According to the New York Times, Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, presidential aspirant, and now Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy, um, didn’t know what the Department of Energy does when he accepted Trump’s nomination. “Sure I’ll be Ambassador for Oil and Gas,” he said. Twitter is meeting this revelation with humor and “We’re all going to die.”
In a better world, like the one we’ve been living in the past eight years, Cabinet secretaries actually know something about the organizations they are leading. It’s time to disrupt that fusty idea. We have Betsy DeVos, who wants to eliminate public education, as Education Secretary, a fast-food executive as Labor Secretary, and so on. Rick Perry has advocated eliminating the Department of Energy, so he was the natural pick.
Does that mean we are all going to die? That’s not so much the purview of the Energy Secretary. The President has a military guy who carries around the “football,” which is the most immediate starter of nuclear wars. As far as policy goes, the Secretaries of State and Defense have much more to say about starting wars nuclear and conventional. And, surprisingly for this administration, they actually seem to have responsible views on nuclear weapons. Here are excerpts from James Mattis’s and Rex Tillerson’s testimony to Congress. They are quite different from what Donald Trump has tweeted, and much more like the policies that Obama has followed.
Mattis almost says something that the arms control community has wanted to hear from the president:
the role of nuclear weapons is “[t]o deter nuclear war and to serve as last resort weapons of self-defense.”
Change that to
the only role of nuclear weapons is “[t]o deter nuclear war and to serve as last resort weapons of self-defense.”
and a lot of arms-controllers would be very happy.
The Secretary of Energy is in charge of building and maintaining nuclear weapons, so there is some concern about accidents and such, but fortunately it will not be Rick Perry handling the wrenches or working the gloveboxes. A big downside of someone like Perry is that there is no way he can play the role Ernie Moniz did in developing the nuclear agreement with Iran.
In her hearing to be Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley also made some sense. When questioned by senators on her apparent difference with Trump, she said that Cabinet members hope to influence him. Now the question is how much influence Mattis and Tillerson will have on their boss.
Perry’s hearing will be held today and streamed live. I may live-tweet it. Ten questions for Perry from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to which most American scientists belong. Photo from there.
This post also appears at Balloon Juice.