Friday, September 09, 2016

EDITORIAL >> It’s 15 years since 9/11

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appeared at a town hall meeting Wednesday night designed to display their command of national-security issues and to show voters who would protect them better from another 9/11 attack.

Veterans were used mostly as backdrops at the so-called “commander-in-chief forum” as NBC host Matt Lauer pressed Clinton on her email problems for about a third of her allotted time, while some veterans’ questions went largely ignored when Trump followed Clinton onstage in the second half.

Phil Klay, the former Marine who is the author of the National Book Award-winning “Redeployment,” asked Trump one of the best questions of the evening. It was obvious neither Trump nor Lauer recognized Klay, who asked him about how his postwar plans would have differed from Obama’s. Trump said he would have taken Iraq’s oil before we got out as the spoils of war, in violation of international law. Lauer, who cut Klay off, didn’t press Trump on that.

That was pretty much the tone of the town hall meeting, mostly because Lauer was in over his head. Trump insisted, incorrectly, that he was always “totally against the war in Iraq” and denigrated America’s generals, saying they had been “reduced to rubble” under the Obama administration.

Trump said he would change generals if he were elected, apparently unaware that the military officer corps operates mostly on a nonpartisan merit system.

He again praised Putin, pointing to the Russian president’s “82 percent approval rating,” not as good as Stalin, who enjoyed 99 percent approval rating when he was in charge.

“I think when he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK?” Trump said.

When it came to the subject of sexual assault in the military, Lauer at least had the presence of mind to ask Trump about a tweet he sent out a few years ago, apparently blaming assault victims: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?” He insisted the tweet was “absolutely correct,” although half the abuse victims in the military are men.

His comments were quickly condemned. “That’s more than victim blaming, and it misunderstands the historical role of women in the military,” retired Col. Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor of the Air Force, told The New York Times.

Trump suggested a new kind of military-justice system, but it’s been used in our military since 1774. “George Washington beat him to it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former military lawyer. “We couldn’t run our military without women,” Graham added. “Quite frankly, it’s absurd.”

If the forum was in many ways a failure, it allowed viewers to study the candidates as they prepare for their debates this fall. The moderators must be better prepared, and the candidates, too, should know their pronouncements are being scrutinized by the voters.

We give the first round, such as it was, to Hillary Clinton, whose email problems are now less embarrassing after emails to her from former Secretary of State Colin Powell released this week showed that he had advised her to use a private computer at home just as he did.

As the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaches this weekend, Americans still face the dangers of terrorism here at home and abroad. Indeed questions remain about the terrorists responsible for 9/11, particularly the alleged support of Saudi Arabia. Congress made it easier this week for victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for compensation and clear the record on who was responsible for those attacks besides the mostly Saudi hijackers and the Saudi Prince Osama bin Laden, all of them now deceased.