The Mosul Campaign and the 3rd Presidential Debate

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Some of the more extended comments on the Mosul campaign were those of Hillary Clinton. Here is Wallace’s question:

WALLACE: . . . let’s move on to the subject of foreign hot spots.

The Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul has begun. If they are successful in pushing ISIS out of that city and out of all of Iraq, the question then becomes, what happens the day after? And that’s something that whichever of you ends up — whoever of you ends up as president is going to have to confront.

Will you put U.S. troops into that vacuum to make sure that ISIS doesn’t come back or isn’t replaced by something even worse? Secretary Clinton, you go first in this segment. You have two minutes.

And here is her reply:

CLINTON: “Well, I am encouraged that there is an effort led by the Iraqi army, supported by Kurdish forces, and also given the help and advice from the number of special forces and other Americans on the ground. But I will not support putting American soldiers into Iraq as an occupying force. I don’t think that is in our interest, and I don’t think that would be smart to do. In fact, Chris, I think that would be a big red flag waving for ISIS to reconstitute itself.

The goal here is to take back Mosul. It’s going to be a hard fight. I’ve got no illusions about that. And then continue to press into Syria to begin to take back and move on Raqqa, which is the ISIS headquarters.

I am hopeful that the hard work that American military advisers have done will pay off and that we will see a real — a really successful military operation. But we know we’ve got lots of work to do. Syria will remain a hotbed of terrorism as long as the civil war, aided and abetted by the Iranians and the Russians, continue.

So I have said, look, we need to keep our eye on ISIS. That’s why I want to have an intelligence surge that protects us here at home, why we have to go after them from the air, on the ground, online, why we have to make sure here at home we don’t let terrorists buy weapons. If you’re too dangerous to fly, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun.

And I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track.”

Juan Cole: Sec. Clinton pledges not to put US troops into Iraq “as an occupying force.” It just baffles me that she would say this. There is no prospect of the US occupying Iraq again. President Obama put 6,000 US troops, mainly trainers and special operations forces, into Iraq at the request of Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi. The question is whether those troops will remain after Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) is rolled up as a territorial entity. She says that keeping US troops in Iraq would cause a revival of Daesh (because Iraqi nationalists wouldn’t put up with them), but it isn’t clear that she is saying that she won’t keep the 6,000 spec ops troops there. The “occupying” adjective muddies the waters because it is such a strange concept at this juncture.

Her notion of an “intelligence surge” isn’t clear. Will she spy on Daesh? But there is no internet in Mosul, so cyber-espionage can’t be carried out there. Does it mean she’ll spy on US residents?

This thing about denying the right to purchase firearms to people on the no fly list is so distressing. There are some 47,000 people on the no fly list, and I think it is unconstitutional. If they are guilty of a crime, then they should be prosecuted. If they aren’t, they they should be free. Where in the constitution does it say that the executive can prevent people from traveling? People are frequently placed on the list by accident, or out of vindictiveness (some are peace activists). Senator Ted Kennedy ended up on it. The no fly list is way too vague and un-transparent to form a basis for depriving people of other rights.

Clinton’s ‘no fly zone’ in Syria might have made sense in 2013. But Russia is now in Syria and controls its air space, and Russia has nuclear weapons. There is no way to do it now.

Wallace followed up on this point. Clinton replied that she would negotiate the no fly zone with the Russians and the Syrians. But there is no prospect that they would agree to any such thing, and Syria is now a Russian sphere of interest.

Why keep hitting this point when it is impractical and has been made irrelevant by developments on the ground?

Clinton was secretary of state, so why is she so flat-footed on these foreign policy issues? Why even bring up occupying Iraq? Why suggest a no fly zone in Syria that can’t be implemented. It is baffling.

Of course, Trump makes much less sense and commits much bigger howlers.

“WALLACE: Let’s turn to Aleppo. Mr. Trump, in the last debate, you were both asked about the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo. And I want to follow up on that, because you said several things in that debate which were not true, sir. You said that Aleppo has basically fallen. In fact, there — in fact, there are… TRUMP: It’s a catastrophe. I mean…

WALLACE: It’s a catastrophe, but there…

TRUMP: … it’s a mess.

WALLACE: There are a quarter of…

TRUMP: Have you seen it? Have you seen it?

WALLACE: Sir…

TRUMP: Have you seen what’s happening to Aleppo?

WALLACE: Sir, if I may finish my question…

TRUMP: OK, so it hasn’t fallen. Take a look at it.

