By: Harry C. Blaney III & John Gall
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took the opportunity to elaborate on national security issues at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum on Wednesday night. He also made statements recently, some off the cuff and others scripted, that we will report. Let’s review what each candidate said on a variety of topics, along with some analysis:
ON FIGHTING ISIS:
Hilary Clinton – “We have to defeat ISIS. That is my highest counterterrorism goal. And we’ve got to do it with air power. We’ve got to do it with much more support for the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground against ISIS… We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we’re not putting ground troops into Syria. We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.”
Donald Trump – ” Well, the generals under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have not been successful…and I can just see the great — as an example- General George Patton spinning in his grave as ISIS we can’t beat.”
” But when I do come up with a plan that I like and that perhaps agrees with mine, or maybe doesn’t — I may love what the generals come back with. I will convene…”
Commentary – Clinton outlined a foreign policy strategy similar to how the Obama administration is handling the conflict in Syria. From this plan, the key to success in military conflicts is the use of strategic air strikes, cooperation with allies, and the provision of military supplies and tactical training via support troops on the ground to aid local allied entities in achieving victory. The use of the phrase “ground troops” is a bit of a misnomer, as the United States currently has troops deployed on the ground to serve in a support and training role with allied factions in Syria and Iraq. A promise of no more US combatant troops in the conflict region was most likely Clinton’s intention, if she’s continuing to follow the strategy laid out by the current administration.
Trump’s criticism of the current administration’s efforts against ISIS was centered on an inability to win the fight in a manner similar to General Patton or MacArthur, as today’s military leadership is too politically correct to take the necessary actions for victory. Such a critique makes Trump come off as a candidate who fails to grasp the toll of American military and local civilian lives by adapting a more heavy-handed approach to Syria. Trump’s secret plan to defeat ISIS was also put into question by moderator Matt Lauer when he pointed to Trump’s thoughtless announcement on Tuesday to convene his generals and give them 30 days to submit a plan to defeat the Islamic State. The Republican nominee muddled between weighing the strengths of his supposed plan and the generals’ and stressing the importance of not divulging details lest they be used by listening ISIS members. In fact, Trump either has no plan at all or his plan is of such stupidity and recklessness that he and has staff do not want it to see the light of day before the election.
Overall, Clinton laid out a more comprehensive strategy that echoed President Obama’s current course with a minor gaffe between ground and combatant troops. Trump used the questions about the conflict in Syria and Iraq to lob criticism at his opponent and the current administration while failing to set forth any tangible alternative plans.
ON VA QUALITY, VETERAN SUICIDES, AND SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE MILITARY:
Hillary Clinton – ” I have been very clear about the necessity for doing whatever is required to move the V.A. into the 21st century, to provide the kind of treatment options that our veterans today desperately need and deserve … But I will not let the V.A. be privatized. And I do think there is an agenda out there, supported by my opponent, to do just that.”
” twenty suicides a day… And I’ve spent a lot of time with family members, survivors, who’ve lost a loved one after he or she came home, sometimes suffering from PTSD or TBI or sexual assault, being handed bags of opioids, not being given an appropriate treatment to help that particular person, which is something, to go back to the sergeant’s question, we have to change.”
Donald Trump – ” Vets are waiting six days, seven days, eight days. And by the way, Hillary Clinton six months ago said the vets are being treated essentially just fine, there’s no real problem, it’s over-exaggerated. She did say that.”
” Under a part of my plan, if they have that long wait, they walk outside, they go to the local doctor, they choose the doctor, they choose the hospital, whether it’s public or private, they get themselves better… We will pay the bill. They go outside, they get a doctor, they get a prescription, they do what they have to do, and we pay the bill.”
“And actually it’s 22. And it’s almost impossible to conceive that this is happening in our country, 20 to 22 people a day are killing themselves.”
Matt Lauer: ” In 2013, on this subject, you tweeted this, quote, “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military, only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?””
Trump: ” Well, it is — it is — it is a correct tweet. There are many people that think that that’s absolutely correct.”
