Never before have American primary voters presented the general public with two candidates so manifestly unfit to be commander-in-chief. Never before have we watched two candidates lie so boldly and brazenly to our faces, and never before have we been presented with such a miserable combination of lawlessness, ignorance, and arrogance. In yesterday’s so-called commander-in-chief forum, hosted by NBC’s Matt Lauer, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump made it clear that they seek power — competence and integrity be damned.
Let’s begin with Clinton’s continued deceptions about her homebrew e-mail server. She is utterly shameless. Here’s Hillary speaking about classified information:
But the real question is the handling of classified material, which is I think what the implication of your question was. And for all the viewers watching you tonight, I have a lot of experience dealing with classified material, starting when I was on the Senate Armed Services Committee going into the four years as secretary of state. Classified material has a header which says “top secret,” “secret,” “confidential.” Nothing — and I will repeat this, and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice — none of the e-mails sent or received by me had such a header.
This has been her line for a year, and she knows its fundamentally misleading. Every person with a security clearance is responsible for proper handling of marked and unmarked classified information. The FBI found that Hillary sent and received classified information on a system less secure than Gmail — and that “any reasonable person” in her position “should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.” No ordinary person could get away with such behavior.
To make matters worse, she later repeated this same deception to a veteran, a man who had a top-secret clearance and who rightly said, “Had I communicated this information not following prescribed protocols, I would have been prosecuted and imprisoned.” This is no small matter. A woman who should be a criminal defendant is the front-runner to be commander-in-chief.
We’re going to work to make sure that they [our local allies] have the support — they have special forces, as you know, they have enablers, they have surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance help.
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. So those are the kinds of decisions we have to make on a case-by-case basis.
Let’s put this as plainly as possible: We already have ground troops in Iraq. They are there. Special forces are “ground troops.” The enablers are ground troops. Our intelligence assets are often ground troops. They are not merely assisting the fight — they are often engaging in direct combat. They’ve taken casualties.
It’s hard to imagine the reason for this deception other than that she’s trying to continue the present Obama policy of fighting a slowly escalating war while still posing as a “peace president.” She’s trying to appease her progressive base while still committing sufficient force to roll back ISIS, and to do so — in classic Democratic president fashion (hello Presidents Johnson and Kennedy) — she redefines “soldiers” as something else.
But Trump wouldn’t be Trump if he didn’t supplement his deceptions with total nonsense. Here’s Trump talking about how he would have prevented the rise of ISIS:
I’ve always said, [we] 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.
Cutting through the word salad, it seems that Trump is arguing that if we held the oil-producing regions of Iraq (which are in the northeast and southeast of the country), that we could have stopped ISIS (which rose in Syria after the Surge and did not seize Iraq’s main oilfields.) Yes, ISIS was able to generate revenue through smuggling and operating some smaller oil assets, but American forces have already crippled ISIS’s oil production.
Besides, I thought a core element of Trumpism (if there is such an ideology) was that America was going to avoid indefinite and dangerous foreign military entanglements. Truly taking the oil would require a decades-long, large-scale occupation at force levels wildly above even the most pessimistic estimates for securing the gains of the Surge. Men would die every month.
Then, there’s his alleged plan for stopping ISIS:
I have a plan. But I want to be — I don’t want to — look: I have a very substantial chance of winning. Make America great again. We’re going to make America great again. I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don’t want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.
If you believe that Trump actually has a plan — especially one that meets his professed goal of destroying ISIS “very, very” quickly without committing substantial ground forces — then you’re probably the kind of person who believes that he opposed the war in Iraq in the first place. You trust, blindly.
But Trump’s comments about Vladimir Putin were perhaps even more astounding. Did he really point to the Russian dictator’s alleged approval ratings as proof of his effectiveness? He must have truly admired the old Soviet leadership — those guys routinely won more than 90 percent of the vote. Now that’s strong leadership. But note this exchange:
Lauer: [Putin] is also a guy who annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, supports [Bashar al-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: 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?
This is the kind of moral equivalence — “sure Russia is bad, but we do bad things too” — that traditionally caused Republicans to rightly howl in protest. Which Obama actions are remotely the equivalent of invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea? Does Obama execute journalists? Obama’s prime military fault is that he’s too careful. He has too often hamstrung our forces.
Finally, let’s end with one of Trump’s more confusing statements — one that perfectly encapsulates his ignorance. In responding to a question about sexual assault in the military, he said this:
But we have to do something about that problem. And the best thing we can do is set up a court system within the military. Right now, the court system practically doesn’t exist. It takes too long.
And Trump followed up with this:
You have reported and — the gentleman can tell you, you have the report of rape and nobody gets prosecuted. There are no consequences.
When you have somebody that does something so evil, so bad as that, there has to be consequence for that person. You have to go after that person. Right now, nobody’s doing anything.
These answers are bizarre. Surely Trump knows that there is an actual JAG Corps, right? One that predates even the founding of the American Republic? George Washington first established military justice in 1775. Courts-martial occurred throughout the Revolutionary War.
But even if he simply misspoke (elsewhere he said he wanted to “keep the court system in the military”), the rest of his statement is taken straight from radical-feminists’ talking points. It’s simply false that “nobody gets prosecuted” or that “there are no consequences” for rape in the military. While there are certainly individual breakdowns in justice, the military has long prosecuted rape charges, and commanders and JAG officers are increasingly vigilant (sometimes even over-zealous) in their quest to stamp out sexual assault. Yes, military sex-crime allegations suffer all the same problems of sex-crimes allegations anywhere. They are often extraordinarily difficult to prove, but unless we want to toss out the Bill of Rights, no amount of feminist (or Trumpian) activism will change that fact.Some say voters should just suck it up and pick their poison. Do you want the president who will maintain a more-or-less mainstream American foreign policy (more hawkish than Obama, less than Bush) but who lies brazenly, disregards the law, and is a walking impeachment risk? Or do you want the president who lies brazenly, cozies up to our chief strategic rival, demonstrates extraordinary ignorance of foreign affairs, and threatens the existence of alliances that have kept global peace for decades?
I say: Pick neither. Now is not the time for participation. Now is the time for protest. The goal is to hold either candidate in check — to minimize the damage — for four years, then to reset the process and rally behind a man or woman who understands American national security and who would truly defend American interests. The current fight isn’t between a nationalist and a progressive, it’s between a Trumpulist and a Clintonist — two people who place their own interests over the country’s. Reject them both.
— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.