Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton agreed on the need to have no fly zones in Syria.
But when Trump was asked about running mate Mike Pence’s comment last week that the United States should “use military force” against the Bashar al-Assad regime, he said that he and Pence “haven’t spoken and I disagree.” Instead, Trump said, in reference to the Islamic State, “we have to knock out” the Islamic State.
Rather than challenging the Syrian government of Assad and his allies, Trump said, the United States should be working with them against the Islamic State.
In a totally erroneous comment, Trump said that “Assad is killing ISIS, Russia is killing ISIS, Iran is killing ISIS.”
Although Iran-backed militias in Iraq have fought against the Islamic State, and the Syrian army has skirmished with them in the eastern part of the country, Assad has by and large steered well clear of the militants in Syria, as has Iran. Russia has launched some airstrikes against them in Syria, but the vast majority of its bombardment there has been against U.S.-backed opposition forces and civilians.
Asked what he would do to stop the slaughter from Russian and Syrian airstrikes in Aleppo, Trump said that “Aleppo has basically fallen,” and repeated that the United States should instead concentrate on the Islamic State.
In terms of protecting Syrian civilians–a quarter of a million of them under bombardment in Aleppo–both Trump and Clinton said that no-fly zones should be established. Trump said he was all for them, as long as “other people” in the region pay for them. Those countries are not “carrying their weight,” Trump said. “They have all kinds of money.”
The safe zones under discussion would provide areas inside Syria where refugees–millions of whom have left the their country for safety in neighboring states including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq–could return there under aerial patrols to protect them from Russian and Syrian bombs. The zones also would likely giveopposition fighters places to congregate and resupply.
But the question of establishing the zones has generally not been one of money, but of having the aircraft and the military resources, the logistics and command and control systems to protect them indefinitely, without having to put troops on the ground. It’s theoretically possible that other countries could and would do it, but unlikely.
Beyond safe zones–which President Obama has rejected and the Pentagon has opposed–Clinton basically supported Obama’s current policy of using Special Operations forces to train and support the Iraqi military, and Arab and Kurdish forces fighting against the Islamic State in Syria.
Trump also criticized the Obama administration for trumpeting the upcoming coalition-backed Iraqi offensive to take back the city of Mosul. This brought him into something of an argument with moderator Martha Raddatz, who took it upon herself to respond to him by saying that “psychological warfare” was involved, and “it may be to get civilians out.”
Part of the reason for announcing the upcoming offensive in Mosul, Clinton said, was to build support and participation among Iraqi Sunnis and Kurdish forces. “I hope that by the time I’m president, that we will have pushed ISIS out of Iraq.”