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The VP Debate and Syria

The vice presidential debate was an irritating and boring event. One notable part was when Mike Pence outlined [1] his views of what the U.S. should do in Syria:

Asked how a Trump-Pence administration would stop the civil war carnage in Aleppo, Pence said that he, at least, “truly believe(s) that what America ought to do right now is immediately establish safe zones, so that families and children can work out of those areas,” and “work with our partners…[to] make that happen. Provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength.” If Russia “continues to be involved” in airstrikes along with the Syrian government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he said, “the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military forces of the Assad regime” and “prevent this crisis in Aleppo.”

Trump has said very little about Syria’s civil war–and advocated none of the measures Pence outlined.

That last part is not really true. Trump has endorsed [2] creating safe zones in Syria on more than one occasion [3]. While I don’t believe Trump has a clear idea of what establishing a safe zone requires, he has had no problem voicing support for the idea several times. The fact that Pence felt comfortable outlining a very aggressive Syria policy in tonight’s debate suggests that Trump doesn’t really have a problem with what his running mate proposed. As I said when I was watching the debate, Pence’s answer on Syria was deranged. He more or less threatened to initiate hostilities with Russia, and he seemed oblivious to the serious negative consequences this would have. He kept invoking “American leadership” and “American strength,” as if uttering these phrases was all that mattered. Pence’s advocacy for much more U.S. involvement in Syria could have been an easy target for Kaine, but of course he and Clinton have no disagreements with the Republican ticket on this issue. For all the quarreling between the two campaigns, both tickets apparently support U.S. escalation in Syria. As bad as the moderator for the debate was, she did at least manage to get both candidates to take positions on an issue that was completely ignored in the first presidential debate.

Overall, Kaine’s performance was shaky and didn’t seem all that impressive to anyone that didn’t know much about him. Despite arguably having better foreign policy experience than Pence, he did a worse job of demonstrating his readiness to be president if needed. His constant interruptions of Pence were jarring and off-putting, and created the impression of being an overly loyal terrier trying to defend his master. Pence’s repeated failure to come to Trump’s defense in response to Kaine’s many jabs presumably hurt Trump, but it also made Pence seem much less agitated and rattled. Neither VP nominee significantly harmed his running mate, but Pence did a better job of making the case for his party’s ticket.

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24 Comments To "The VP Debate and Syria"

#1 Comment By Who Stole The Strawberries? On October 4, 2016 @ 11:48 pm

” it also made Pence seem much less agitated and rattled”

I agree. Kaine’s nervousness, grimacing, and non-stop interruptions were annoying and a bit flaky. Pence seemed more composed and stable, even if some of what he said was a lot of nonsense straight out of the Interventionist Handbook.

Temperamentally, Pence is the guy you’d want a heartbeat away from taking that 3:00AM call … Kaine looked like he’d still be awake, jabbering into a dictaphone while vacuuming the Oval Office for the fifth time.

#2 Comment By Dakarian On October 5, 2016 @ 12:13 am

As far as Syria, and the middle east in general, this is sort of why I glossed over the statements that Hillary is a hawk: because I don’t see any doves (that don’t have far too many other problems to support). Trump started out sounding like he was but as time went on it sounded more and more like the regular republican “more money to the military. World Police! WIN!” talk.

So at this point it sounds like both are going to keep us in the middle east. Though it seems Trump may mess with the Iran deal (though it might be less attacking it as it is just poking at the administration any chance you get).

As far as the debate, Pence wanted a debate about policy while Kaine wanted a debate about Trump. if this was a presidential debate Pence probably would’ve been in a better standing.

But I think Kaine wasn’t even fighting him. He wasn’t after policy. Beyond stating his points and a token defense his primary purpose was one thing, to say “remember, you aren’t voting for Pence, but for Trump.” He’s picturing the public saying “Oh, Pence seems pretty coo..oh yeah, but he’s with Trump..ewww.”

It pretty much sums up the entire deal with the republican side of the campaign. Take Trump out of it and you have a strong platform and an actual attempt at trying to extend somewhat past the old GOP mindset while evoking that Need For Change that pushed democrats back in ’08. It’s an actual strong case.

The issue is that it’s all on the hopes of Trump. And THAT is the hard sell. I don’t even see many supporters defending him. It’s like Pence: they bypass him and either focus on the dream or the enemy.

Which leads to something interesting: If the roles were reversed: same platform, same general message, but Pence as President and Trump as VP, would it be hard for folks not two-feet in the Democratic ticket to vote R? Would there be a questioin as to who would win?

I have a feeling that many would say : ” I don’t know. But I would have liked that campaign…I would have liked that campaign very much.

