PRESIDENTIAL SECOND DEBATE: RISING BEYOND THE SORDID AND INTO SUBSTANCE?


By Harry C. Blaney III

The debate on Sunday night October 9th was one of the most depressing debates on record. The personal invective and behavior of Trump and avoidance of any positive elements or real substance made for an ugly debate and loss of time to address many foreign affairs key issues. This debate only confirmed that this format is a disaster and did not permit the candidates to fully address most of the key issues America and our allies face in a landscape filled with complex choices, instability, nuclear weapons and many high risks.

This debate started focusing on Trump’s previous behavior, but the debate made a new low in American politics. Trump brought up sordid elements that debased himself and dominated much of the debate. What it also clearly demonstrated was that Trump is unfit even as a decent human being, let alone fit to be Commander-in-Chief with his finger on the nuclear button.

Moderators permitted Trump especially to use his time and interfered with Clinton’s time to let him do inflammatory and off subject general personal attack statements. These included: Trump threatened to jail Clinton…….he said about e-mails: “You’d be in jail.” About Clinton and Obama, Trump said “Never been so many lies, so much deception….never been anything like this.”

He added “She has tremendous hate in her heart.” He said he would instruct “a Special Prosecutor to look into [her] situation” against Hillary. Trump also invoked extreme religious reference when expressing his shock of Bernie’s support for Clinton as “I was so surprised to see him sign on with the devil.” How does any of this help American understanding of key issues like nuclear weapons or climate change?

The thought that he might gain the power to send US forces mindlessly into harm’s way and alienating ourselves permanently through reckless actions, which he has already done from the statements of many key leaders around the world (as seen in our post on Voices Beyond Our Borders), is very disturbing. But his behavior in his personal life has already proved that he has no internal moral core, which should be a vital precondition for anyone to head the American government domestically or globally. His actions as well as his words all indicate that the man is either very stupid or mentally unbalanced. The debate only reinforced this judgement.

As for Clinton, on foreign and national security issues, she showed again a command of the issues and the problems the US faces abroad. But there was little time to get into details.

The problem with both the questions and the moderators, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz from ABC, were that once again they did not get into or demand any real depth on most of these issues. Rather they permitted repeated statements by Trump to avoid any questions of his behavior and his substantive policies. They let Trump ramble on off topic statements while cutting off Clinton. This made the debate a bit more one sided than it would be with some real, fair discipline. They let Trump repeatedly interrupt Clinton even as she talked on serious issues. In sum, the candidates were not challenged or forced to reply to the questions asked except in one case, so we lost much insight about topics of great significance.

Perhaps the greatest cost of this display of utter coarseness and continued show of hate for much the world’s people especially women, Muslims, Latin Americans and beyond has threatened respect for and willingness to follow our leadership. How can anyone who is a true decent leader look to this brute of a man ever and give any respect or believe in his word? That does not and will not happen with Obama and nor for Clinton. Trump’s  dark and brutish gutter talk only deepens fear abroad.  His behavior along with his attacks and false accusations only contributed  to the sense around the world that America itself has lost its way. People of substance abroad are asking how American politics could produce such a man of such abhorrent quality.

Looking at a Few  Key Subjects That Were Raised or Not Raised with Commentary :

General Foreign Policy and Security:

This needs little commentary:

Trump cited “stupidity” of our foreign policy, but refused to give much specifics of how or what he would do.

Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control:

There was almost nothing said on nuclear weapons or arms control. The blame lies with the commentators and the networks that ran this debate that avoided real strategic issues and what direction they would take.

Trump – “But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear.”

Clinton – “I think wherever we can cooperate with Russia, that’s fine. And I did as secretary of state. That’s how we got a treaty reducing nuclear weapons [referencing coarsest New START treaty]. It’s how we got the sanctions on Iran that put a lid on the Iranian nuclear program without firing a single shot.”

Terrorism, Syria and Domestic Security Policy:

Trump once again took up terrorism as an attack in response to a question about hate statements about Muslims. Trump brought up again “extreme vetting” again citing the example of the refugees from Syria.

Clinton on the other hand made a strong case of accepting Muslims and not discriminating while saying that ISIS would be defeated and Trump played into the hands of terrorists. Clinton defended Syrian refugees while bringing them under tougher vetting.

On the question of Syria, Clinton said the situation was catastrophic and noted in the Aleppo bombing there is Russian determination to destroy Aleppo. She reaffirmed the need for a safe zone, that we need leverage over Russia, and to work with partners on the ground. Regarding the aggressiveness of Russia, she said that she stood up to Putin. She added that we should continue diplomacy and would hold Russia accountable for humanitarian crimes.

Trump did take up ISIS in the context of Syria and other nations like Libya but did little to enlighten onlookers with specifics of how he would address the multiplicity of terrorism threats. He gave the impression that he would be more aggressive without much specifics on how and at what risk or costs.  Clinton did outline how she would deal with ISIS in Syria. She also noted that progress against ISIS was being made in both Syria and Iraq without putting our troops into danger.

Key quotes are:

Donald Trump – “I think Aleppo is a disaster, humanitarian-wise…I think that it basically has fallen”

Hillary Clinton – “I do think that there is a good chance that we can take Mosul….I would go after Baghdadi. I would specifically target Baghdadi, because I think our targeting of Al Qaeda leaders – and I was involved in a lot of those operations, highly classified ones – made a difference… I would also consider arming the Kurds. The Kurds have been our best partner in Syria, as well as Iraq.”

Building The Wall on Mexico’s Border and Relations with Latin America and US Latinos:

The coverage of this topic was, except for building “a strong border,” not deeply addressed and neither were the means and costs addressed except Trump said, as he has in the past, keep illegal immigrants out and send them back.

Donald Trump – “We’re going to have borders in our country, which we don’t have now…We have many criminal illegal aliens. When we want to send them back to their country, their country says we don’t want them. In some cases, they’re murderers, drug lords, drug problems. And they don’t want them. And Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state, said that’s OK, we can’t force it into their country. Let me tell you, I’m going to force them right back into their country. They’re murders and some very bad people.”

The Russia-Putin Challenge: NATO, Ukraine, Syria and Defense of Europe and EU Unity:

There was only very short mentions about Russia and Putin. There was no policy or specific approaches discussed or really asked by the unenlightened and unbalanced moderators. Clinton noted broadly she would be tough on Putin’s aggression. Trump, against reports to the contrary, said he had no interests in Russia. Other documents show Russian investors and his staff included a key advisor who helped the Russian-backed Ukrainian President as a political advisor. When Clinton said he could prove this by releasing his taxes, Trump went on an attack against Clinton not related to Russian influence.

International Trade, Global Economic Policy and Global Poverty and Inequality:

Trump again went after TTP and demonstrated he might close much of our trade with large parts of the world. Clinton did not engage in this subject in any specific way. Global poverty and inequality were never mentioned.

Climate Change and other Environmental Issues:

This topic was never really addressed. The only mention was in relation to the issue of the energy industry. Trump said he would support clean energy but clearly was in favor of expanding coal and other fossil fuels. Clinton argued in favor of using natural gas as a transition to reliance on green energy, which would help address the serious problem of climate change.

Asia: North Korea, China, Japan, South China Sea, South-East Asia Pakistan- India Conflict and Africa:

These topics were not asked about by the moderators and the subjects never came up in substance

We welcome your comments which can be posted here.

Visit our regularly up-dated Race to the White House section covering quotes, foreign affairs statements and policies of the presidential campaign candidates and parties.

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