The US vice presidential debate between Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence was a relative damp squib, an event that drove the news cycle for a day or two before being consigned to the dustbin of history, understandable in the bizarre world of 2016 campaign where no day is a dull news day. Given that there were no newsworthy gaffes or no memorable zingers (of the “Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy” vintage), this is one vice presidential debate that is likely to be forgotten soon by the few that bothered to watch it.
The debate was likely a draw, with both the vice presidential nominees having their moments and their failings. Tim Kaine managed to attack Donald Trump continuously and remind the audience repeatedly of his many failings as a candidate; but in the process, he stuck to prepared, canned lines which failed to sound spontaneous. His repeated interruptions and rapid, nervous delivery also sounded jarring. Mike Pence definitely sounded the more mature politician in the room, providing an expansive and eloquent defence of the conservative ideas. But in doing so, he took significant departures from the standard policy positions of Donald Trump, most prominently on the Middle East and Russia. He also refused to even attempt to defend Trump for the various insensitive comments hurled by him in the past. As a number of observers pointed out, the performance of Pence looked more like one aimed at making him the Republican nominee for President in 2020 than one aimed at making him the Vice President in 2016.
While the immediate impact of the Vice Presidential debate would not be much, the relative absence of Hillary Clinton and especially Donald Trump from the centre stage for a day provided a few moments of clarity about the broader state of politics in the United States and what it portends for the future, especially after either of Trump or Clinton fades away from the political limelight and the public memory, after a defeat in November. Here are a few takeaways from the debate:
The Conversation that America should be Having and is not Having
Much of the debate involved Tim Kaine trying to link every topic under discussion to how bad a candidate Donald Trump is and the controversial statements Trump has made in the past. Mike Pence tried to duck and weave when it came to defending Trump, often ignoring Kaine, criticising Clinton instead or flatly denying that Trump ever had made such comments.
While these exchanges involving Trump included mostly done to death, prepared talking points, there were some lively conversations in between on the various topics raised by the moderator – including some on racial justice and abortion. It is pertinent to mention here that on a number of issues in general and on these two issues in particular, the views of the Democratic and Republican Party have grown increasingly divergent, to the extent that at times it appears that the two parties are speaking to voters of two different countries.
Take racial justice for instance. In response to decades of rising crime scenario in the various urban centres of America, the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton enacted tough on crime measures and increased federal funding for law enforcement through the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994). This at least partially contributed to the sharp drop in crime rate over the last two decades ; however, it also ensured that the prisons are now filled with young black men, many of whom are serving jail sentences disproportionate to the scale of offence committed. A number of mayors also enacted stop and frisk measures which gave the police the right to stop any unarmed citizen at random and search him. Unfortunately, black men are again the disproportionate victims of such harassments. Also as has been documented repeatedly, black men are far more likely to receive higher punishment than a white man for the same degree of crime committed.
The last few months have also seen a number of instances of police brutalities on unarmed black civilians, resulting in their deaths in many cases. This has led to a outpouring of protests which have now been organized formally under the ‘Black Lives Protest’ movement. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both the Democratic Presidential contenders, have expressed their full support to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. They have also spoken of criminal justice reform that shall eliminate stop and frisk policies, end the era of mass incarceration and make the criminal justice system less discriminatory in nature.
The rising number of police brutalities inflicted on black citizens and the accompanied protests have led to one unintended consequence; it has resulted in the police force feeling increasingly vilified and demoralized. Republican Party politicians have been quick to latch on to it and have taken up the cudgel of law and order, a theme which fits in perfectly with the vicious anti-immigrant stance taken by some in the Party.
Donald Trump, in particular, has centered his entire campaign around the theme of ‘law and order’, blaming unchecked immigration, constraints imposed on the police force and the culture of political correctness on the increasing crime rate in the inner cities (The crime rate has increased to an extent in the last one year after years of falling, but is nowhere close to the doom and gloom scenario of the 1990s). In fact, his entire acceptance speech at the Republican Party nomination was a monumental ode to the police force and how a Trump administration would clamp down on immigration, boost the morale of the police force and make the inner cities crime free.
So we have this weird situation where one of the two major parties in the USA is talking about how to protect black Americans from racial bias in the justice system and the implicit bias of the police force whereas the other party is talking about stricter enforcement of law and order, completely disregarding the collateral damage it may have in the form of mass incarceration of a generation of black men.
