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Consider what is, for the moment, an entirely hypothetical question: What might U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis do if he received an order from President Donald Trump to launch a nuclear attack on North Korea in retaliation, say, for a hydrogen-bomb test that had gone awry?Certainly, Mattis could try to talk the president out of the attack, if he thought the action was unwise. Research reveals some fascinating instances when another erratic president, Richard Nixon, was checked by his subordinates.Nixon wanted to retaliate militarily, as did his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger.Nixon could make mercurial, intemperate statements, much like Trump.The next morning, while being briefed on carrier movement, Nixon asked Kissinger if "anything else" happened. Kissinger said, "No," and Nixon answered "Good". The vice president will take over, unless two-thirds of the House and Senate back the president.As the Nixon stories show, even the most willful presidents usually end up listening to Pentagon advice.
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