Unsurprisingly, Sunday’s presidential debate opened with a question on Trump’s “locker room talk” scandal. Neither Trump nor his supporters raised any serious objection. It had to be asked and Trump handled it about as well as anyone could expect to handle his indefensible comments. There is even an argument for it being charitable to Trump to open the debate with it, allowing him to address it and get it out of the way, instead of it hanging over the debate like a Sword of Damocles, waiting to torpedo any momentum Trump might have built later in the evening. John King made exactly that argument for why he opened a presidential debate with a Newt Gingrich scandal back in 2012.
And while the “debate” never got far out of the gutter for long, the two candidates did manage to move on and discuss other issues, one of which is getting surprisingly little emphasis from the media or the public at large: the candidates’ positions on Syria and Russia. Here, we have one of the few genuine issues of substance upon which the candidates fundamentally disagree, one far more important than any idiotic statements either of them may have made when they thought no one was listening.
Clinton has stuck by her position that deposing the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria is a foreign policy priority for the U.S. She has not backed away from her support for a no fly zone over Syria, despite Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford’s unqualified statement that it would “require us to go to war” with Russia.
Maybe my priorities are out of whack, but that seems important, more important than anything Donald Trump said on Billy Bush’s recording. Yet, the Daily Caller seems to be the only news outlet to have even covered Dunford’s statement. From CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox: crickets.
There are two problems with Clinton’s Syria position, shared by the most of the so-called political establishment of both parties. First, U.S. taxpayers derive no benefit from interfering in the Syrian civil war. Certainly, the Assad government has committed no overt acts of war against the United States. And the “humanitarian” argument rings just a little hollow while the U.S. continues to support the Royal House of Saud, whose human rights record isn’t much better than ISIS’s.
Besides, how did American taxpayers become financially responsible for the liberty and security of every soul on the planet in the first place?
Even more ominous is Clinton’s antagonism towards Russia. This certainly didn’t start with the Obama administration. There is a good argument the U.S. government, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has been provoking Russia since the day the Soviet Union collapsed. A quick comparison of 1991 and 2016 maps of NATO don’t lend much support to the Putin-as-aggressive-expansionist narrative.
On the contrary, it’s hard to imagine a U.S. president of either party reacting differently if the U.S. had only two warm water ports (for Russia, Tartus, Syria and Sevastopol, Ukraine) and both were in jeopardy from foreign-supported political unrest. Whether Putin’s responses are justified or not, they do not constitute acts of war against the U.S., nor does involvement in these conflicts benefit U.S. taxpayers one iota.
Yet, Clinton is still willing to risk war with a First World nuclear power. This is a war the U.S. managed to avoid through the Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev regimes, when schoolchildren were routinely trained to hide under their desks or against the walls of their classrooms in the event of a nuclear missile strike.
Isn’t anyone in the least concerned about this? How do American voters imagine such a conflict would end? Worse than if they had to endure a foul-mouthed president for four years?
For all of Trump’s personal shortcomings, wrongheaded economic ideas, and odious positions on civil liberties, he has a number of reasonable positions on foreign policy. In Sunday’s debate, when confronted with running mate Mike Pence’s more bellicose remarks during the vice presidential debate a few days earlier, Trump stood his ground, saying “He and I haven’t spoken and I disagree,” something no other politician would do without a convoluted attempt to obscure the rift.
For a brief moment, this crude, obnoxious egotist seemed very much like the brave, anti-establishment hero his supporters so desperately want him to be. And whatever else he is, he’s generally right about America’s foreign policy stance towards Russia.