A few thoughts about Wednesday night’s Commander-in-Chief Forum debacle:
- Hire A Pro: I’m sure Matt Lauer has done a great many brilliant interviews in his career; I’ve seen more than a few of them. But issues of foreign policy and national security are not only arcane, they are also matters of life and death. They require a real expert to run the show. The networks have plenty of such: Martha Raddatz, Richard Engel, Wolf Blitzer—who sometimes stumbles over American politics, but really knows the Middle East. There are others. They should get the call to preside over any foreign policy questions in this very dangerous time. And let me take this one step further: Watching run-of-the-day anchors trying to address these matters, interviewing political guests who know nothing about national security but have a vague, usually wrong, sense of how the candidates’ answers will “play” in the horse race—where do they get these people?—makes my skin crawl. This is American journalism at its very worst.
- A question I wish Matt Lauer had asked Trump: Which is larger, a brigade or a battalion? Yes, it’s demeaning. But Trump has shown absolutely no indication that he knows anything about, well, anything…and if he wants the power to send young Americans off to war, a minimum threshold of knowledge should be required. (By the way, Hillary Clinton most assuredly knows the answer to this—but I’d bet that most Democratic members of Congress don’t.)
- A Follow-Up Question I wish Matt Lauer had asked Trump: You say you want to take Iraq’s oil—from which fields? Would you “take” both the northern and southern fields? Would you have two US occupation forces permanently stationed there? And wouldn’t that be a sort of 21st colonialism? By the way, some knowledge of history would be nice on the moderator’s part: “Taking” Iraq’s oil was Britain’s purpose after World War I. Winston Churchill insisted on including the northern satrapy of Mosul into the fiction known as Iraq because there was oil up there. (Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Commander-in-Chief who could teach the American people history and geography as Franklin Roosevelt did during World War II?)
- And another question I would have asked Trump: If you’re going to keep saying all these nice things about the brutal Russian dictator, shouldn’t you open your tax returns so that we can be sure your position hasn’t been influenced by the Russian oligarchs close to Putin who may have invested in your projects or loaned you money?
- I can’t stand listening to Hillary Clinton anymore. She is graceless, humorless, didactic and condescending. Listening to her lawyer her email answers is akin to the sound of nails scraping a blackboard. Yes, she knows a lot and has the correct disposition for a Commander-in-Chief. And yes, happily—and unlike Trump—she lives on the same planet as most people who work in the diplomatic and national security fields. But she is perpetrating an act of political malpractice for the ages. She is giving voters—at least, those who not members of Democratic interest groups—absolutely no reason to vote for her.
- She’s gotta stop the shorthand. Her blanket pledge not to send American troops to Iraq and Syria—while American troops are in Iraq and Syria–sounded ridiculous, in an almost Trumplike way. Here is what she probably meant to say: “We will continue to deploy advisors and trainers to help our allies in the region, and we will make use of special operators now in the field and drone strikes to get rid of the bad guys, but we’ve learned the folly of a full-scale American invasion in the region. I’ve learned it personally by mistakenly supporting the war in Iraq. The war against ISIS must be a special forces war, with appropriate air support. In the end, unless American security is directly threatened, the fate of these countries should be in the hands of their citizens. We are happy to organize humanitarian and diplomatic support where necessary.”
- Oh, one other thing about Iraq: Almost everyone I know in the military, in the government, in the other regional governments, in the media—including, of course, me—has gotten Iraq wrong at one point or another. The complexity of this plague from hell should be emphasized at all times by the press–whether Donald Trump supported the war or opposed it isn’t nearly as important as his ignorance about the nuances of this issue.
- Hillary Clinton is speaking false gobbledygook about the Department of Veterans Affairs: She is speaking political hack talk imposed on Democratic politicians by public sector unions. Of course, they don’t want the VA privatized: most of the current careless, incompetent bureaucrats would be out of jobs. And of course, the unions don’t want to talk about reforming the civil service system that makes it nearly impossible to fire the incompetent. (To be clear: The professional staff, the doctors and nurses and counselors actually treating our veterans do wonderful work—but getting to them through the morass of bureaucracy is not only causing great frustration, it is also costing lives.) Nobody wants to privatize the entire VA—but veterans should have a choice between the government system and vouchers that would give them immediate access to private health care. (Public school students should have access to alternatives, too, but that’s another issue.) It is always good to remember that the most successful veterans program of all time—the G.I. Bill—was a school voucher system. Clinton needs to make clear that she wants a VA—and a government—that is run for the benefit of our citizens rather than for the comfort of its employees.
I know I’m sounding a bit cranky here, but what I saw last night was appalling. This election is appalling.