THREE CARD MONTE

Posted in Rants on January 18th, 2017 by Ed

For those too young to remember the Cold War or who simply didn't bother to retain marginal information for three decades, let me give you a quick run-down on nuclear arms reduction deals. This is important, because the minute he gets into office Trump has announced his intention to cancel economic sanctions on Russia in exchange for reductions in the Russian nuclear stockpile.

If you don't want to read the long version, the short one is that arms reduction deals are a charade. And this one, being essentially a cash-for-arms swap rather than each side decommissioning nuclear weapons in kind, is even worse than most.

There are three reasons why such a deal is terrible even though (by design) it sounds good if you don't understand it. You can already hear him braying about his colossal deal-making skills; Look! I got the Russians to reduce their nuclear stockpile! What a hero I am! Don't be deceived.

1. Arms reduction deals simply reduce the orders of magnitude on a spreadsheet. If Russia has sufficient nuclear warheads to kill every living thing on Earth 30 times over and they agree to reduce that to 20 times over, are we safer? On the far margins, yes. Fewer warheads in the stockpile means fewer that could accidentally go off, be stolen, get lost, and so on. But there is no benefit in the grand scheme. Russia will retain a stockpile of staggering size.

2. Arms reduction deals are to the military what the donation bin is to your wardrobe. They will volunteer to give up the oldest, most obsolete stuff. The things that are more trouble (and more cost) than they're worth in upkeep. A cash-for-arms swap essentially pays them for their old garbage they were probably going to throw out sooner rather than later.

3. When you put your old boots in the donation bin, what's your goal? Is it to help the poor? No, it's to clear out the space occupied by something you no longer want or use. And the best part is that once you've gotten rid of a bunch of old clothes…you can justify buying new ones! History has shown that arms reduction talks are followed immediately by generals lining up, hat in hand, intoning gravely that the nation has a fundamental weakness that needs to be addressed promptly and at staggering cost. "We no longer have (whatever was scrapped)! We are now vulnerable. To fill that gap in our strategic doctrine, we must move full speed ahead on Project Fuck the Taxpayer led by our good friends at Raytheon." Politicians and the public are a pushover for this argument. The arms reductions create the perfect opportunity to warn of Weakness and Vulnerability, the fear of which then easily justifies a new spending spree.

So, in essence, Donald Trump wants to pay the Russians billions of dollars to throw out the obsolete nuclear weapons they no longer want and then, shortly down the road, replace their on-paper strategic value with something new and expensive. Because when you really want a new winter coat, the best way to rationalize it is to donate your oldest coats to the Salvation Army bin and then replace the space they occupied. You're turning old, used coats into a shiny new one. Now imagine that as you're about to dump them in the bin, someone offers you several billion dollars for them. That person is Donald Trump.

But relax, that talk of him being the Kremlin's stooge is just liberal claptrap.