There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton trumped her contender on domestic economic and social policy issues, migration, and proper respect for women. She has neutralised the personal emails and Clinton Foundation questions. Barring the unforeseeable, she will cruise to victory next month.
On foreign policy, her words and what she left unsaid left many important questions: and Trump more often found himself on the right side of the foreign policy argument, for those who follow these things. Such debates proceed according to a free flow of their own and important issues easily get submerged and diverted as the caravan rapidly moves on. Here are my notes for what they are worth.
Allegations of Russian hacking in US: Clinton quickly became harshly abusive of the Russian President and by implication, his country. She described Trump contemptuously as ‘Putin’s puppet’ and said bluntly that eighteen intelligence agencies had now reported that Russia was hacking into the US election and that this hacking had been approved ‘all the way into the Kremlin.’ Did Trump disagree? She had no good words for Mr Putin – not even minimal courtesies – then or later. She made no acknowledgement that Mr Putin is denying these allegations of Russian hacking of the US Internet.
Battle for Mosul : It was noteworthy that Clinton did not acknowledge Iran’s role as a major US military ally in the current battle for Mosul. In saying ‘we will then go on into Syria to take Raqqa’ (ISIS’s remaining stronghold), she similarly made no mention of Russia’s and Iran’s military roles in Syria as allies against Islamist extremism. Trump replied – I thought effectively, at the once-over-lightly level of this debate – ‘Mosul and Syria were lost on your and Obama’s watch, you are responsible for the whole present Middle East mess’ –to which she had no reply.
Battle for Aleppo : They did not get far into this current battle , but were sidetracked again into a ‘whose fault was it we let the Islamists make such gains in Syria under Obama?’ argument . Trump said Aleppo had already been ‘lost’, i.e.; destroyed, and Clinton had no effective answer. Clinton commented that as of now , there is a ‘civil war in Syria aided and abetted by the Iranians and the Russians’ . She said she will push for a no-fly zone over Syria; despite firm warnings by responsible US strategic analysts that this could trigger dangerous direct US-Russian military confrontation in Syrian airspace).
But Trump weakened himself by criticising Saudi Arabia and Iran equally as America’s adversaries in the Middle East. He left viewers confused – as he no doubt is himself – whose side he thinks the US should be on in the Middle East? Maybe he just wants the US out of there, full stop.
Superpower strategic negotiations: there were hints from Trump that he had thought about this a little. He spoke about mishandling by the Obama/Clinton team of strategic arms tallks with other nuclear powers that had left America weaker. There was no comeback from Clinton.
Relations with NATO and Asian allies: Trump renewed his familiar ’they must pay their share of defence spending’ theme, which will comfort his many supporters in the older white male America-first constituency. And will please Mr Putin for its potential for wedge-driving in NATO and Asia.
Ukraine frozen conflict: This potential trigger for WW3 was simply not mentioned.
The debate will have confirmed the Kremlin’s view that Clinton is viscerally hostile to Russia’s aspirations to be treated seriously and with respect by the West in the international arena. If, as is now almost a certainty, Clinton becomes President on 1 January, the US Government’s vilification of Putin will worsen. There seems no vision In Washington for restored Western-Russian dialogue. We will all be less safe until things settle down.
Tony Kevin’s latest book ‘Return to Moscow’ (UWAP) will be published in February-March 2017