It may be relevant to point out here that the two parties were not in such stark disagreement on this issue even two decades back. The Clinton administration was the chief architect of the clampdown on law enforcement and a number of prominent Democratic politicians including the then Senator Joe Biden were supporters of the same. Martin O Malley, a former Governor of Maryland and Mayor of Baltimore, who ran for the Democratic Party nomination in 2016 earned his stripes as a tough on crime politician. On the other hand, a number of Republican politicians including Rand Paul, the libertarian Kentucky senator who also ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016 and Mike Lee, a high profile senator representing Utah, have talked about the discriminatory practices inherent in law enforcement and the justice system.
But not anymore. In this year’s presidential election, the Democratic Party’s whole hearted embrace of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has been in sharp contrast to the Republican Party adamantly defending the police force and talking about sharper clampdown on crime. As noted before, the two parties are right now speaking to two different voter blocs who do not see even eye to eye on the basic premise on which the issue should be discussed.
This provided the setting for this interesting exchange on the racial justice between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence:
QUIJANO: … to the issue of law enforcement and race relations. Law enforcement and race relations. After the Dallas police shooting, Police Chief David Brown said, quote, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, not enough drug addiction funding, schools fail, let’s give it to the cops.”
Do we ask too much of police officers in this country? And how would you specifically address the chief’s concerns? Senator Kaine?
KAINE: Elaine, I think that’s a very fair comment. I think we put a lot on police shoulders. And this is something I got a lot of scar tissue and experience on.
I was a city councilman and mayor in Richmond. And when I came in, we had one of the highest homicide rates in the United States. We fought very, very hard over the course of my time in local office with our police department, and we reduced our homicide rate nearly in half.
And then when I was governor of Virginia, we worked hard, too. And we did something we had really wanted to do. For the first time ever, we cracked the top 10, 10 safest states, because we worked together.
Here’s what I learned as a mayor and a governor. The way you make communities safer and the way you make police safer is through community policing. You build the bonds between the community and the police force, build bonds of understanding, and then when people feel comfortable in their communities, that gap between the police and the communities they serve narrows. And when that gap narrows, it’s safer for the communities and it’s safer for the police.
That model still works across our country, but there are some other models that don’t work, an overly aggressive, more militarized model. Donald Trump recently said we need to do more stop-and-frisk around the country. That would be a big mistake because it polarizes the relationship between the police and the community.
So here’s what we’ll do. We’ll focus on community policing. We will focus on — and Hillary Clinton has rolled out a really comprehensive mental health reform package that she worked on with law enforcement professionals, and we will also fight the scourge of gun violence in the United States.
I’m a gun-owner. I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter. But I’ve got a lot of scar tissue, because when I was governor of Virginia, there was a horrible shooting at Virginia Tech, and we learned that through that painful situation that gaps in the background record check system should have been closed and it could have prevented that crime, and so we’re going to work to do things like close background record checks. And if we do, we won’t have the tragedies that we did.
One of those killed at Virginia Tech was a guy named Liviu Librescu. He was a 70-plus-year-old Romanian Holocaust survivor. He had survived the Holocaust. Then he survived the Soviet Union takeover of his country. But then he was a visiting professor at Virginia Tech, and he couldn’t survive the scourge of gun violence.
We can support the Second Amendment and do things like background record checks and make us safer, and that will make police safer, too.
QUIJANO: Governor Pence?
PENCE: You know, my uncle was a cop, a career cop, on the beat in downtown Chicago. He was my hero when I was growing up. And we’d go up to visit my dad’s family in Chicago. My three brothers and I would marvel at my uncle when he would come out in his uniform, sidearm at his side.
Police officers are the best of us. And the men and women, white, African-American, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, they put their lives on the line every single day. And let my say, at the risk of agreeing with you, community policing is a great idea. It’s worked in the Hoosier state. And we fully support that.
Donald Trump and I are going to make sure that law enforcement have the resources and the tools to be able to really restore law and order to the cities and communities in this nation. It’s probably — probably why the 330,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Donald Trump as the next president of the United States of America, because they see his commitment to them. They see his commitment to law and order.
But they also — they also hear the bad mouthing, the bad mouthing that comes from people that seize upon tragedy in the wake of police action shootings as — as a reason to — to use a broad brush to accuse law enforcement of — of implicit bias or institutional racism. And that really has got to stop.
