The second US presidential debate started off with a bang last night, as Republican nominee Donald Trump went after Hillary Clinton hard. He accused her husband and the former president Bill Clinton – sitting in the audience – of sexual assault, and the female Clinton of covering up the allegations. He even said he would criminally investigate her if he wins the presidency over her use of a private email server while secretary of state. Hillary stated her intention to take the high road to the punches thrown at her, and didn’t overly focus on personal attacks, but did call remarks of Trump’s racist, sexist in addition to claiming he did not pay taxes.
But amidst all the mudslinging, the two candidates spent considerable time debating US policy in Syria and Iraq. The following are the key Middle East-related takeaways from last night’s debate.
The red line
At the start of their foreign policy scuffles, Trump attacked Clinton over the “red line” Obama stated in 2012, in which he said Assad would face consequences for using chemical weapons.
“Obama draws the line in the sand. It was laughed at all over the world what happened,” said a boisterous Trump.
Clinton said she wasn’t in government at the time, and Trump then backed off. But fact checkers after the debate pointed out she was secretary of state in 2012 when Obama made the remarks.
Who’s fighting Daesh?
It got a lot more heated than that. Trump and Clinton disagreed considerably over who is fighting Daesh (ISIS), with Trump saying Assad, Iran and Russia were and Clinton arguing they are indeed not. “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy,” said Trump, referencing in part the Iran deal.
Hillary said the opposite. “Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS. They’re interested in keeping Assad in power. So I, when I was secretary of state, advocated and I advocate today a no-fly zone and safe zones. We need some leverage with the Russians,” she said. In reality, Russia and Assad have fought Daesh in some areas such as Deir Ezzor, but spend considerably more time fighting various rebel groups. Many commentators have also spoke of a symbiotic relationship between Assad and Daesh at times.
On Aleppo, Clinton criticized Assad and his allies for bombing the city.
“Well, the situation in Syria is catastrophic. And every day that goes by, we see the results of the regime by Assad in partnership with the Iranians on the ground, the Russians in the air, bombarding places, in particular Aleppo,” she said. To help the situation, she pushed her long-sought idea of a no-fly-zone and safe zones in the country.
Trump, on the other hand, seemed unfamiliar with Aleppo, and talked about fighting Daesh in response to question about the city. When pressed to answer what he would do to prevent Aleppo from falling, he got all apocalyptic.
“I think Aleppo is a disaster, humanitarian-wise,” he said. “I think that it basically has fallen. OK? It basically has fallen.”
Trump isn’t the only one who didn’t seem to know much about Aleppo last night.
The confusion may stem from Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson asking “what is Aleppo?” when asked about his plans to help the war-torn city on MSNBC. Many made jokes after the gaffe insinuating he thought “leppo” was a noun, with “a” referring to one of said nouns.
And while discussing Aleppo, Trump shifted the conversation eastward to Daesh-held Mosul, where he condemned the coalition against Daesh for announcing their plan to attack the northern Iraqi city in the coming weeks.
"They think a lot of the ISIS leaders are in Mosul. We have announcements coming out of Washington and coming out of Iraq: ‘We will be attacking Mosul in three weeks or four weeks.’ All of these bad leaders from ISIS are leaving Mosul, why can't they do it quietly? Why can't they make it a sneak attack? And after the attack is made, inform the American public that we've knocked out their leaders."
Moderator Martha Raddatz challenged Trump, arguing that perhaps the announcement would be made for “psychological warfare” purposes or to give civilians ample time to escape. Nonetheless, Trump said he couldn’t think of a “single reason”.
TRUMP: Why do they say in advance that they're attacking Mosul?— Chimney Spotter (@chimneyspotter) October 10, 2016
MODERATOR: Often to help civilians eva-
T: *I* certainly can't think of one!
Other Middle Eastern states like Israel, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia and Yemen were not mentioned at all last night, perhaps surprisingly. Only part of the debate focused on foreign policy, however.
Fortune published a transcript of the entire debate, which can be found here.
The 3rd and final presidential debate will be held Wednesday, October 9th in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Al Bawaba staff
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