The VP Debate and Syria
The vice presidential debate was an irritating and boring event. One notable part was when Mike Pence outlined 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 creating safe zones in Syria on more than one occasion. 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.