Michael KreponCry, the Beloved Country

The United States is so divided that the election of a new President has become a cause of mourning for half the population. To me, Donald Trump’s election feels like Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush over Al Gore — only worse. It’s impossible for people like me to forget how Trump claimed this prize. But there are ways to forgive him.

The Arms Control Enterprise is all about ironies, both cruel and surprisingly positive. Earlier, I had offered the hope that a newly elected President Hillary Clinton and a Democratic-controlled Senate might set the table for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. I didn’t fully factor in Clinton fatigue, Russian hacking, James Comey, and Julian Assange.

President-elect Trump and a Senate narrowly controlled by Republicans could make CTBT ratification happen with ease. No other move would so clearly upend the campaign image of Trump’s impulsive finger on the nuclear “button.” Trump could also cut spending for nuclear excess far more easily than Clinton and work out a deal with buddy Vladimir Putin for another round of strategic arms reductions. Put another way, perhaps Donald Trump could pull a Ronald Reagan on us. Or do none of the above, while ripping up the Iran agreement for good measure.

Reagan and Bush 43 could avail themselves with the company of experienced dealmakers to offset ideologues. During this campaign, Trump, the nominal author of The Art of the Deal, has projected little sense of need for help in this department, while drawing unfortunate company to his side. Now, much depends on the company he keeps on national security issues as President.

Reagan’s breakthroughs came when the dealmakers around him beat down the ideologues. There was always a “Being There” quality to his presidency. Reagan didn’t immerse himself in particulars, and yet he and Mikhail Gorbachev broke the back of the arms race. There was no bigger and more pleasant surprise in the history of the Arms Control Enterprise.

The presidency of George H.W. Bush demonstrated mastery in foreign affairs. Bush 43’s presidency was a different story, a sad tale of accepting terrible advice from experienced power brokers. Stunned by 9/11, unfettered by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and enthusiastic about democracy-building, Bush led the country into a reckless, tragic war in Iraq, opening cauldrons of factionalism and extremism in the greater Middle East.

So, what will it be — bad outcomes or pleasant surprises in the Trump presidency? Arms control obstructionists and deconstructionists might think they’ve found a new soul mate in the White House, but they – and we — have no idea what to expect from the Trump administration. Even his homilies on nuclear issues backfired on the campaign trail, as he conveyed little understanding of these topics.

All we can say with certainty is that a president who knows little of the world – and who has not cared to learn much more during this long campaign – will assume office in desperate need of wise counsel, which he may or may not accept. Trump has said many reprehensible things during his run for the White House. Hope resides in the possibility that he never really meant much of what he said, or that he can be persuaded to repackage these pronouncements by the harsh realities he is about to encounter, with the help of sensible counsel.

The procession of Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 relied on the counsel of Bigfoots like James Baker, George Shultz, Paul Nitze, Brent Scowcroft, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Frank Carlucci, and Robert Gates. This cohort, some of whom also worked for Democratic presidents, is behind us. Their shoes haven’t been filled.

There is a parallel diminishment of national security experience and talent on Capitol Hill. If Trump offers Senator Bob Corker the job of Secretary of State, the next person in line to run the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be Jim Risch, an American First-er in the tradition of another Chairman from Idaho during the interwar years, William Borah. Borah opposed U.S. entry into the League of Nations and hewed to isolationism as war clouds gathered in Europe.

This is not just a Republican or a Democratic problem; it’s an American problem. Trump’s consiglieres are Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie. On national security, he speaks highly of “America’s angriest general,” Mike Flynn, and John Bolton. If we are fortunate, Trump will seek and persuade the likes of Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, to join his team.


  1. Mike F (History)

    “I didn’t fully factor in Clinton fatigue, Russian hacking, James Comey, and Julian Assange”

    You also didn’t fully factor in the double-edged sword of decades of identity politics playing out to their logical conclusion, war-fatigue in the lower classes who have to actually fight the wars started by the elites (Trump’s anti-war message resonated deeply even if that was not acknowledged except in passing – I specifically direct you to his primary campaign in South Carolina where he excoriated the Bush dynasty for the Iraq War – and beat Jeb), and a significant fraction of the wage-earning class having been economically crushed over the past 40 years with nothing in return other than PTSD for their children who enlisted, a SNAP card, along with mockery, denigration, and an endless supply of tweets from the elites calling them stupid.

