Clinton and Trump audition to be commander-in-chief

While neither Clinton nor Trump offer hope for dramatic change in US policy towards Middle East, both come across as more credible than Libertarian Party can­didate Gary Johnson.

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with Today show co-anchor Matt Lauer at the NBC Commander-In-Chief Forum at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum in New York, on September 7th.


2016/09/11 Issue: 72 Page: 19


The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb



Washington - The major party nominees for election to be presi­dent of the United States — Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump — auditioned for the role of commander-in-chief, the respon­sibility that many, including most former presidents, call the most im­portant aspect of the job.

Clinton and Trump each answered questions put to them by a modera­tor from NBC News and from an au­dience of US military veterans for 30 minutes on September 7th. The can­didates were not on stage — the deck of the US Navy’s decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Intrepid in New York harbour — at the same time.

Each candidate offered reasons they would be the better command­er-in-chief: Clinton emphasised her “steadiness” and “temperament”, a clear effort to draw a contrast with the mercurial Trump. For his part, Trump said the fact he had “built a great company” and had “travelled all over the world” has given him “great judgment”. Throughout the campaign, Trump has touted his business success as evidence of his qualifications for being president.

Clinton tried to reassure liberals in her party by declaring that the use of force “is a last resort, not a first choice” and pledged that she would never send US ground troops to Iraq or Syria, although she did not rule out special forces or air support — essentially, a continuation of US President Barack Obama’s policies.

Neither Clinton nor Trump offered any ideas about how to end the civil war in Syria but, for the first time in the campaign, Clinton said that one of her goals as president would be to capture or kill Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Trump said he has a “secret plan” to destroy ISIS but gave no hints as to what that plan involved, saying it is better if a president is “unpre­dictable”. The real estate magnate did say that in his first 30 days in of­fice he would solicit an alternative plan “from my generals” and com­pare their plan to his and choose the option he thinks is best. Trump has said on the campaign trail that “I know more about ISIS than the generals” but he seems willing to at least consider their advice.

Clinton defended her support for US military action against Lib­ya in 2011 when she was secretary of State, claiming that the US and NATO intervention “saved lives” and helped prevent Libya from be­coming “like Syria”. In fact, Libya has suffered from five years of inter­nal conflict, has no broadly accepted government and has become the North African outpost for ISIS.

On the issue of preventing po­tential ISIS terrorism in the United States, Clinton said an “intelligence surge” is needed, as well as greater intelligence cooperation between the United States and its European allies and better coordination of in­formation between federal agencies and local police. She repeated her argument that anyone on the US ter­rorism watch list should be prevent­ed from legally purchasing guns and ammunition. Clinton also pledged to work with high-tech Silicon Val­ley to devise ways to “disrupt ISIS in the battle of ideas”.

The former secretary of State of­fered continued support for the nu­clear agreement with Iran — “it has made the world safer” — and said she would enforce it “to the limit”, presumably a reference to the use of military force. She said the real threat posed by Iran was not nuclear but rather its activities in Syria and Yemen and its support of Hezbollah.

Trump was not asked about ei­ther domestic terrorism or Iran and offered no comments on his own. Other than promoting his “secret plan” to defeat ISIS, Trump spent much of his allotted time criticising Clinton and the Obama administra­tion. He said that under Obama, America’s generals have been “re­duced to rubble”, that the US inter­vention in Libya was “a terrible mis­take” and that current Secretary of State John Kerry is a “total disaster”.

He also said that he would be “a lot slower to go to war” than Clinton would be and repeated his argument that the United States should have seized control of Iraq’s oil fields in 2003 because “to the victor go the spoils”. Seizing the oil, he said, would have prevented the rise of ISIS.

Much of the commentary after the forum focused on Trump’s contin­ued espousal of close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said Putin was a stronger leader than Obama and that Pu­tin shares the US goal of defeating ISIS, so “wouldn’t it be wonderful to work together”?

Trump may have inadvertently revealed the true reason for his em­brace of the authoritarian Russian leader: Noting that Putin has re­ferred to him as “brilliant”, Trump said: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”

The candidates’ first face-to-face debate is scheduled for September 26th.

While neither Clinton nor Trump offered hope for a dramatic change in US policy towards the Middle East, both came across as more credible than Libertarian Party can­didate Gary Johnson, who in some polls is winning as much as 15% of the vote. Asked on September 8th what he would do to help Aleppo, he replied, “What is Aleppo?”


Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.


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