Aboard the now decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid last night, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America along with NBC hosted a “Commander-in-Chief Forum,” starring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This potentially historic encounter between two people who want to be president and people who have actually risked their lives over US foreign policy decisions was a disappointment on almost every level. The vets should ask for their money back.
The IAVA is evolving into a pressure group focused on the special needs of those coming back from America’s longest war (Afghanistan) and America’s most foolish war (Iraq). This forum was one way to focus the nation, or at least the political class of the nation, on those needs. However, the forum covered some vet issues and some national security issues, and given the time constraints, it did neither well. As IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Reickhoff said in an interview afterward, they needed another three hours just to scratch the surface.
Mrs. Clinton’s performance was unfortunate at best. She spent about half of her 25 minutes talking to Matt Lauer of NBC about her email ineptitude. Not only did Mr. Lauer ask about them, but also a former service member in the audience did. There is a saying in politics to the effect that if one is explaining, one is losing. Logically, if one is explaining badly, one is losing badly. At least on that subject, Mrs. Clinton failed to make any headway. On Iraq, Syria and the conflict with ISIS, she vowed, “we are not going to have ground troops in Iraq.” The facts say otherwise. Right now, US special forces are in Iraq (plus 3,000 or so trainers and so on), Syria and likely in the territory held by ISIS. That is quite an error for a woman running in large part on foreign policy expertise.
Mr. Trump fared no better, and many say he did even worse. When asked about the rise of ISIS and the occupation of Iraq, Mr. Trump said, “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 …. One of the benefits we would have had if we took the oil is ISIS would not have been able to take oil and use that oil to fuel themselves.” Apparently, he believes all the oil in the region could simply have been put on tankers and moved. He then added that the US could have kept some people behind to keep the oil — which would mean not getting out at all. He added that under President Obama, the general staff of the US has been “reduced to rubble.” In defeating ISIS, he has said he would give the generals 30 days to come up with a plan (different from his own secret plan), but “They’ll probably be different generals, to be honest with you,” rather than those reduced to rubble. He seems to believe that hiring generals is something his HR department could do in an afternoon.
However, the saddest performance last night was Matt Lauer, whose gig on the “Today Show” every morning leaves him qualified to interview Jessica Simpson, the Kardashians and perhaps Tom Brady but not a serious politician. He failed to call both candidates on their incorrect (or invented) facts. He failed to follow up when the dithering started. He failed to announce when a question went unanswered. In short, he failed to be a serious journalist. But then, most American journalists these days are fearful of offending lest they lose access. Edward R. Murrow and Water Cronkite are surely spinning in their graves this morning. Britain’s Andrew Marr would have destroyed both candidates and had 40 minutes of the hour left over.
This journal is not alone in this opinion. CNNMoney.com offers these:
- “This #NBCNewsForum feels like an embarrassment to journalism,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote on Twitter.
- “Lauer has done great interviews. But that’s one of the weakest, least incisive performances I’ve seen from a presidential forum moderator,” tweeted Will Saletan, a writer at Slate.
- “I don’t blame Lauer for asking the email question. But it’s ABSURD that he started off with Trump, ‘Why should you be Commander-in-Chief?'” Jon Favreau, the former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter.
- “Trump lies about opposing Iraq war. Lauer lets it go. No follow up. Unreal,” wrote Jonathan Chait, the New York Magazine columnist.
- “Seriously — everyone, and I mean everyone, knew this would happen,” tweeted Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist. “And Matt Lauer didn’t have a follow-up planned?”
- “Dear TV anchors. It’s been 15 months. Change interview style for trump,” wrote Tim Miller, a former spokesperson for Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Jon Huntsman. “He needs: Yes/no qs. Multiple specific follow ups on topic. Trivia.”
The report ends with “NBC spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment regarding Lauer’s performance, or why Chuck Todd, the network’s political director and host of ‘Meet The Press,’ was not asked to moderate the forum.” This journal holds that Mr. Todd is a statistician promoted beyond his capacity, but certainly, he could have done no worse. The three main individuals involved in the forum showed themselves unfit to serve in the jobs they seek or currently have.