One tweet away from Armageddon

One tweet away from Armageddon

by digby

When a simpleton runs the world:

According to Woodward, the president is obsessed by the fact that the U.S. pays $3.5 billion a year to station troops in South Korea as a first line of defense against the North. "I don't know why they're there," he said at one meeting. "Let's bring them all home." At another meeting, Secretary of Defense James Mattis starkly why the U.S. has 28,000 troops in Korea: "We're doing this in order to prevent World War III."

"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea." - President Trump at the United Nation, Sept. 19, 2017

The standoff with North Korea has been eased, for the moment, by the Singapore Summit, which brought together two leaders who had been trading nuclear threats and schoolyard insults.

Trump: "'Rocket Man' is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

The president later made that "Little Rocket Man" on Twitter, which he told Rob Porter "may be my best ever." When Porter asked if it might provoke Kim, according to Woodward, the president replied, "It's leader versus leader, man versus man, me versus Kim."

The most dangerous moment of the standoff, Woodward says, came when the president went to work on another tweet: "He drafts a tweet saying 'We are going to pull out dependents from South Korea ... Family members of the 28,000 people there.'"

That tweet was never sent, because of a back channel message from North Korea that it would regard a pullout of dependents as a sign the U.S. was preparing to attack. "At that moment there was a sense of profound alarm in the Pentagon leadership that, 'My God, one tweet and we have reliable information that the North Koreans are going to read this as an attack is imminent,'" Woodward said.

I wonder how that happened, exactly?

I mean, does the president draft foreign policy tweets and have people look them over? How did it come to pass that he never sent it? Did someone rush in with the "back channel" news that it would start World War III? Maybe the book answers that question. I hope so because I think we are all under the impression that Trump runs his twitter feed as he sees fit, with some assists from his social media guys who send out the odd endorsement tweet or anodyne public announcement. If he actually drafts them and circulates them it would be nice to know what that process is.

Anyway, assuming this is true, it's scary as hell. Trump's obsession with what he calls "wasting money" is based upon his total ignorance about .... well, everything. He came up with one big idea --- that America is being screwed by other countries --- about 30 years ago and is too goddamned dumb to ever learn anything else.

Recall this:
According to Woodward, Trump at one point asked his military leaders why the United States couldn't just withdraw from the Korean Peninsula. They explained to him that it would mean we wouldn't know about North Korean missile launches for 15 minutes rather than learning about them almost instantly, within seven seconds. This is the flap that led Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to reportedly suggest Trump was intellectually and temperamentally akin to “a fifth- or sixth-grader."

What The Washington Post's story Tuesday didn't detail, though, is that this exchange didn't happen early in Trump's presidency; it came on Jan. 19, 2018 — almost exactly one full year into it. It came months after North Korea had threatened an attack on Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean. It also came a couple months after North Korea said it had developed a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach the continental United States.

What got Mattis's goat, according to the book, was that he felt like they'd had this exact conversation many times before, and Trump refused to either remember or process it. As Mattis explained the reasons for a U.S.-South Korean alliance, Trump repeatedly returned to the idea that the United States is running a trade deficit with South Korea — suggesting the alliance was hurting the American economy. Mattis tried to explain that having troops in South Korea was actually the most cost-effective — and effective, period — means of preventing World War III. Trump, who often seems to misunderstand what exactly a trade deficit means, wouldn't have it.

"But we're losing so much money in trade with South Korea and others,” Trump pushes back at one point, according to Woodward.

At another: “We're spending massive amounts for very rich countries who aren't burden-sharing."

And at another: “I think we could be so rich if we weren't so stupid. We're being played [as] suckers, especially NATO."

Trump would argue this was merely him “question[ing] everybody and everything,” but it didn't seem to come off that way to Mattis. According to Woodward's reporting, it seemed to be Trump asking the same dumb middle-school-esque questions for the millionth time. And it drew a curt rebuke from Mattis that took those in the room aback.

The president of the United States is a stupid, spoiled rich heir to a fortune who never, ever picks up a tab, who tips like a miser and treats anyone without money like a servant. We all know people like that. That's the vision he has for America. Only, in this case, he's going to end up getting us all killed.