In previous nuclear standoffs, Trump’s predecessors knew when to hold back from further antagonising the other side. But now there is no such certainty

This was the moment many Americans, along with the rest of the world, feared. This – precisely this – was what alarmed us most about the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. Not that he would hire useless people or that he would tweet all day or use high office to enrich himself and his family or that he’d be cruel, bigoted and divisive – though those were all concerns. No, the chief anxiety provoked by the notion of Trump in the White House was this: that he was sufficiently reckless, impulsive and stupid to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Of course, cooler heads might soon prevail. China might find the diplomatic back-channel that persuades North Korea to step back from the current clash with Washington. The Pyongyang regime might calculate for itself that, despite its latest threat to attack the US airbase in the Pacific island of Guam, further escalation risks its own survival. Or the generals that now flank Trump – John Kelly as chief of staff, Jim Mattis as defense secretary – might succeed in talking their boss down from the ledge.

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