I mean, when an African-American police officer in Charlotte named Brentley Vinson, an all-star football player who went to Liberty University here in the state, came home, followed his dad into law enforcement, joined the force in Charlotte, joined the force in Charlotte in 2014, was involved in a police action shooting that claimed the life of Keith — Keith Lamont Scott, it was a tragedy. I mean, I — we — we mourn with those who mourn. We — we grieve with those who grieve. And we’re saddened at the loss of life.
But Hillary Clinton actually referred to that moment as an example of implicit bias in the police force, where — where she used — when she was asked in the debate a week ago whether there was implicit bias in law enforcement, her only answer was that there’s implicit bias in everyone in the United States. I just think…
KAINE: Can I — can I explain…
PENCE: … I just think what we ought to do is we ought to stop seizing on these moments of tragedy. We ought to assure the public that we’ll have a full and complete and transparent investigation whenever there’s a loss of life because of police action. But, Senator, please, you know, enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement broadly by making the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy occurs.
KAINE: Elaine — Elaine, people shouldn’t be afraid to bring up issues of bias in law enforcement. And if you’re afraid to have…
PENCE: I’m not afraid to bring that up.
KAINE: And if — if you’re afraid to have the discussion, you’ll never solve it. And so here’s — here’s an example, heartbreaking. We would agree this was a heartbreaking example.
The guy, Philando Castile, who was killed in St. Paul, he was a worker, a valued worker in a local school. And he was killed for no apparent reason in an incident that will be discussed and will be investigated.
But when folks went and explored this situation, what they found is that Philando Castile, who was a — they called him Mr. Rogers with Dreadlocks in the school that he worked. The kids loved him. But he had been stopped by police 40 or 50 times before that fatal incident. And if you look at sentencing in this country, African-Americans and Latinos get sentenced for the same crimes at very different rates.
PENCE: We need criminal justice reform.
KAINE: Well, we do.
PENCE: Indiana has passed criminal justice reform.
KAINE: But I just want to say, those who say that we should not…
PENCE: But that’s not what you’re talking about.
KAINE: … we should not be able to bring up and talk about bias in the system, we’ll never solve the problem…
Then there is the issue of abortion. Ever since the Supreme Court in its judgement in the Roe vs Wade case made abortion legal, the opinion on abortion has become polarized and increasingly divided along partisan lines. Republican voters and politicians have become increasingly pro-life (i.e. favouring a complete ban on abortion) whereas Democratic voters and politicians have become pro-choice (i.e. in favour of leaving the choice to the individual woman).
In spite of this increasing polarisation, there were politicians on either side of the political divide, who were willing to take up positions which went against the established norms in their respective parties. Rudy Guiliani, a pugnacious former New York City mayor and currently an unabashed supporter of Donald Trump, was pro-choice and still a leading contender in the 2008 Repubican Presidential nomination. On the other side, there were a number of moderate Democrats, including Catholics and those from culturally conservative Southern States, with the prominent example of Tim Kaine himself, who were opposed to abortion.
The rift between the parties has, however, deepened on this issue. The Democratic Party has enacted one of the most pro-choice platforms in recent memory removing the word ‘rare’ from ‘Safe, Legal and Rare’ while describing abortion. A number of Republican Governors, on the other hand, including Mike Pence himself, have taken wide ranging measures aimed at making abortions more and more difficult for women who seek them. Whereas most Republican politicians in the not so distant past used to support abortion in case of rape and incest, this year even mainstream, establishment backed candidates like Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, have called for a ban on abortion in these extreme cases.
The conversation between Mike Pence, a staunch opponent of abortion and Tim Kaine, a moderate Democrat on this issue, who previously used to support abortion and has since backpedalled on this issue, thus provided a fascinating insight on the sanctity of unborn life and how personal beliefs may be separate from the political ones.
PENCE: But for me, I would tell you that for me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that — that ancient principle that — where God says before you were formed in the womb, I knew you, and so for my first time in public life, I sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life.
The state of Indiana has also sought to make sure that we expand alternatives in health care counseling for women, non-abortion alternatives. I’m also very pleased at the fact we’re well on our way in Indiana to becoming the most pro-adoption state in America. I think if you’re going to be pro-life, you should — you should be pro- adoption.
But what I can’t understand is with Hillary Clinton and now Senator Kaine at her side is to support a practice like partial-birth abortion. I mean, to hold to the view — and I know Senator Kaine, you hold pro-life views personally — but the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me.