#3 Comment By Old Dominionite On October 5, 2016 @ 2:51 am

If you’d told me that one of the two gentlemen debating last night was a Virginian and asked me who it was, I would have said Pence, solely because of his demeanor.

Pence’s thoughts on Syria were dumb (and dangerous), but I find it hard to hold that against run-of-the-mill politicians these days because they’re getting such rotten information and advice from establishment “experts” and mainstream pundits. The country needs a changing of the guard when it comes to “experts”.

Kaine struck me as a third stringer trying to compensate for his own weaknesses by poking a stick in the other fellow’s spokes. And no better on Syria, that’s certain.

#4 Comment By furbo On October 5, 2016 @ 7:29 am

The way the question was phrased, evoking endangered children and the classic what should America ‘do’….doesn’t really allow a candidate to say ‘nothing – we have no vital interests in Syria’.

#5 Comment By VikingLS On October 5, 2016 @ 8:40 am

If Pence is pushing that same “get tough with Russia and Assad” idea he’s taking the opposite tack than Trump. Either they aren’t communicating, the campaign figured that they could get away with completely altering their position from one debate to the next, or Pence doesn’t really care what Trump thinks and is an unreformed GOP hawk.

Either way this is very disappointing and stupid.

#6 Comment By collin On October 5, 2016 @ 8:52 am

Isn’t the joke here Pence had a great debate running for President? In reality, it is very likely Pence does all the real work and all Donald really wants is the national audience to take the credit. So it was a goo debate for Pence that has minimal effect on the polls because the headliners personality are dominant this cycle.

Tim Kaine was overly-aggressive and appeared to be not ready for Prime time.

#7 Comment By Nestor On October 5, 2016 @ 8:54 am

Take Trump out of it and you have a strong platform

Idiotic.

Take Trump out of it, and you have more of the same GOP neoconservatism as ever:

-more pretend-resistance-but-actual-enabling of illegal immigration
-more wars-on-behalf-of-Israel neocon interventionism
-more manufacturing-base-killing free trade

Trump is the ONLY reason these three toxic policies are even being challenged.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 5, 2016 @ 9:04 am

“The fact that Pence felt comfortable outlining a very aggressive Syria policy in tonight’s debate suggests that Trump doesn’t really have a problem with what his running mate proposed. As I said when I was watching the debate, Pence’s answer on Syria was deranged. He more or less threatened to initiate hostilities with Russia, and he seemed oblivious to the serious negative consequences this would have. He kept invoking”

I didn’t watch the debate. This morning, when I was asked about it — I didn’t think it would be a contest. Gov. Pence, should have no issues.

But if I had watched and heard the above comments. I might have had conniptions. I am not going to say more at the moment. I would sound like I am abandoning my candidate. I like Gov. Pence, but that response is rife with campaign and policy self inflicting damages — good grief.

#9 Comment By Steve in Ohio On October 5, 2016 @ 10:22 am

Pence is a fine Christian man and I’m glad he did well last night. However, his hawkishness was disturbing. Somebody who is pro life should be wary of policies that lead to wars and thousands dying.

As somebody who wants our borders secured, I don’t feel I have a choice on Nov. 8. I will be praying, though, that Trump doesn’t delegate the FP heavy lifting to his vice president as Bush 43 did to his.

#10 Comment By Uncle Billy On October 5, 2016 @ 10:35 am

“Safe Zones” sound all well and good, but the only way to guarantee a safe zone is to have US troops on the ground in Syria. You cannot enforce a safe zone from the air.

So, it sounds like both parties are willing to commit US ground troops to Syria and risk a possible confrontation with Russian troops who are already there.

This is more Neocon nonsense being foisted on the American people by politicians who do not really understand the ramifications of their actions.

#11 Comment By LHM On October 5, 2016 @ 10:50 am

Jesus. Very disappointed in Pence’s answer on Syria. War against russia would cost thousands of american lives. We need to stay out of Syria plain and simple. Pence’s statememt also goes completely against “we need to beat ISIS” rant that trump goes on every two sentences. To beat ISIS we would have to be on the same side as Syria/Russia. This whole election is cluster….How the heck did we end up with these two choices?

#12 Comment By RadicalCenter2 On October 5, 2016 @ 11:21 am

LHM: exactly. I’d just add that war with Russia conventionally would probably costs hundreds of thousands of us soldier lives and could cripple our military for subsequent actual DEFENSE against the country that actually will have the means to threaten the very existence or freedom of the USA:

China, with an economy vastly bigger and more diversified than Russia’s, a population eight times as numerous as Russia’s, and for that matter a far, far larger diaspora to influence politics, culture, and economics in the formerly white western countries (USA, Canada (especially “British” Columbia), and Australia, in particular).

