Watching the presidential debate last night, as always, was a difficult thing to stomach. Preparing for and watching these things is like going in for a colonoscopy. You know you should probably do it from time to time for good measure, but at the end of the day, whether a colonoscopy or a presidential debate, it’s a shitty spectacle and an ordeal that will leave those subjected to it walking funny for the next few days.
Then again, these things do have a degree of entertainment value. Considering that with just one vote to cast (which may or may not even count), there is very little that you can do about these things anyway, it is sometimes worth it to just take a step back and enjoy the show. In this regard, I am reminded of the words of a regional governor in Russia at the end of the 1990s or early 2000s, a time when the central government was reasserting itself after a decade-long period of relative ineptitude. When it became clear that this region was going to be losing some of the autonomy it had enjoyed in those years and when asked why he wasn’t doing more to fight these federal incursions he responded – “when rape becomes inevitable, you should relax and try to derive maximum pleasure.” That’s probably the most appropriate attitude one can have about watching these sorts of debates.
Leaving my general distaste for political spectacles aside, this one was better than the previous one. Trump went after Clinton more effectively and didn’t allow himself to be diverted as often from his own talking points. There were a few good zingers here and there, as well. However, entertaining as these moments may have been, they are not the ones, which most captured my attention. The big takeaway from this debate was Trump’s reaffirmation of his earlier described foreign policy.
I know where both candidates stand, for the most part, on domestic issues. I also know what to expect from Clinton when it comes to foreign policy – nothing good. However, Trump’s foreign policy has become a little bit of a wild card after Mike Pence’s statements in the vice-presidential debate last week – statements, which I found worrisome. After tonight’s debate, while cautious, I am mostly satisfied that Trump’s original stance has not changed. However, if that is so, it raises an interesting question about the nature of the Trump/Pence relationship.
First, I’d like to briefly point out a few of the statements made by Trump in last night’s debate, which I think are worthy of note:
TRUMP: I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example.
So far, so good.
TRUMP: … she talks tough against Russia. 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. A very bad thing.
This is somewhat troubling. I would rather not end up in a second nuclear arm’s race with Russia. That said, this isn’t entirely out of step with Trump’s earlier foreign policy statements. He seems to want to step back America’s role, renegotiate our international relationships, cooperate with the Russians on terrorism and other security issues, and build up the military at the same time. This has been Trump’s stance from the beginning, and I think it is this that is reflected in the above statement.
TRUMP: Now, she [Clinton] talks tough, she talks really tough against Putin and against Assad. She talks in favor of the rebels. She doesn’t even know who the rebels are. You know, every time we take rebels, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else, we’re arming people. And you know what happens? They end up being worse than the people [they replaced] (sic).
This is a very reassuring point. The United States shouldn’t be arming and training military forces around the globe and sponsoring their campaigns to bring about regime changes. It is also important to point out, as he does, that we don’t even know who the rebels are. The fact that we even refer to our supposed allies in Syria as “rebels” is extremely telling. Is it not interesting that all other parties involved seem to have specific names?
There’s al-Nusra, there’s ISIS, etc. Those fighting ISIS and al-Nusra also are referred to by their specific names – the Peshmerga, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, and the Syrian Army. But our supposed allies are “the rebels.” Do they not have any leadership? Are they not organized into specific groups? Shouldn’t they have names? But no politician ever refers to a single ostensibly friendly rebel group by its name, nor do they ever refer to any of their leaders by name… perhaps it’s because they don’t exist.
If these groups were to be named, someone might look them up on Google and draw conclusions about their character. That someone might not like he finds. As long as Washington continues to use the ambiguous term, “rebels”, to describe their supposed allies, who can look into this? Who can ‘fact-check’ the claim that they exist? What conclusions can be drawn?
If some militants, armed and trained by the U.S., commit a war crime – Washington can just say “well, those aren’t the rebels we’re talking about. They’re not our rebels.” When, on the other hand, the Russians bomb militants on the ground in accordance with their strategic objectives there, Washington can protest – “hey! Those are our rebels! They’re not the bad guys! Look, Russia is fighting the good guys, not ISIS! They have to be stopped!”
There is still one more debate before the elections, if I am not mistaken. If that is the case, I would like to see Trump ask this question – what specific organizations and which specific individuals can Clinton name, whom she considers to be our allies in Syria? That would be interesting. Certainly, should she decide to answer that question, the very next day there would be all kinds of information available connecting those persons and organizations to al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, ISIS, et al. And that’s precisely why the politicians in Washington refuse to identify them. Washington has no “moderate” allies in Syria. It has terrorist allies.
TRUMP: I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy.
Perfectly good point here. Washington claims that ISIS and al-Nusra are our enemies, but at the same time vehemently protests the actions of all countries actively engaged in fighting those same enemies.
I will say, however, that this point deserves to be threshed out in full. Trump should go further than he did to point out that this isn’t mere incompetence, there is a cynical and sinister policy at work here. One that a majority of the American people would strongly oppose if they were made aware of the ends toward which that policy is directed and to which Hilary Clinton is fully committed. Why not expressly draw that dichotomy, rather than leave the issue so vague?
Moderator: …And I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in air strikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.
Things get interesting here.
TRUMP: OK. He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.
Pence’s statements mark a clear, distinctive break with the position Trump has been putting forth on foreign policy since the start of his campaign. In fact, I am unable to think of an instance where a candidate’s running mate so clearly contradicted the platform of the number one man on the ticket. Furthermore, the release of the videotape scandalizing Trump was released just after the VP debate and just prior to the second presidential debate, thereby allowing just enough time for all the Neocons to re-voice their opposition to Trump’s candidacy and for all the usual suspects to rally together and suggest replacing Trump on the ticket at the last moment – with Mike Pence.
Pence therefore is very likely to be a Trojan horse. It will be interesting to see what becomes of Pence, now that the entirety of the Republican establishment has publicly broken with Trump following this latest scandal. Considering that the selection of Pence as VP was probably made in return for their support (admittedly speculative on my part), their withdraw of support would provide ample grounds for Trump to toss out Pence. On the other hand, doing so could destabilize his campaign and perhaps force the establishment to play its hand.
If I’m correct in this speculation, Trump is walking a tight rope, now. And with him are our only prospects to avoid the planned Clintonian-Neocon renovatio imperii I referred to in an earlier essay.