And I cannot — I can’t conscience about — about a party that supports that. Or that — I know you’ve historically opposed taxpayer funding of abortion. But Hillary Clinton wants to — wants to repeal the longstanding provision in the law where we said we wouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to fund abortion.
So for me, my faith informs my life. I try and spend a little time on my knees every day. But it all for me begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life.
KAINE: Elaine, this is a fundamental question, a fundamental question. Hillary and I are both people out of religious backgrounds, from Methodist church experience, which was really formative for her as a public servant.
But we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith. But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else.
So let’s talk about abortion and choice. Let’s talk about them. We support Roe v. Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own supportive partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision about pregnancy. That’s something we trust American women to do that.
And we don’t think that women should be punished, as Donald Trump said they should, for making the decision to have an abortion.
Governor Pence wants to repeal Roe v. Wade. He said he wants to put it on the ash heap of history. And we have some young people in the audience who weren’t even born when Roe was decided. This is pretty important. Before Roe v. Wade, states could pass criminal laws to do just that, to punish women if they made the choice to terminate a pregnancy.
I think you should live your moral values. But the last thing, the very last thing that government should do is have laws that would punish women who make reproductive choices. And that is the fundamental difference between a Clinton-Kaine ticket and a Trump- Pence ticket that wants to punish women who make that choice.
Normally, a discussion between the leading politicians of the two main parties on the core issues of the day, on which they disagree vehemently, should not be newsworthy. After all, this is what the election season is all about; giving the potential voters a measure of the issues they want to vote on and arguing the benefits of their respective stands on that issue. This election season has, however, been peculiar. It has almost entirely been dominated by an endless parade of salacious headlines related to the past comments or dealings of Donald Trump, punctuated in between by the scandals of Hillary Clinton related to her email server and the Clinton Foundation. So, instead of a serious discussion on substantive topics, we have got the following:
- Something controversial related to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton emerges.
- The other party denounces the same.
- It drives the news story for a few days.
- Repeat Point 1.
The reasons behind these are not hard to find. Trump is not waging a conventional campaign involving detailed policy measures; his is instead a campaign driven primarily by his ability to dominate the news headlines. The media plays by obligingly as controversy is good for its business in a way that a layered and nerdy discussion on wonky policy measures is not. The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, has detailed policy proposal on most major issues; however, the media is not interested in covering the same and the Clinton campaign has decided that they can win the election by simply hitting Trump for his past controversial records.
As a result of this, the election season has been conspicuous by the absence of any policy discussion at all and has instead resembled a season of a reality television program. And this is coming at a time when the two major parties of USA have taken a lurch towards their respective bases, with increasing partisan divide and polarisation along political lines. America needs a frank discussion among the opposing viewpoints on these issues; what it is getting instead is an endless parade of senseless controversies. The VP debate last Tuesday was a reminder of that dynamics – patches of policy and issue driven conversations in the middle of vast segments of political mudslinging and recapitulation of past scandals. It thus pointed out exactly what this campaign should have been about and what this is becoming instead.
- The horrible bench strength of the Democratic Party
The debate between the vice presidential candidates was one between two well qualified US politicians – Tim Kaine is a former Lieutenant Governor, Governor and current Senator of Virginia whereas Mike Pence has been a Congressman for twelve years and is the current Governor of Indiana. The fact that the two candidates were more or less well matched in terms of qualifications as well as in the debate actually points out the horrible bench strength of the Democratic Party.
In terms of VP picks, Tim Kaine was the most qualified and safest choice on Hillary Clinton’s list. Mike Pence, on the other hand, in a conventional presidential year, would not have even been the most obvious choice from Indiana (that honour would go to Mitch Daniels, Pence’s predecessor as Governor). Even among the current crop of Republican Governors in the Mid West, Scott Walker and John Kasich can legitimately claim to have more name recognition among national voters as well as the ability to deliver critical swing states. There were seventeen candidates running for the Republican nomination and Mike Pence was not one of them. A large part of the reason why he got on to the ticket was that he was among the more palatable among the very limited choices available and willing to get on the Trump ticket.
