The Man in Charge of Our Nuclear Weapons

For his Energy Secretaries, President Obama chose physicists. Asked if his background in science helped him make decisions as Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu said “All the time.” That won’t be an option for Donald Trump’s nominee, former Texas governor Rick Perry, whose education is limited to a Bachelors degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M where he received ‘D’s’ in classes as varied as Veterinary Anatomy, Feeds & Feeding, Writing for Professional Men, and “Meats.”

And that could be a problem when it comes time to set policy for our nuclear arsenal.

“There’s no end of mischief they could cause for the stockpile,” Mr. [John] Pike, [the director of the think tank GlobalSecurity.org and one of the most experienced security analysts in the field] said, referring to Mr. Trump and Mr. Perry, and pointing to the confusion and concern that followed the Twitter post by the president-elect.

Mr. Pike was withering in his criticism of Mr. Perry’s ability to act as a knowledgeable counterweight to Mr. Trump. “Perry’s got no idea which end the bullet comes out of,” he said. “He’s not somebody who’s going to say no to the president.”

One major concern is that Perry will come under pressure to resume underground testing of our nuclear weapons for the first time since 1992.

“If people are talking to a nonscientist, there might be a temptation to BS him,” Mr. Chu said. One advantage of being a scientist in those meetings, he said, was that “I refuse to be BS’ed.”

There are people, mostly conservatives, who are concerned that we can’t verify that our nuclear bombs will actually work using supercomputers, inspections and simulations alone. And they will use the cost of this program to argue for setting off nuclear bombs as the only sure way to assure their reliability.

But they won’t go unrebutted.

“It would be unbelievably stupid of us to start testing again,” said Burton Richter, a physics Nobel laureate and emeritus professor at Stanford who has advised presidential administrations since the 1970s.

If the United States resumes underground testing, other nations will likely follow suit.

Some experts fear that if the United States began testing again, it would risk a new arms race by opening the door to testing for many other countries that want to improve or develop nuclear arsenals.

When he was a presidential candidate in 2012, Rick Perry famously forgot which cabinet departments he wanted to shutter, including the Department of Energy. He probably didn’t even realize at that time that most of the department’s budget is dedicated to our nuclear weapons, and now he is expected to head that agency despite having zero familiarity with the relevant issues.

He’s in no position to question what scientists tell him, and his record of taking his studies seriously is not strong.

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Here’s a reminder of what Rick Perry said about the candidacy of Donald Trump:

“[Trump] offers a barking carnival act that can best be described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued…”

“Let no one be mistaken Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised, and discarded. It cannot be pacified or ignored for it will destroy a set of principles that has lifted more people out of poverty than any force in the history of the civilized world and that is the cause of conservatism.”

Somehow, Trump has managed to overlook those insults and put this man in charge of our nuclear weapons. What’s amazing is that this decision is proof that Perry wasn’t too far off.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.