Sunday night was the second of three head-to-head debates between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The two sparred over a litany of subjects, and seemed especially hostile toward each other, even refusing to shake hands.
During the latter half of the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz read a question from Facebook: “If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?”
Clinton responded first, reflecting on the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and the Russian effort to destroy the city with constant bombing and air strikes. “I want to emphasize that what is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia,” she said. “Russia has decided that it’s all in in Syria. And they decided who they want to become president of the United States, too. And it’s not me.”
The Republican candidate’s answer was a lot less coherent, to say the least. He incorrectly mixed up Syrian rebel forces with ISIS fighters, implying that the Obama administration is directly supporting ISIS. “I don’t like Assad at all,” he said, “but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy.”
“I want to remind you what your running mate said,” Raddatz replied. “He said provocations by Russian need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved with airstrikes along with the Syrian government and forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.”
Trump shrugged off Mike Pence’s opinion. “Okay. He and I have not spoken and I disagree.”
“What do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?” Raddatz followed up. “I think that it basically has fallen. OK? It basically has fallen,” the Trump replied.
As NPR’s Middle East editor Larry Kaplow points out, Aleppo has not fallen to the Syrian government. “It has been a divided city for years and rebels control the eastern side,” Kaplow writes on NPR’s fact check of the debate. “The Syrian government and its Russian allies have increased air strikes on the eastern side lately. The UN warned last week that more than 200,000 civilians live there and thousands could die if the Syrian regime tries to take it over.”