That Mike Pence would be getting the better of Tim Kaine in a number of exchanges in the debate should be the deeply troubling to the Democratic Party. After Obama and Clinton, the Democratic Party simply does not have a bench filled with promising politicians with the ability to take the mantle forward. Deep losses at state level elections as well as in successive mid terms have left the Party with a relatively few high profile politicians who have the promise and ability to become the President of the country in the near future. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is brimming with talent and even if they lose the 2016 elections, they will have enviable bench strength in place before the 2020 elections. This should be sobering thought to the Democrats even in case they manage to coast to their third successive victory at the Presidential elections.
- The Republicans are losing an election they should be winning
Mike Pence managed to impress the critics with his calm demeanour and eloquent rhetoric. He stayed on the message and refused to fall into the trap of defending Trump for his past discretions. Instead, he provided robust defense of conservative ideals and substantive criticism of the Obama administration.
In other words, Mike Pence provided a sneak peek of what the general election campaign would have looked like with a more conventional Republican candidate instead of Donald Trump on the ticket. While the economy has grown at a tepid pace over the last few years and unemployment has continued to fall, the benefits of the economic recovery has continued to elude most Americans. On the international stage, America has seen its clout fall significantly with Russia staging daring military excursions in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. The rise of ISIS and Islamic terrorism has further fed into this despondent mood of the public.
While the situation is not as anti-incumbent as in 2008, the overall fundamentals point towards a close fight, with perhaps a slight edge to the Republican contender. This has also been reflected in the fact that most Republican Senate candidates continue to perform better than their Presidential nominee by at least a few percentage points in their respective states.
In other words, if the Republican Party had nominated a disciplined, seasoned and conventional conservative like Mike Pence on the ticket, it could have very well pushed the Trump-Kaine ticket to the back foot and forced it to answer for the various failures of the Obama administration, instead of being subjected to daily examination for the silly statements of the man at the top of their ticket.
- Mike Pence is not an automatic front runner for 2020
Based on Mike Pence’s performance in the Vice Presidential debate, it has become tempting to declare Pence as the automatic front runner in case Trump does on to lose the election in November. However, there are a number of red flags that suggest he may not be an automatic shoo-in.
Firstly, losing vice presidential candidates do not typically end up being the presidential candidate in four years. Since the Second World War, there have only been two instances where the losing vice presidential candidate has ended up as a major party nominee. One of them was Bob Dole who was the running mate of Gerald Ford in 1976. It took him multiple runs to finally get a slot at the top of the ticket in 1996, that too in a weak Republican Party field. The other such candidate was Walter Mondale, the Vice President in the Jimmy Carter administration, who was part of the Carter-Mondale ticket that lost to Reagan-Bush in 1980. Mondale also faced a weak Democratic field in 1984 and in spite of being the overwhelming favourite, came close to a defeat at the hands of Gary Hart, a greenhorn candidate. Both Dole and Mondale were nominated in years when they faced popular incumbent presidents, thus reducing the incentive for other strong candidates to come forward and contest. Both of them lost heavily in the general elections.
Secondly, the Republican Party has extremely strong bench strength. Though the roster of candidates in the 2016 was large and many of them are not expected to contest in four years’ time even if Trump loses, the Party also has a number of fresh candidates who will become strong nominees in their own rights in 2020. There are a number of ‘Never Trump’ Republicans, including Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse and Utah Senator Mike Lee, who will remind the voters of their principled stand taken against Trump even in the face of pressure exerted by the Republican leadership. There are fresh men senators with impressive resumes, like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. Then there are a number of candidates who contested in 2016 and are very likely to contest in 2020, including Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Scott Walker. Finally, if Speaker Paul Ryan decides to enter the race, based on the current standings, he will automatically become one of the front runners. Thus, it will be fallacious to assume that Mike Pence will have the field cleared to him if he decides to contest in four years’ time.
Thirdly, the front runner tag being attached to Mike Pence is on the basis of his performance in a single one on one debate. It may help to remember that the list of politicians who decided to contest for the 2016 Republican Party ticket also had a number of marquee names with strong debating skills. Take for example candidates like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and even Mike Huckabee. None of them could get past Donald Trump who is nowhere in the same league as a debater. Thus strong debating skills cannot be the sole determinant of success in the primary process. Further, Mike Pence’s style looks more suited to the one on one debate format; we will need to find out how such low key, disciplined style with zero theatrics shall play out in the often rambunctious and rancorous multi-candidate debate stage.
