The Vice Presidential debate last night between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence was a sad affair–Pence was able to “win” the debate without knowing any policy by repeatedly attacking Clinton’s record while only vaguely referencing policy issues. Rather than force Pence to defend his vague policy assertions, Kaine relied on a variety of canned talking points, many of which were personal attacks on Trump that moved the conversation away from the issues (Kaine repeatedly referenced my 5 bad anti-Trump arguments instead of my 5 good ones). This made Kaine look like he was running from policy, allowing Pence’s assertions to go unchallenged and giving Pence command of the room. Pence was able to accuse Kaine of running an insult-driven campaign, and Kaine’s response to that was to petulantly interrupt, get defensive, and resort to more insult-driven talking points, all of which reinforced Pence’s point. There were many claims Pence made that were open to attack, but I want to focus on one in particular today–Pence eliminated the major policy difference between his campaign’s and Kaine’s on Syria, and in so doing he eliminated the foreign policy case for Trump.
Horrible things have been happening to Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Syria’s largest city. Large parts of the old city has been destroyed, though not for the first time–the city was sacked as recently as 1440 by Tamerlane, a vicious Mongol conqueror who is estimated to have killed 5% of the world’s people. All told, the Syrian Civil War has killed more than 270,000 people, creating more than 4 million refugees and displacing 7.6 million. These high losses have not resulted in any constructive political change in Syria–Bashar al-Assad’s faction remains the strongest in the country. The conflict has made no one better off aside from the Islamic State, which has used the chaos to carve out a slice of territory for itself:
The Syrian government is red, the Iraqi government is purple, the rebels are green, Islamic State is black, and the Kurds are orange. When the Syrian Civil War started, a lot of people in the west were excited by the possibility of overthrowing the Assad regime and creating a new democracy in the Middle East. Instead we have a bloody power vacuum filled in which the only winners are terrorist organizations. What’s interesting about this is that Syria is not an isolated case–the Arab Spring revolutions that turned violent all went so badly, while those that remained peaceful sometimes achieved meaningful results.
When I watched the third democratic debate, I was amused and horrified with the way Hillary Clinton defended the decision to intervene in Libya:
…we have to continue to do what is necessary when someone like Gadhafi, a despot with American blood on his hands, is overturned.
This is precisely the same way that George W. Bush continues to defend the Iraq War:
One thing is certain: The Iraqi people, the United States and the world are better off without Saddam Hussein in power
On these accounts, overthrowing dictators is the right decision because dictators are bad, and we should get rid of bad people. This reminds me way too much of the plot of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Spoilers for that movie follow, if you care about such things.
In my conversations with people around the internet since the Paris terrorist attack, it’s become increasingly clear to me that many people have a dramatically inflated understanding of the military strength and capabilities of the so-called Islamic State. So today I’d like to make it clear just how weak these people are, and how easy it would be for the surrounding Muslim states to destroy this organization even if the United States played only a minor logistical role.