WALLACE: Well, there are a quarter of a million people still living there and being slaughtered.

TRUMP: That’s right. And they are being slaughtered…

WALLACE: Yes.

TRUMP: … because of bad decisions.

WALLACE: If I may just finish here, and you also said that — that Syria and Russia are busy fighting ISIS. In fact, they have been the ones who’ve been bombing and shelling eastern Aleppo, and they just announced a humanitarian pause, in effect, admitting that they have been bombing and shelling Aleppo. Would you like to clear that up, sir?

TRUMP: Well, Aleppo is a disaster. It’s a humanitarian nightmare. But it has fallen from the — from any standpoint. I mean, what do you need, a signed document? Take a look at Aleppo. It is so sad when you see what’s happened.

And a lot of this is because of Hillary Clinton, because what’s happened is, by fighting Assad, who turned out to be a lot tougher than she thought, and now she’s going to say, oh, he loves Assad, she’s — he’s just much tougher and much smarter than her and Obama. And everyone thought he was gone two years ago, three years ago. He — he aligned with Russia.

He now also aligned with Iran, who we made very powerful. We gave them $150 billion back. We give them $1.7 billion in cash. I mean, cash. Bundles of cash as big as this stage. We gave them $1.7 billion.

Now they have — he has aligned with Russia and with Iran. They don’t want ISIS, but they have other things, because we’re backing — we’re backing rebels. We don’t know who the rebels are. We’re giving them lots of money, lots of everything. We don’t know who the rebels are. And when and if — and it’s not going to happen, because you have Russia and you have Iran now. But if they ever did overthrow Assad, you might end up with — as bad as Assad is, and he’s a bad guy, but you may very well end up with worse than Assad.

If she did nothing, we’d be in much better shape. And this is what’s caused the great migration, where she’s taking in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, who probably in many cases — not probably, who are definitely…”

Juan Cole: So Trump doesn’t know whether Aleppo has fallen or not. (Chris Wallace also seems not to know that West Aleppo has some 1 million people and is under regime control, and that it is rebel-held East Aleppo that is being bombarded by Damascus and Moscow).

Trump clearly supports the Russian plan to keep Bashar al-Assad in power by main force. He characterizes the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as wily and strong and as having outmaneuvered Clinton. He says that if al-Assad were overthrown, a fundamentalist Muslim government would come to power and would be much worse than al-Assad. If Clinton gives insufficient thought to what would come after al-Assad if she overthrows him, Trump gives insufficient thought to the ways in which al-Assad is himself a standing provocation for the rebels, since he stands for discrimination and massacre and censorship and a police state. Trump never met a strongman he didn’t like.

But despite Trump’s isolationism, he occasionally switches around and becomes an imperialist, as when he called last March for 20,000 to 30,000 US troops in Syria to fight Daesh.

Trump also called the 12,000 Syrian refugees being admitted to the US this year a “trojan horse” and called substantial numbers of them ISIL. Actually, many of them have run away from ISIL, and of 750,000 refugees admitted by the US in the past decade, only 10 have had anything at all to do with terrorism. Trump’s virulent hatred of foreigners is shocking and fascist in it contours.

Trump’s insistence that the Mosul campaign should have been a sneak attack does not reckon with the some one million innocent civilians there, which the US is encouraging to leave by making this announcement.

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Related video:

The Third Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump (Full Debate) | NBC News

19 Responses

  1. It scarcely matters what contestants say these days but it may matter where they come from, and If one ignores all the blather, it does seem Clinton is for more sabre rattling and military involvement and Trump for less.

    • Trump is fundamentally untrustworthy in a way different from “typical” politicians such as HRC, this is screamed loud and clear by his behavior and easy embrace of demonizing the “other”.

  2. A concern that should worry American voters is that a Clinton presidency represents more destabilization. Assad’s governance was not an issue prior to the “civil war,” and was certainly milder than that of some of our closest allies.

    Our hope should be for Assad to retake at least the entirety of the western half of Syria, as there are no actors who stand even the chance of that, with all due respect to the liberal interventionist fantasies expressed here.

    Clinton has proven, with her record on Iraq, Syria, and Libya, that she thinks this kind of instability is in the strategic interests of the United States.

    Trump is a buffoon, but that was one issue that he may have accidentally stumbled into being correct on.

    • Clinton has proven, with her record on Iraq, Syria, and Libya, that she thinks this kind of instability is in the strategic interests of the United States.