Fourthly, given the controversy that has been generated by the candidacy of Donald Trump and the way it has divided the Republican Party, in case it loses in November, it appears that the Party shall go through a soul-searching exercise in the immediate aftermath. It is difficult to guess how the Party shall deal with the candidacy of Trump and the number of new, disaffected, working class white voters it has drawn to the Party, which has also in the process alienated women and minorities. If past history is any indication though, it is very likely that the Party shall forsake Trump and all his controversial statements and shall start afresh. In that case, it is difficult to exactly guess how it will treat Pence who would have campaigned for four months alongside and supporting Donald Trump. Pence took a huge risk by choosing to appear on the ticket with Trump; the best scenario for him is to of course win the election. But in case Trump does not win, it is very difficult to estimate how the party apparatus shall treat him. Will he be given the benefit of doubt for being a loyal party man or will he be considered tainted by association? If his debate performance was any indication, Pence is desperately trying to achieve the former by campaigning for the ticket and at the same time maintaining his distance from Trump. But this is a difficult political balancing act to pull off.
- No campaign has a clear answer on foreign policy
The debate made it more or less clear that on the pressing foreign policy issues of the day, particularly on how to deal with the rapidly aggravating situation in Syria and on how to handle the increasingly adventurist regime of Vladimir Putin, neither campaign has any good answer or strategy in place.
When confronted with these questions at the debate, Kaine simply recited the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Iran Nuclear Deal and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan as the major successes of the Obama administration, before proceeding to accuse Trump of undermining NATO and admiring Putin. Of course, as any amateur in foreign policy will point out, the killing of Osama happened way back in 2010 and ISIS has since replaced Al Qaida as the major terror threat. The Iran nuclear deal remains unpopular with the American population who believe too many concessions were granted to Iran. The messy troop withdrawal from Iraq was in many ways responsible for the rise of ISIS and the situation in Afghanistan is not rosy either.
Mike Pence pointed out these criticisms of the Obama foreign policy, but was not able to frame a coherent counter policy that sounds credible on paper and may actually be implemented on ground. The major point which Pence suggested was that there should be a safe zone constructed in Syria; however, given the brutal bombing carried out by Russian air forces on Aleppo, including on UN humanitarian convoys, it appears very unlikely that the safety of these safe zones can actually be guaranteed. On being asked how he would deal with an aggressive Russia, Pence’s answer was that he would do so by projecting strength.
The truth is that none of these campaigns have any coherent foreign policy plan that shall arrest the imperialistic designs of the Putin administration and manage to solve the crisis in Syria without letting Bassar Al Assad, with his Russian and Iranian allies, butcher the US backed rebels and take control of at least the Western part of the country. If Assad manages to exterminate the rebels from Aleppo, which appears imminent, it shall be a significant diplomatic drubbing of the US in the Middle East and shall lead to major loss of face, especially among its allies in the region. To further add to its woes, the relationship with Turkey has become rocky since an attempted coup failed and Erdogan, the President of Turkey, accused the US of helping elements in the US carry out the coup. Ties with Saudi Arabia have also shown signs of fraying after the US Congress, over-riding veto of the President, recently passed a bill giving 9/11 victims the right to sue the Saudi Government demanding compensation for their losses. North Korea has meanwhile carried out its fifth and most powerful nuclear test.
The Trump campaign has not even addressed these foreign policy concerns; it has instead further muddied the waters by demanding that the NATO allies of US be asked to pay in return of the US guaranteeing their safety. Trump has openly stated that countries like South Korea and Saudi Arabia should develop their indigenous nuclear capabilities instead of depending on the US for defense. He has also expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin as a strong leader, in contrast to the allegedly weak and feckless administration of Obama. On ISIS, he claims to have a secret plan which he chooses not to divulge in order to avoid tipping off the enemy.
While most of the press coverage has been hijacked by these childish observations of Trump, it is true that foreign policy is one of the Achilles Heels of the Clinton candidacy and a candidate better prepared than Trump would have brutally exposed the same. This was apparent in the way Kaine was unable to move beyond his limited talking points while defending the foreign policy of the Obama administration, of which Clinton was the Secretary of State. With the situation getting progressively worse for the US in the Middle East, repeated terror attacks being carried out by ISIS across the world and a newly emboldened Putin repeatedly thumbing his nose at the Obama adminstration, it is worrying that the foreign policy discussion in this campaign season has not elevated beyond juvenile discourse.