quinta-feira, 8 de setembro de 2016

For Clinton, a skirmish with history. From Trump, an ambush of the facts

For Clinton, a skirmish with history. From Trump, an ambush of the facts

Get new generals, steal Iraq’s oil, reinvent military justice – Commander-in-Chief Forum showcases Republican candidate’s loose grasp of defense priorities

Spencer Ackerman in New York
Thursday 8 September 2016 04.30 BST

In October 2011, as Mitt Romney prepared to win the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign prepared a guiding document outlining what to expect from Romney as commander-in-chief. Troop reductions in Afghanistan would not necessarily end, but their pace would be determined by ground commanders. Missile defenses would again be aimed at protecting eastern Europe from Russia, rather than focusing on Iran, as Barack Obama had shifted them. The country would spend 4% of its gross domestic product on defense. The navy would see a shipbuilding surge to 15 ships annually, up from nine.

If many of the details of Romney’s plans were murky – Romney never specified, for instance, which classes of ships the US needed surging – the presence of generations of experienced Republican advisers aligned with Romney provided assurance that the Massachusetts governor wouldn’t be winging it (among them, for instance, was Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary, John Lehman). Liberals would find much to dispute, but a dispute could proceed on the merits of Romney’s national-security perspective weighed against Obama’s.

No one would ever accuse Donald Trump of being Mitt Romney.

Before boarding the aircraft carrier turned museum USS Intrepid, Trump gave a speech on Wednesday gesturing in the direction of Republican national security orthodoxies. The army’s active-duty force levels, known as “end strength,” ought to return to 540,000 soldiers, where it was earlier in the decade, reversing a trajectory down to 450,000 by 2018. The navy ought to have a fleet sized at 350 ships, beyond its current planning for a 308-ship fleet after 2020.

Along with an expansion of combat aircraft and missile defenses, and repealing a budget cap on defense spending known as the sequester, Trump’s enthusiasm for purchasing more military hardware would not sound out of place coming from a typical Republican on the congressional armed services committees. Superficially at least Romney might not have disagreed, either. That was likely the point: to reassure voters Trump possesses a baseline level of familiarity with the basics of military responsibility.

By the evening, however, at NBC News’ touted “Commander-in-Chief Forum,” Trump ordered off his familiar campaign menu of word salads. He lied about opposing the Iraq war, criticized Obama’s 2011 withdrawal and repeated his now-boilerplate advocacy of stealing Iraq’s oil – a measure that he evidently believes would require a minimal force presence, despite the certainty that the well-armed locals might have a problem with their principal source of wealth being plundered by a foreign power.

Speaking before an audience of veterans, Trump unexpectedly attacked the current generation of generals and flag officers. The current senior officer corps has been “reduced to rubble”, Trump said, and were “embarrassing for our country”. While previously Trump had said he knew better than the generals about fighting Islamic State, this time he intimated that he’d get “different generals” – a habit more typical of caudillos than American presidents.

He followed up by saying his ultimate plan to defeat Isis would be some parts of his still-unspecified plan, and some parts of his unspecified generals’ unspecified plan. He waved away his lack of specifics for a war in which 5,000 US troops are currently serving as not wishing to “broadcast” his plans to the enemy.

Trump again lavished praise on Vladimir Putin, pledging a new era of US-Russian cooperation – something both Obama and George Bush attempted and failed to achieve after US and Russian interests diverged. Despite months of Russian military demonstration in Syria that Vladimir Putin’s objective is to suppress Bashar al-Assad’s domestic resistance, Trump claimed that Russia wished to defeat Isis “as badly as we do”. Putin might be a dictator – Trump waved away moderator Matt Lauer on this point – but he had “very strong control”.


Nor did Trump demonstrate greater mastery of urgent issues of US service members’ health and safety. He interrupted a veteran’s question about veterans’ suicide rates after she gave the correct number, 20 per day, so he could give an incorrect one, 22. Trump fumbled through a question about redressing sexual assault against women service personnel – something he once tweeted was the inevitable result of mixed-gender service, a point he defended on Wednesday – by arguing the military needed to set up internal courts. As if the military did not already have its own well-established justice system.

Trump’s reversion to his typical ignorance and certitude obscured a poor showing from his opponent, the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Clinton spent her preceding half-hour grilling on the Intrepid defending herself on her lax handling of classified information, a situation that a former navy lieutenant in the audience correctly observed would spell doom for a low-ranking service member. She acknowledged her vote for the Iraq war was a “mistake” and gestured in the direction of the same for her advocacy of the 2011 Libya war, but waved it away by pointing out Trump’s support for the same disastrous interventions – a baffling decision for a candidate whose central pitch is that Trump is uniquely unqualified to be president.

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To reassure a progressive veteran in the audience Clinton offered that she would treat the use of force as a “last resort”. Every presidential aspirant issues that boilerplate – as it elides an explanation of what the candidate thinks is worth fighting for – but Clinton’s long public record, which she uses as a selling point against Trump, gives reason to doubt it. “We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again,” Clinton said, as if there were not thousands of them already there.

Clinton’s gestures in hawkish directions are at least predictable. Trump is something wilder, less disciplined and far less grounded. Asked about his fitness for diplomacy, Trump boasted of his disastrous meeting in Mexico last week with Enrique Peña Nieto, in which the Mexican president publicly contradicted Trump’s claim that the two did not discuss payment for Trump’s proposed border wall, and which left Peña Nieto diminished at home.

For all the derision Mitt Romney endured in his presidential bid, at least he never engineered a lose-lose diplomatic summit.

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