      From Ramzy Baroud over at CounterPunch: – An oddly refreshing, although disturbing ‘truth’ was articulated by Alon Ben-David in the Israeli Jerusalem Post last year. The title of his article speaks volumes: “May it never end: The uncomfortable truth about the war in Syria.” – link to counterpunch.org

  3. I am suspicious of a no fly zone. What does a US fighter pilot do if he encounters a Russian fighter in the zone? Can the zone be used by rebels to operate with impunity?

    With the disastrous results we see taking place in Libya, some would call Hillary’s War, I don’t trust her or her neocon advisers to improve the life of the average Syrian. She admitted this in her emails saying….” A no fly zone will kill a lot of Syrians.”

    • “Can the zone be used by rebels to operate with impunity?”

      Of course. That’s the purpose of the whole idea.

      Antoinetta III

  4. What’s so baffling about Hillary’s answer on Iraq and Syria? It’s clear she’s a political hack whose aides do all the work for her and then she spouts these well-rehearsed lines that sound like she’s knowledgeable. It’s obfuscation, she does it smoothly and it works for her.

  5. I think her ‘no occupation’ declaration was a carefully parsed crumb thrown to the anti-war left. Her plan to ‘negotiate’ a no-fly zone with Russia and Iran was a total retreat from the whole no-fly zone idea. She knows they won’t negotiate something like that. It sounded awfully naive coming from a former Secretary of State, especially one who totally ignored Russia’s criticisms of US action in Libya and whose “Assad Must Go!” mantra ruined the chance for a UN resolution on a cease-fire and political negotiations as far back as fall, 2011, when the body count in Syria was 2300 instead of half a million.

  6. Trump seems to envision something like a 21st Century Yalta Conference where he and Putin sit down and divide up the resources of the ME. In that context, it’s easy to see a substantial American presence on the ground, working with Russia to end Daesh as an organized fighting force. That vision is much different from Sec. Clinton’s. She seems to envision a long tussle with Russia in the ME, essentially more of the same.

    Both candidates do agree on one thing. Someone is trying to rig this election. They just can’t agree on who is doing it. He thinks it’s the American political and economic establishment. She thinks it’s the Russians.

  7. How come you didn’t mention, Professor, Hillary’s statement where she would go to Raqqa when ISIL was defeated in Mosul? Does she mean the no-fly zone, or something more ominous? Also I’m no lover of Assad, but why doesn’t the West mention the indiscriminate bombing of west Aleppo by the terrorists, including these so-called moderates? Assad may be a terrorists, but I believe more Syrians would prefer him to Al Nusra, ISIL and the others.

    As a sidebar this vilification of Russia is insane. I’m with Trump on this. We’ve seen the politicization of our federal agencies from Nixon to ‘W’ to Obama, so pardon me for my skepticism towards our 17 intelligence agencies!

  8. I think that Trump is the significantly greater evil, but I also believe that Clinton is a dangerous war hawk.

    As far as I can tell many Russians actually would prefer Trump to HRC, and not because they can’t see that Trump is a lying con man.

    It’s not that they believe Trump; it’s that they believe HRC. She has compared Putin to Hitler, and said that we must be tougher** on Russia, and impose more costs on them. Tougher how? The Russians have made it clear that they can be expected to use nuclear weapons if they are attacked by US/NATO.

    The Russians aren’t fools. If President Trump is a fascist, racist, sexist, etc., that will be our problem. If President Clinton starts a nuclear war, then it will be their problem.

    (**I doubt that President Obama would admit to being weak with Russia. He sponsored sanctions against Russia, promoted an anti-Russian coup in the Ukraine, and supports Wahhabi rebels against Russian ally Assad in Syria. The results so far include Russia re-gaining Crimea, and acquiring permanent air and naval bases in Syria.)

  9. I think whether those advisors and special forces remain after Mosul, isn’t really up to the next president except as veto point. They are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government, which might withdraw the invitation if the threat from Daesh begins to appear less urgent. This is similar to 2010, when we ended the occupation, because we no longer had a legal mandate from the government of Iraq.

  10. Sigh. So many ignorant comments again! Oh we know EXACTLY what HRC will do, so the Orange Menace must be allowed his due. Fergawdsake gimme a break. Most of you in comments (yeah, here goes my Festivus list of grievances), you know nothing about what the Orange Menace will do – zero, zilch, ouden, nihil , nada – because it will depend on what pussy he has or hasn’t grabbed that morning. Yeah, I get it – HRC bad in the Mideast, and I agree. So WTF, let’s just kick the remaining shreds of democracy to the curb – is that what you all want?