    On the flip side, we can and do all hope your surprise with Reagan is repeated in this case. If this new president actually does want to shake the country out of the policy stasis in which it has been entrenched for 16 years, then a thoughtful set of measures to revitalize the way we step back further from the nuclear weapons enterprise might get a hearing. We won’t see a ban, but we might see another step function reduction in warheads. For instance, getting the arms control community to rally behind the MOX facility in South Carolina as a pathway for plutonium disposition might be a great first step which could be couched in terms of job creation as well as arms control.

  2. Dave (History)

    I wonder what the odds are that Trump will continue to make overtures toward Russia. If he does, perhaps current bad relations will improve and we will have dodged a second cold war. One can hope…

  3. Aaron Upright (History)

    Hmmm, maybe less articles on how Pakistanis should run our country is in MK’s future. Less condesension and not many more patronizing articles delivered in the Headmaster tone? Who says that a Trump Presidency will be bad.

  4. mantej (History)

    In the mean time, India Just signed Nuclear deal with Japan. NSG membership is not that far away either.

  5. FlamesInTheDesert (History)

    Lets just hope that when it comes to Stilson..I mean Trump that life doesnt wind up imitating art or at least this particular movie scene

  6. Chuck Baynton (History)

    Not that it matters very much now, here’s the other thing we didn’t factor in, because (appropriately) we ignore it: the National Enquirer and others of the same stripe. Buying groceries on election day plus 1, there it was in the checkout line. Cover picture of Hillary Clinton, related text


    beneath that “Hillary used “N” word and hates black people,” etc.

    This publication wouldn’t still be around if it didn’t have readers who believe what it says. This year’s winning candidate made obvious efforts to appeal to that readership.

    Chuck Baynton

  7. Tom Burdick (History)

    Instincts are the biggest driver when we make choices, not gender, education, race, etc.

    When there is no incumbent, every voter is voting for some kind of change, and voting for personal qualities. The candidate that offers the safest and most promising change will win.

    Hillary was only able to protect Obama’s legacy. That legacy has been constantly eroding for years, witness the Republican gains in Congress. Her campaign was always fatally flawed.

    That is why Sanders did so well, he offered believable change.

    Many voters reached for a change back to a more orderly society. All the rioting in support of the Black Lives Matter nonsense was seen as sympathetic of Hillary.

    Finally, when we hire someone, we look for personal qualities such as work ethic, energy, boldness and drive. Clearly, Trump outworked Hillary and that quality trumped all of his weaknesses.

    Trump has minimal foreign policy knowledge but he has spent a lifetime surrounding himself with good counsel. He will likely be less a Reagan-style ideologue and more of an adviser-driven centrist.

  8. Bradley Laing (History)

    Researchers find traces of nuclear tests in the Arctic Ocean

    Russian oceanographers who conducted research off the western coast of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago have established that radionuclides that polluted the island after a series of nuclear tests in the 1960s are gradually washed into the Arctic Ocean, RIA Novosti reported, citing the journal Oceanology.
    “Analysis of ice samples from the northern ice dome of Novaya Zemlya has not yet revealed any high radioactivity areas. However, our research has produced information about a glacier we did not study before and has identified the layer that is contaminated by radioactive materials,” said Alexei Miroshnikov from the Moscow-based Institute of Geology of Ore Deposits, Petrography, Mineralogy and Geochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences (IGEM RAS)


  9. Bradley Laing (History)

    ISLAMABAD — Pakistan on Tuesday unveiled a very low frequency (VLF) communication facility that will enable it to communicate with deployed submarines.

    Mansoor Ahmed, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center and expert on Pakistan’s nuclear program and delivery systems, said the facility is vital for command and control of submarines carrying a nuclear deterrent patrol, and the announcement essentially confirms Pakistan has established a preliminary, sea-based arm of its nuclear deterrent.

    “The Naval Strategic Force Command inaugurated in 2012 is now closer to being the custodian of the country’s second-strike capability,” he said.