Also, as pointed out in columns on Unz and elsewhere, conventional war could escalate to nuclear exchange more easily than many people think. God help us.

#13 Comment By Anonne On October 5, 2016 @ 11:34 am

Pence did a better job selling his party because Pence thoroughly invented a different running mate.

#14 Comment By Chris Chuba On October 5, 2016 @ 12:06 pm

How many safe zones do we need in Syria, we already have 3.
1. Govt held areas (unless we bomb them).
2. Kurdish territory (unless Turkey bombs them).
3. The Turkish zone in N. Syria.

In fact weren’t we begging Turkey to establish a zone just for this purpose?

Of course, what we really want is an Assad free zone that covers all of Syria and filled with Al Qaeda groups that we pretend are moderates.

#15 Comment By EdK On October 5, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

Trump needs to state clearly that he is not in agreement with Pence position on Russia & Syria. To beat ISIS we need to be on the same side as Russia. If Pence is a fine Christian, how can he be so carless to be on side of ISIS in Syria like Obama is, and have hand in destroying Syria the cradle of Christianity.

#16 Comment By Dakarian On October 5, 2016 @ 1:18 pm

@LHM

“Jesus. Very disappointed in Pence’s answer on Syria. War against russia would cost thousands of american lives. We need to stay out of Syria plain and simple. Pence’s statememt also goes completely against “we need to beat ISIS” rant that trump goes on every two sentences. To beat ISIS we would have to be on the same side as Syria/Russia.”

it’s the problem with being involved with the entire middle east without a firm desire of exactly what we want from there. We started out fighting Sunni threats, then took out the big Sunni country that we earlier set up to hold back the big Shi’a country we felt was a threat. So when said Shi’a country gained power we stood against them. And..well, that sort of ended up with us fighting both sides at the same time depending on the location.

It’s much more complicated than that, which is why jumping in there without really understanding the region was a bad idea.

” This whole election is cluster….How the heck did we end up with these two choices?”

My belief.

Democratic voters are used to ‘playing it safe’ instead of going for more Left choices since “liberal” triggers a BIG backlash in this country. Thus why you get candidates like Clinton instead of candidates like Sanders and why you keep getting things like Obamacare’s quasi-private insurance instead of single-payer.

Republican voters are sick of the GOP and wanted someone, anyone, who wasn’t a democrat but wasn’t holding the GOP platform. Remember how, other than Trump, the other Republican candidates were all trying to “Out Right” each other? Trump was the only one that did more than outright ignore them.

So in a way, the GOP caused it all by putting so much hate against the Left that the Left always plays it safe and caring so little about their base that they eloped to the first man that told them they were pretty and deserved better.

Clinton was the ‘safe pick’. Trump smiled. And here we are.

It actuslly sounds less stupid when you see it that way. It’s less that we’re all idiots and more just a set of unfortunate events caused by a political scene that looked a lot like a youtube comment section.

#17 Comment By DES On October 5, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

I tend to discount Pence’s comments on Syria in the debate. If Trump manages to win, he rather than Pence will be calling the shots on foreign policy. And to the extent that Trump has any coherent ideas on foreign policy, how could he come down hard on the mistake of invading Iraq and support getting deeply involved in Syria?

In fact, Trump may have welcomed Pence’s statement on Syria, since it may have attracted the votes of some establishment and neocon types without binding him to any particular policy if he becomes president.

#18 Comment By the danger of reinfestation On October 5, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

“In fact, Trump may have welcomed Pence’s statement on Syria, since it may have attracted the votes of some establishment and neocon types without binding him to any particular policy if he becomes president.”

Altogether too close to the Bush-Cheney parallel for comfort. The last thing we want is for the neocons to come creeping back in through the Blair House back door.

#19 Comment By Paul Asay On October 5, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

Thought Pence was the superior of the two. Considering the options in Syria while running for President/VP you have to show a position of strength. My thought is that Trump wants to play nice with Putin for a while and eventually will pull out of Syria. You just can’t say that during an election or you look weak.

#20 Comment By Steve in Ohio On October 5, 2016 @ 4:30 pm

@EdK

Pence is a fine Christian–I admire his courage in bringing up abortion in such an important debate. Unfortunately, most conservatives have a blind spot toward Christians in the Mideast. Part of it might be bias–Orthodox Christians aren’t “true” Christians. Also many Evangelicals have been brain washed into believing that support of Israel is the only thing that counts.

#21 Comment By rayray On October 5, 2016 @ 5:29 pm

@Paul Asay
“My thought is that Trump wants to play nice with Putin for a while and eventually will pull out of Syria.”