    I have students who need a future. Who need even a [dys]functioning democracy so they are at least still allowed to protest against it. HRC will give us that at the least. The Vulgar Talking Yam will not – this should be clear to anyone who has listened to this creature. Btw, as a teacher, I kind of like having kids who have at least been fed and given a good start. HRC has been a champion of children’s issues in this country. What has the Orange Menace (or any of you) done to make life tolerable for kids in this country lately? (And yes, you f*****g bet I want an equally tolerable life for the children of Aleppo (or any other city in the world), a city I happen to love [or did before it was destroyed]). For that matter, what is your solution to the crisis in that part of the world? What would any of you do or be able to do? It seems we are Gulliver on the Strand – but with one hand loose.

    Trump has incited violence, hates Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, women, and LGBTQs. Last night he showed utter contempt for a democracy for which many have died. Hope you are happy with your white supremist neo-Nazi. My relatives in Norway and Denmark were occupied by Trump’s mindset in the 40s. I had relatives – and so did many of you – who fought and died against his ideology. Shame on you. Shame and eternal shame. Nothing but shame for any who lend support to this impiteous peri-wig-pated pustule.

    • What we should do “in that part of the world”? We should just get out. Quit supporting anyone in the region, including Israel.

      You’re right, we don’t know what Trump will do, but we know that Hillary will double down in Syria, and by supporting so-called “rebels” will prolong the agony. And this is before we even get to the question of setting off a war with Russia. If we had never gotten involved, Assad would have destroyed the rebels long ago, and several hundred thousand people would still be alive, there would be far fewer refugees headed for Europe, and the destruction of Syrian infrastructure far less.

      War and peace issues, especially if there is even the least chance of its going nuclear, dwarf our devisive, domestic “identity politics” concerns.

      Antoinetta III

  11. I find myself in the terrible position of have no choice but to vote for someone I don’t like or trust to insure that a dangerously deranged man does not become President.
    I’m afraid Hillary will get us more involved in the Syrian Civil War with disastrous results, but Trump is so bad she is still the best choice.
    Bush/Cheney, Obama and Clinton have made such a mess of things it’s hard to see a way out of this self imposed tragedy the U S Government has gotten us into.

    • You have no choice because the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and the media conspired to destroy Bernie’s candidacy. If you vote for Clinton, you will be demonstrating that such manipulation has worked, and you will never get a better candidate, because the DNC will destroy anyone who is not a corporatist, a friend of the global elite, and a feeder of the MIC.

      • . . . [You fail to mention] history, the history of rhetoric, of the 20th century, and what such rhetoric can bring about (see above GWC comments; also see Wansee Conference; Holocaust; Herman Khan and the “winnability” of Nuclear War; or better yet, just sail up the coast of Norway and see the destruction [STILL in evidence to this day!] that The Orange Menace’s way of thinking can bring about).

  12. No occupying troops in Iraq:
    The comment about a public stance and a private stance in the Wikileaks email is relevant here. Clinton was speaking to voters. It is made as a counter to Trump and Pence criticism that US Troops should have not left Iraq under Obama and to counter claims against her war hawkery.

    The Clinton foreign policy is learned from lack of response to Rwanda. Clinton’s weakness is a desire to respond militarily when massive civilian casualties are threatened. What good options exist for protecting Aleppo other than a negotiated truce? She is stuck with NoFlyZone. To admit it is not feasible would lead to charges of a FlipFlop and a diversion from the topics her campaign want to dominate the media.

    I expect Clinton to push much harder to support institutions that protect children and women’s rights. Dictators destroy institutions that protect human rights to eliminate limits on and alternatives to their own power. Movements that overthrow dictators often destroy the remaining functional institutions with the idea that they will rebuild them to their own tastes. This is destabilizing because building credible trusted institutions takes a time. Dictators set the stage for revolutionaries to fail massively. The path to progressive change that causes the least harm to women and children is the support and building of institutions that can stabilize a power transition.

    Expect Clinton to increase support for institutions. Expect Clinton to intervene militarily if large populations are threatened (as in preventing another Rwanda)

    • I think the case can be made that Hillary learns from past mistakes. Her recent hawkishness was a response to the disaster that not intervening in Rwanda allowed. Now, she has seen that intervention can bring on its own self-made disaster as well. I don’t think she will be a knee-jerk hawk, I think she will try to weigh the pros and cons of her future actions in the light of the knowledge that things can go wrong either way.

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