Jon Gabriel watched NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum last night so you didn’t have to:
Wednesday night, NBC News held their Commander-in-Chief Forum, a chance for voters to spend an hour assessing the capabilities of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Focused on the most important facet of the presidency, our nation’s defense, it was hard not to feel queasy by the end of it. I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer muttering, “In 135 days, one of these people is going to be the President of the United States.” (Full disclosure: I might not have used the word “people.”)
Matt Lauer first welcomed Hillary Clinton for her 30-minute shift in front of the small audience of veterans aboard the USS Intrepid in New York. If there was any question if Lauer — a Clinton Foundation “Notable Member” — would take it easy on the Democrat, it was answered with a resounding “no.”
Lauer laid into the former Secretary of State about her use of personal e-mail and a server to discuss obviously classified issues, even when she was overseas. “Why wasn’t it disqualifying,” he asked, “if you want to be commander-in-chief?” Predictably Clinton hedged on the issue, noting her vast experience in handling classified material yet insisting that “none of the e-mails sent or received by me” bore a classified header. Left unmentioned was the fact that the FBI refutes this claim.
When Lauer noted that FBI Director James Comey said it’s possible that hostile actors gained access to her e-mail, Clinton replied, “There is no evidence,” but added, “of course anything is possible.” Hardly a comfort to America’s 1.3 million active service members or her 21.8 million veterans.
Questions from the audience were equally tough. Retired Air Force Lt. Jon Lester asked “Secretary Clinton, how can you expect those such as myself who were and are entrusted with America’s most sensitive information to have any confidence in your leadership as president when you clearly corrupted our national security?”
Former Army Captain Ernie Young asked how Clinton “will determine when and where to deploy troops directly into harm’s way.” Clinton then laid out her policy toward ISIS which was an uninspiring as one might imagine. She basically reiterated the Obama administration’s strategy of air power and support for the Arabs and the Kurds fighting the terror group. But then Clinton claimed, “they are not going to get ground troops. 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.”
There are currently ground troops in both Iraq and Syria.
After a commercial break, Lauer welcomed Trump to the stage, in which the GOP nominee tried to play out the clock with the greatest hits from his rallies. When the host asked what Trump thinks prepares him for the role of commander-in-chief, he answered, “Well, I’ve built a great company. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve dealt with foreign countries. I’ve done very well, as an example, tremendously well dealing with China and dealing with so many of the countries that are just ripping this country.”
He continued: “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.” Trump also countered Clinton’s accurate claim that he supported the Iraq War, recommending that Lauer read a 2004 issue of Esquire magazine.
He then bragged about his primary victory, saying, “I beat 16 people and here I am… and that was a lot of people. That was a record, Matt. That was a record in the history of Republican politics. I was able to get more votes than anybody ever has gotten in the history of Republican politics.”
Lauer moved on to Trump’s claim that he will always tell the truth, noting another of his claims: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.” Trump replied that “the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing for our country. You have a force of 30,000 or so people. Nobody really knows.”
Phillip Clay, a former public affairs officer in the Marine Corps, asked the candidate, “you’ve claimed to have a secret plan to defeat ISIS. But you’re hardly the first politician to promise a quick victory and a speedy homecoming. So assuming we do defeat ISIS, what next? What is your plan for the region to ensure that a group like them doesn’t just come back?”
Trump replied that “Iran is going to be taking over Iraq,” and then outlined his “secret plan.” Kinda:
The — and I think you know — because you’ve been watching me I think for a long time — I’ve always said, shouldn’t be there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil. If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS, because ISIS formed with the power and the wealth of that oil.
Just we would leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil. They have — people don’t know this about Iraq, but they have among the largest oil reserves in the world, in the entire world.
And we’re the only ones, we go in, we spend $3 trillion, we lose thousands and thousands of lives, and then, Matt, what happens is, we get nothing. You know, it used to be to the victor belong the spoils. Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victor. But I always said: Take the oil.
One of the benefits we would have had if we took the oil is ISIS would not have been able to take oil and use that oil to fuel themselves.
Of course, Trump’s main issue hasn’t been national defense, but immigration. When an audience member asked him if an undocumented person who wants to serve in the armed forces deserves to stay in this country, he responded positively. “I think that when you serve in the armed forces,” Trump said, “that’s a very special situation, and I could see myself working that out, absolutely.”
Trump was also asked about his praise for Vladimir Putin, which he said was fine because the Russian autocrat has “an 82 percent approval rating.” Lauer countered, “He’s also a guy who annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, supports Assad in Syria, supports Iran, is trying to undermine our influence in key regions of the world, and according to our intelligence community, probably is the main suspect for the hacking of the DNC computers.”
Trump was skeptical. “Well, nobody knows that for a fact. But do you want me to start naming some of the things that President Obama does at the same time? …I think when he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK? …The fact that he calls me brilliant or whatever he calls me is going to have zero impact.” Trump then praised Putin for his leadership because “the man has very strong control over a country.”
In a few months, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will have strong control over our country. To current service members and my fellow veterans, I can offer only condolences.
Too bad Evan McMullin wasn’t invited to participate. In addition to knowing what Aleppo is (the Syrian refugee issue, on which Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson swung and missed), McMullin probably could give non-eye-rolling answers to all these questions.