Stephens, David: Who’s Schlesinger now? Something that may have happened in the Nixon era could be relevant today

David Stephens

Who’s Schlesinger now? Something that may have happened in the Nixon era could be relevant today‘, Pearls and Irritations, 5 October 2017 updated

Update 19 November 2017: More on this issue in a post from the BBC (with even more at links about Senate discussion). Suggests there is real concern at the prospect of a president going rogue and there has been considerable thought about how to react.

Update 23 October 2017: Matthew Kahn in Foreign Policy looks at the history of arrangements for replacing presidents, including via the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution (presidential disability). He asks how far can President Trump unravel before the 25th Amendment becomes a live option. He is not sanguine.

Update 14 October 2017: more from The Guardian‘s Jonathan Freeland, with some links to other material.

No, the only way to remove Trump is for Democrats to do the hard graft of organising, campaigning and winning elections – starting with the midterms of November 2018. So long as Republicans control the House and Senate, Trump is safe.

I’m glad that Mattis, Kelly and the others are there to grab Trump’s wrist should he reach for the nuclear button. But even that is only a small comfort. A democracy that relies on a group of generals to frustrate an elected leader is in a bad way. The president does indeed pose a clear and present danger to America and the world. But democracy is what put him there – and only democracy can get him out.

Similar from The Guardian‘s Simon Tisdall.

Update 5 October 2017 (5 pm): Republican Senator Bob Corker said on Wednesday Washington time that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly ‘help separate our country from chaos’.

‘I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos, and I support them very much’, the Senator said. He is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Trump reportedly considered him in 2016 for the post of Secretary of State. He is not seeking re-election in 2018.


Most historians believe that President Nixon’s Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, took steps to keep an erratic Nixon away from the nuclear button as his presidency (and Nixon himself) crumbled in 1974. Might something similar happen today?

downloadA naval man carries the ‘football’, 2017 (Getty Images)

195634_600(Cagle/JD Crowe)

References for the article in Pearls and Irritations

Anonymous James Schlesinger – obituary’, The Telegraph (London), 24 March 2014
Broad, William J. & David E. Sanger Debate over Trump’s fitness raises issue of checks on nuclear power’, New York Times, 4 August 2016
Cornwell, Rupert James Schlesinger: US government official who served Nixon and Ford and became the most unpopular director in the CIA’s history’, The Independent (London), 27 March 2014
Graff, Garrett M. The madman and the Bomb’, Politico, 11 August 2017
Kutler, Stanley The imaginings of James R. Schlesinger’, Huffington Post, 1 April 2014
McFadden, Robert D. James R. Schlesinger, willful aide to three presidents, is dead at 85’, New York Times, 27 March 2014
Martin, Caitlin Congress wants to restrict first use of nuclear weapons’, Resistbot, 23 July 2017
National Public Radio Cokie Roberts answers your questions about nuclear protocols’, NPR, 16 August 2017
Rosenbaum, Ron An unsung hero of the nuclear age’, Slate, 28 February 2011
Tamkin, Emily Lawmakers introduce Bill restricting first use of nuclear weapons’, Foreign Policy (Washington), 24 January 2017
Troy, Gil The most patriotic act of treason in American history?Daily Beast, 11 February 2017
Union of Concerned Scientists Factsheet: Limiting the president’s ability to start a nuclear war’ (March 2017)
United States. Congress H.R.669 – Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017
Wellerstein, Alex The president and the Bomb’, Restricted Data: The Nuclear Security Blog, 18 November 2016
Welna, David After Trump’s U.N. speech, some Senators look to reinforce war powers’, NPR, 19 September 2017



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