CNN / YouTube Trump to Kim Jong Un My...
CNN / YouTube

The false missile threat alert in Hawaii Saturday sent White House aides into a tizzy, “frantically phoning agencies to determine a response,” according to Politico. But then did you expect that a White House that didn’t know how to turn on the lights last January, nor set up a conference call Friday, would actually be ready to deal with a possible threat of nuclear war?

President Donald Trump’s Cabinet has yet to test formal plans for how to respond to a domestic missile attack, according to a senior administration official. John Kelly, while serving as Secretary of Homeland Security through last July, planned to conduct the exercise. But he left his post to become White House chief of staff before it was conducted, and acting secretary Elaine Duke never carried it out.

The administration ran the exercise on Dec. 19 at the deputies’ level, at the behest of Kelly and newly sworn in Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen. But as of Saturday, when Hawaii residents were taking cover, the federal government had yet to play out the same scenario with Cabinet secretaries at what is known as the principals level.

“The U.S. government hasn’t tested these plans in 30 years,” said the senior administration official involved in the White House response. “All the fresh faces sitting around the table in the situation room have little idea what their roles would be in this scenario. The bottom line is that without a principals level exercise we shouldn’t have any confidence that the Cabinet would know what to do in an attack scenario.”

Previous administrations were busy keeping world peace through diplomatic channels and concentrating on nonproliferation, not antagonizing foreign countries with nuclear capability, let alone threatening to wipe them off the face of the earth. If that’s the stance this administration is going to take, then perhaps It is high time that a principals level exercise take place so that the country can be protected; especially in light of the fact that the Nitwit in Chief has done nothing but provoke his opposite number in North Korea, child dictator Kim Jung Un. Last summer when Trump made his now infamous “fire and fury” comment efforts were made to apprise Trump of the severity of the situation at hand. Washington Post:

“North Korea right now is the most dangerous place on the face of the planet,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said on ABC’s “This Week.” Cruz said of Kim, “He is radical, he is unpredictable, he is extreme, and he is getting more and more dangerous weapons.”

Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, warned that Trump’s tweets could foul up his otherwise respectable plan to get tough on North Korea.

“You gotta watch the tweets,” Hayden said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Mr. President, this is not a manhood issue; this is a national security issue. Don’t let your pride get in the way of wise policy here.”

What happened today in Washington, according to Politico, is that the military detected no actual threat and H.R. McMaster briefed Trump on how events unfolded after the fact. That was wise because Trump is useless at best, let alone in an actual crisis, as the botched Hurricane Maria response taught us in no uncertain terms. 

Not only is the Trump administration not ready for any real nuclear threat, it’s basically not geared up for much of anything, in the manner which is usual and customary for an administration 11 months old. This was evident from the beginning. But the real sore thumb, unfortunately, is the Department of Energy, and consequently nuclear readiness. Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair:

By the time I arrived the first eighth of Trump’s first term was nearly complete, and his administration was still, largely, missing. He hadn’t nominated anyone to serve as head of the Patent Office, for instance, or to run FEMA. There was no Trump candidate to head the T.S.A., or anyone to run the Centers for Disease Control. The 2020 national census will be a massive undertaking for which there is not a moment to lose and yet there’s no Trump appointee in place to run it. “The actual government has not really taken over,” says Max Stier. “It’s kindergarten soccer. Everyone is on the ball. No one is at their positions. But I doubt Trump sees the reality. Everywhere he goes everything is going to be hunky-dory and nice. No one gives him the bad news.”

At this point in their administrations Obama and Bush had nominated their top 10 people at the D.O.E. and installed most of them in their offices. Trump had nominated three people and installed just one, former Texas governor Rick Perry. Perry is of course responsible for one of the D.O.E.’s most famous moments—when in a 2011 presidential debate he said he intended to eliminate three entire departments of the federal government. Asked to list them he named Commerce, Education, and … then hit a wall. “The third agency of government I would do away with … Education … the … ahhhh … ahhh … Commerce, and let’s see.” As his eyes bored a hole in his lectern, his mind drew a blank. “I can’t, the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” The third department Perry wanted to get rid of, he later recalled, was the Department of Energy. In his confirmation hearings to run the department Perry confessed that when he called for its elimination he hadn’t actually known what the Department of Energy did—and he now regretted having said that it didn’t do anything worth doing.

The Department of Energy is responsible for the nuclear weapons program and all aspects of nuclear safety, and hopefully Secretary Perry has figured that out by now. Perry knew nothing about his job when he got it. He was one of Trump’s cabinet officials, like Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos, who was appointed to head a department that he basically was antithetical to, in Perry’s case, avowedly antithetical. Perry spent no time at all with his nuclear physicist predecessor attempting to learn. 

Perry has treated the office of Secretary of the Department of Energy as a ceremonial role, which is the way Trump imagined the presidency to be. He was going to win a popularity contest and then just kick back and play King and go to rallies and sell merchandise. Trump has no remote clue of what is really entailed in the job of POTUS although Obama went to great lengths to instruct him as to what the true nature and extent of his new duties really were. Some Republicans as well have attempted to tutor Trump and his cabal in what their duties are and the reality of the immense responsibility that has been undertaken to no avail.  

There used to be a time when “government work” was considered mundane and even duller than the same kind of job in private industry. That was at a time not so long ago when the government actually functioned. In the Trump administration government work translates as work that if it gets done at all, will most probably be done badly. 

Don’t assume that anything is going to really change or get done under the current administration. There is a core of career civil servants in place who are keeping the wheels turning for the moment, but there is no direction coming from the titular chief executive and his cabinet members and minions are basically shooting from the hip and making it all up as they go along.

If any of us truly knew how badly things were being botched in Washington probably none of us would be able to sleep at night. Kindergarten soccer is a good analogy. However, kindergarten doesn’t last four years but this epic ineptitude might. 

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