If Trump were to turn those nuclear keys, nothing would happen. In our day, the scenario for World War III is most likely to resemble the plot for Dr. Strangelove. The generals have taken over. Why? Because, the current president has "neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought..."
When it comes to matters concerning foreign policy, agreements, and conflicts, Trump is only in charge of his Twitter account.
This, however, is not to say that the generals have always had little or no influence on executive decisions, have always just been obedient to the wishes and whims and dreams of the commander-in-chief. The US's military budget is not obscenely huge because the generals like to play nice with politicians.
My point is that their integration with executive power has of late diminished considerably. CNN recognizes the fact of this growing separation between the White House and the Pentagon, but describes it in a way that makes it sound normal: Under Obama, the generals had less freedom; under Trump, the generals have much more freedom. Trump is empowering the generals!
CNN writes that:
...the White House's National Security Council — which some at the Pentagon criticized as overbearing in the Obama administration — has seen its power diminished, leaving Pentagon officials to describe a more streamlined decision-making process with fewer White House-crafted hoops to jump through on some military decisions. The CIA, too, has been empowered by Trump, regaining the authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists — actions President Barack Obama chose to personally authorize via the military.
CNN is doing all it can to not say what is really going on here: This is a soft coup. The generals will not give Trump any power because they do not trust him. They trusted Obama. He was an expert. He consulted experts. He took reality into account when making his decisions. He had an "inclination for strategic thought." In fact, Pentagon's current strategy for defeating ISIS in the context of the ongoing Syrian war looks a lot like the one Obama crafted when the generals supposedly had much less freedom. So, Trump did not give the generals freedom; they took it from him.
To get a good sense of the current situation, you only have to read this excellent piece in the right-wing website The American Conservative (I mostly read right-wing intellectuals when it comes to military and geopolitical issues), "Tillerson and Mattis Cleaning Up Kushner’s Middle East Mess." The military was blindsided by Trump's recent tweet about how Qatar, which has been ostracized by Saudi Arabia and its allies, supported terrorism. The generals correctly views the country as a more reliable ally than Saudi Arabia. Obama would have seen this, and worked with the generals and experts to shape a reality-based response to the crisis. But what do you get with Trump?
The American Conservative writes that:
Rex Tillerson’s aides... were convinced that the true author of Trump’s statement [tweet] was U.A.E. ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a close friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. “Rex put two-and-two together,” his close associate says, “and concluded that this absolutely vacuous kid was running a second foreign policy out of the White House family quarters. Otaiba weighed in with Jared and Jared weighed in with Trump. What a mess.”As the State Department cleans that mess, the "U.S. military praises Qatar, despite Trump tweet." The generals are not having it.
Why is all of this so depressing? Because there are many of us on the left who think Trump is so bad and dangerous that the idea of a military coup does not sound like the worst thing in the world. After all, the US army does believe in climate change and its consequences.