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Issue #1792      August 30, 2017

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

Trump’s fire and fury

The USA is a country which these days is in a constant state of crisis. Formerly able to boast of being not just the most powerful but also the richest country on Earth, today its economy is steadily going down the tube (a fact which does not concern the tiny minority at the very top since their vast wealth is invested all over the world, wherever profits are to be made).

Trump’s explicit threat to ignite a nuclear war was taken seriously elsewhere in the US and generally greeted with horror.

As signs of the domestic crisis in the US become ever more evident, increasing numbers of Americans are becoming worried about the future. Already a country marked by abnormal levels of paranoia and superstition, so many Americans are convinced that the end of the world is coming (or at least the end of civilised society) that they even have television series reporting on their “preparations for Doomsday”.

Signs of social breakdown are everywhere. The police, who are meant to safeguard and protect society are instead often viewed with distrust or fear. A New York policeman once famously summed up the role of the police in America as “an army of occupation”, and that is certainly the way the poor and the people who march in Black Lives Matter protests must view them.

Many people have stopped voting in elections, feeling that it achieves nothing of significance. In the 2016 election, half of those who did vote supported a maverick, self-seeking billionaire property developer because he ran a campaign posing as the friend of ordinary people and promising to restore the nation’s economy.

It was pure demagoguery, but once social democrat Bernie Sanders dropped out the only alternative offered by the major parties was a mouth-piece for Wall Street, and working people had had enough of them, thank you. So Donald Trump secured the cushy job he was after.

Politically, Trump is a fascist: racist, superstitious, ignorant and not at all averse to war. He formulates policy off the top of his head late at night on Twitter with no reference to his advisers or other experts. To the alarm of the more level-headed of his country-men, this boofhead is now in charge of the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world.

Already there are moves to revive legislation that would strip the executive branch of the power to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. “No US President, certainly not Trump, should have sole authority to initiate an unprovoked nuclear war,” said Democrat Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts.

Before the 2016 election, Trump reportedly asked a policy expert why the US couldn’t use nuclear weapons. Since then, he has gone out of his way to try to start a war on the Korean Peninsula. His alarming behaviour prompted Democrat Congressman Ted Lieu to introduce a bill, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017, which, if passed, would bar the president from launching a nuclear strike without congressional authorisation. More than 500,000 people signed a petition expressing support for Lieu’s bill.

The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), otherwise known as North Korea, is a country with a $17 billion gross domestic product (nominal) and a population of 25 million. “I’m sure it has its virtues”, comments Juan Cole, who teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, “but military weight in world affairs isn’t one of them. It is in a league with Nepal, Gabon and Iceland economically. Population-wise it is in the same league as the Cameroons and Madagascar. The US has a population of 320 million and a GDP of US$18.5 trillion.”

Despite (or because of) its small size, North Korea has been subjected to blockade and threats ever since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s. Military provocations in the form of aggressive “exercises” by US and South Korean forces are frequent and US nuclear weapons are based in South Korea.

To deter America from launching another Korean War, North Korea has developed its own tiny arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles with which to deliver them. The US reaction was to depict the tests as acts of aggression and to threaten nuclear retaliation. Trump proclaimed that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which the world has never seen before.”

The Kim Jong-un regime responded just hours after Trump’s remarks, promising to hasten “the tragic end of the American empire” and announcing it would review plans to “strike areas around the US territory of Guam,” where the US maintains large military bases, “with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic missiles.”

Nevertheless, Trump’s explicit threat to ignite a nuclear war was taken seriously elsewhere in the US and generally greeted with horror. It was labelled “frightening” and “crazy”. Journalists and advocates for responsible national security policy quickly took to social media to condemn Trump’s threat and demand caution and diplomacy. Initiating the #PleaseDontKillUs hashtag and calling for dialogue, the peace advocacy group Win Without War declared, “We can’t let reckless behaviour lead to war.”

MoveOn.org launched a petition saying “Donald Trump is making us all more unsafe with every war-mongering comment, tweet, and threat,” and Congress woman Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, said “This sabre-rattling from the president is dangerous. We need to de-escalate tensions so that diplomacy can work.” And a newly-drafted petition from MoveOn.org, which already has over 57,000 signatures, reads: “Stop the insanity. Don’t provoke a war with North Korea. While a nuclear North Korea is a real concern, the answer must be diplomacy-first, not a rush to a potentially devastating nuclear war.”

“That this threat comes between the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki underlines the president’s dangerous lack of appreciation of the horror and evil of nuclear war,” said Jon Rainwater, executive director of PeaceAction. He added, “ ‘Fire and fury’ isn’t a strategy. Painstaking and sustained diplomacy of the type that led to the Iran deal is the only viable option with North Korea. It won’t be easy but that’s why the US needs to drop its current preconditions for talks and get down to the hard work of hammering out a settlement to this political crisis.”

Carol Turner, vice chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said in a statement: “It beggars belief that the US president has chosen the 72nd anniversary [of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki] to threaten North Korea with ‘fire and fury like the world has never seen.’ These words mark the real possibility of a nuclear confrontation.”

Siegfried Hecker, the last known American official to inspect North Korea’s nuclear facilities, said prior to Trump’s statement that treating Kim Jong-un as though he is on the verge of attacking the US is both inaccurate and dangerous.

“Some like to depict Kim as being crazy – a madman – and that makes the public believe that the guy is undeterrable,” said Hecker. “He’s not crazy and he’s not suicidal. And he’s not even unpredictable. The real threat is we’re going to stumble into a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.”

The morning following his “fire and fury” remarks Trump took to Twitter to praise America’s “powerful” nuclear arsenal, comments that intensified the groundswell of calls to end the pro-war rhetoric and strip Trump of his nuclear-strike authority, calls that were not echoed by Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of Trump’s “evangelical advisers.”

Shortly following the president’s remarks, Jeffress released an extraordinary statement declaring that “God has given Trump authority to take out [DPRK leader] Kim Jong-un.” Jeffress went on to say “When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a president who is serious about protecting our country.”

Jeffress has said he believes God chose Trump for the job, and he has repeatedly invoked religious authority to justify Trump’s policies, including the proposed wall along the US-Mexico border.

Jeffress’s North Korea comments prompted backlash on social media. The Washington, DC Catholic Worker held a vigil in front of the White House. “Nuclear weapons are immoral, illegal, anti-God, anti-life, anti-creation, and have no right to exist,” said Art Laffin, an activist with the Catholic Worker. He denounced spending on nuclear weapons as “direct theft from the poor.”

And he’s not wrong.

Next article – When the world is tolerant of Nazis, people die

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