Commentary – On the topic of the Department of Veteran Affairs, both candidates expressed an urgent need to improve the quality of care given to returning soldiers, while making a political jab at their opponent. Trump pointed out Clinton’s claim earlier this year that the 2014 VA Scandal was not “as widespread as it has been made to be,” in which Clinton cited three surveys expressing general satisfaction by a majority of veterans after receiving care from the VA. However, such data only covers post-care vets and fails to take into account the major concerns raised at the Phoenix VA in excessive wait time and over-scheduling. Since then, the Clinton campaign has shifted its position in expressing an urgency to improve the quality and delivery of VA care.
Clinton’s criticism against Trump on his desire to privatize the VA reflects some Republican desire to shift much of the VA’s health service to the private for-profit sector. It does raise a valid concern of increasing the role of the private sector in Veteran Affairs benefits. Trump supports veteran access to private health care if distance from a VA medical facility or over booking makes it difficult for veterans to receive public care which is already being done in some cases. The involvement with the private sector could increase overall costs for VA services compared to an expansion of public-provided services.
Trump and Clinton both expressed concerns on the high suicide rate among US veterans. Although Clinton’s 20 suicides per day figure is more updated than Trump’s rate of 22, the two presidential candidates didn’t express contrasting positions on improving veteran suicide prevention.
On the subject of sexual assault within the military, Trump stuck to his previous comments linking the high level of unreported assaults to the mixing of men and women in the armed forces and suggested a need to establish a more effective court system within the military. Trump’s continued assertion is flawed, as it fails to take into account the under reported male-on-male sexual assaults that comprised 53 percent of cases found in a 2012 Pentagon report.
ON GOOD JUDGMENT
Hillary Clinton – “Look, I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake. And I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake. I also believe that it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes”
” Now, my opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn’t. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it… He refuses to take responsibility for his support. That is a judgment issue.”
” With respect to Libya, again, there’s no difference between my opponent and myself. He’s on record extensively supporting intervention in Libya, when Gadhafi was threatening to massacre his population. I put together a coalition that included NATO, included the Arab League, and we were able to save lives. We did not lose a single American in that action.”
Donald Trump – ” Well, I think the main thing is I have great judgment. I have good judgment. I know what’s going on. I’ve called so many of the shots. And I happened to hear Hillary Clinton say that I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq. From a — you can look at Esquire magazine from ’04. You can look at before that.”
” She made a terrible mistake on Libya. And the next thing, I mean, not only did she make the mistake, but then they complicated the mistake by having no management once they bombed you know what out of Gadhafi. I mean, she made a terrible mistake on Libya. And part of it was the management aftereffect. I think that we have great management talents, great management skills.” ….” What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly — when they call it intelligence, it’s there for a reason — what our experts said to do. ”
COMMENTARY – Clinton and Trump identified a sense of good judgment as an essential skill in being an effective Commander-in-Chief. Trump cited Clinton’s support of the invasion of Iraq and military intervention in Libya as poor judgment and contrasted it to his opposition to both military actions. Although this made for a good soundbite, Trump’s argument falls apart when one actually fact-checks his opposition to both decisions. Clinton was correct in pointing out Trump’s initial support to the Iraq War with an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show in 2002. Clinton also claimed that Trump supported intervention in Libya and in the lead-up to the first US bombings; Trump did in fact express emphatic support for military action. In another flawed example of proper judgment, Trump criticized President Obama’s decision to continue withdrawal of troops from Iraq. This remark is somewhat perplexing, considering Trump suggested a need to remove US military presence from Iraq during an interview with CNBC in 2006.
These three examples that Trump gave of having a superior sense of judgment over Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were bald-faced lies that Trump has made multiple times at other public events. Unfortunately, moderator Matt Lauer failed to follow up on Trump’s dubious claims and allowed the Republican nominee to get away with blatantly false statements in front of a national audience.
The one serious fault of the program was the lack of focus on the truly key strategic and security issues. These include Putin’s aggression and acts of war in Syria, dealing with China including the South China Sea actions, the use of nuclear weapons (which Trump said earlier he would use). Likewise the session did not address Climate change that the CIA list as a security threat, nor the problem of global poverty, and not least the criticism and ignorance about by Trump of NATO’s role, or his support of both Brexit which divides Europe, and a admiring a dictator like Putin which is a danger to our allies security. The program was an opportunity missed and badly managed.