The first sentence is a twitter message Trump sent out a few hours after Russia's Putin had put out a similar call to strengthen his nation’s nuclear arsenal. The two messages could have both been simply posturing -- or even a joint effort to establish Russia and the U.S. as the two strong nuclear partners in keeping the world in order. Or uniting to intimidate China. Who knows?
Obviously, Trump's staff doesn't know what he means. His new Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to walk it back, saying "there is not going to be an arms race." But Trump contradicted him, calling in to the same TV show (Morning Joe) to say: "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them . . . and outlast them all."
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) is not amused. In fact, he told MSNBC's Chris Hayes: “We have an incoming president who has kind of the maturity of a five-year-old, wrapped by a massive ego. And to have that just a second away from a nuclear trigger is very, very scary.”
It's not only that his comments stir fears about an arms race, even more fundamental than that is the fact that he's obviously making these pronouncements without any input from his advisers, and there is no indication that he even appreciates the impact of such statements.
Trump does not seem to understand the difference between a negotiating position in a business deal and the hair-trigger dangers of international conflicts that can inadvertently set off a war, scuttle a delicate treaty, or change the balance of world power. In addition to those perils, there is the risk that rogue terrorist groups would take advantage of such an uncertainty to multiply the chaos and destruction.
That is not a world that should be ruled by a 5 year old mentality.
Sent out to try to undo the damage, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer tried to explain that he didn't mean what he had said. Frankly, I don't think Trump knows the difference.
Try to make sense of this exchange between Conway and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC:
* * *"MADDOW: Honestly, though, the American position on nuclear weapons worldwide for a very long time now . . . has been that we are trying to lead the way in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. He’s saying we’re going to expand our nuclear capability.
"CONWAY: He’s not necessarily saying that.
"MADDOW: He did. He did literally say we need to expand our nuclear capability."
"CONWAY: What he’s saying is we need to expand our nuclear capability, really our nuclear readiness or our capability to be ready for those who also have nuclear weapons."
* * *But here is what Trump actually said: "No, I really meant I am fine with more nukes. . . . Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."
And Sean Spice said this to Matt Lauer: "But there’s not going to be [an arms race] because he is going to ensure other countries get the message he is not going to sit back and allow that. What’s going to happen is they will all come to their sense and we will all be just fine."
Political analyst for Huffington Post, Sam Stein, wrote this:
* * *"There is such a thing as strategic ambiguity ― the concept that you benefit when your adversaries have to guess at your intentions. Trump certainly seems drawn to this concept. He chastised President Barack Obama repeatedly for being too forthcoming about his counter-terrorism strategies. He’s also moved quickly to shake up decades of U.S. policy to China without outlining a coherent replacement plan.
"But the downside of strategic ambiguity is that it can facilitate some unexpected, unwanted results. And in this case, that might include marching the world closer to a nuclear confrontation."
* * *
Whatever Trump means, or whether he even knows what he means, this is already getting too dangerous for comfort. Does Trump also think it's a good thing for his own citizens to be scared of what he will do? If so, then he is succeeding.