One thing Trump has successfully done is to launch a campaign so free of any real policy that anything you want to believe can be projected onto him. Play nice with Putin and then pull out? Sure! He’s never said that, and in fact he’s said the exact opposite…but why not?

#22 Comment By KS On October 5, 2016 @ 10:58 pm

@rayray

Yup. People are just projecting onto Trump all the things they wish for. Its a pretty good illusion that Trump has created but it is also a function of how desperately poor the rest of the candidates are.

Pence is awful. A relic of the old republican party that had become a pathetic joke, that deserved to fall apart. His nonsense on Syria is just a continuation of that old stuff. The more we see, the more it seems that Trump doesn’t really actually care about these issues. He had a good sense of the issues that were hot button issues and he pushed them. But how he would actually govern, who knows? At least with Hillary you have a reasonably good idea of what she will do.

#23 Comment By ElteCommInc. On October 5, 2016 @ 11:04 pm

Correction: “This morning . . .” That was yesterday morning.

Since the day’s fallout is probably as much as it’s going to be. Here are the rest of my comments from this morning.

A major campaign issue that reflects why Sec Clinton should not be elected being advanced by the candidates who should be doing no such thing. Instead of leveraging that against their opponents the suggestion is that their opponents are correct.

And trying to skip through on the nuance of “if” does not cut it. The US and Great Britain’s analysis has indicated foreign policy breakdowns on Middle East operations.Col. Davis explicates what is a total failure.

Seems strategically unwise to be moving to engage more failure as a winning message, in spite the nuance of “if.”

And Gov. Pence should and could have defended the Pres. Nominee.

“Creating safe zones” that’s not going to make matters any easier. Because it’s a “no fly zone” by another. And suppose you could actually nuance such a one out in theory – your opponents again burden you with having to create “no fly zones” to make it work.

So despite the analysis that indicates the rebels are in fact a disjointed band with no US goals in mind should they actually win, we now sound like we are taking the side of ISIS and Al Queda forces who also want regime change. Anyone running the analysis to it’s obvious conclusion — a confrontation with Russia. Which undermines any idea of diplomatic front that Mr Trump has pushed for the last six months. Which on turn undermines not getting involved in the Ukraine. And threatens to rip any disentanglement from the region.

So the only real difference here is on immigration. I wouldn’t be surprised if the democrats don’t hang this around Mr. Trumps head for the rest of the season.
_____________________

“I have a feeling that many would say : ” I don’t know. But I would have liked that campaign…I would have liked that campaign very much.”

And that policy angle would mean anyone on the fence from the democratic side who is concerned about our foreign policy would dismiss Republicans as the same as Sec Clinton.

So I am going to enforce immigration at home, make more refugees overseas — safe zones will require boots on ground —

More refugees in Europe and no doubt more in the US which wold the thread to unravel immigration enforcement.

Grumble grumble grumble and grumble . . . the problem with selecting an establishment holder is that they seem incapable pf moving away from the establishment even when those policies are failures.

I like Gov. Pence, but the agenda he should be advancing here is not his own. Maybe pre-general election cycle, this response might work. But for me, the slippery slope of what that policy means is written in blood, set tears and cash.

The premier example is Somalia a simple feed and water drought mission turned into a ring around the rosey mission for who should be leading the country. And Syria, Libya are much more complicated than Somalia.

#24 Comment By I’m not a robot On October 6, 2016 @ 1:46 am

I don’t think there is any reason to sugarcoat this. The big defense money, most of the GOP, the media, Israeli interests and hawkish elements of the Democratic party will exert heavy pressure for the U.S. to intervene in Syria. The drumbeat for war will be deafening.

Standing against this is Trump, with his compromised relationship with Russian banks, generally incoherent and antagonistic bent towards the Middle East and a few logical lines about the absurdity of involvement in Syria.

Pence’s own policy statement reads like a chamber of illogical horrors, specifically mentioning Russian involvement as a primary inducement to get involved and strike Assad regime targets, fully aware of the possibility of direct conflict with a nuclear armed superpower. Incredibly, he seems to think that these high risk strikes against the Assad regime are likely to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

Kaine also supported safe zones but without eagerly redefining the conflict as a test of U.S. versus Russian strength. Add to this the fact that both Trump and Pence are against the Iran deal and it’s safe to say that piece of diplomacy won’t last long in a Trump administration.

There are degrees of danger here. A Trump/Pence hybrid administration would be markedly more unpredictable, less risk-averse and highly likely to reap unintended consequences on a greater scale than an HRC administration.

Pence:
“And secondly, I just have to tell you that the provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength. If Russia chooses to be involved — and continue, I should say, to be involved — in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo,”