to prove. And thanks for listening.