Here’s a review of the questions and responses from the candidates during the first-ever NBC/Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Commander-in-Chief Forum that was held on September 7th with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in attendance. (Full video is available here.)
What is the most important characteristic that the commander in chief can possess?
Clinton: “I’ve had the unique experience of watching and working with several presidents . . . What you want in a commander in chief is someone who listens, who evaluates what is begin told to him or her, who is able to sort out the very difficult options being presented and then makes the decision . . . Temperament and judgment is key.”
Trump: “I built a great company, I’ve been all over the world, I’ve dealt with foreigncountries, I’ve done tremendously dealing with China and I’ve had great experience dealing on a national basis. I have great judgment. I know what’s going on. I’ve called so many of the shots.”
On the Iraq War:
Clinton: “The decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake. I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake. I also believe that it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes, like after action reports are supposed to do. We must learn what led us down that path so that it never happens again. I think I’m in the best possible position to be able to understand that and prevent it.”
Trump: “I was totally against the war in Iraq . . . because I said it was going to totally destabilize the Middle East, which it has. It has absolutely been a disastrous war and by the way, perhaps almost as bad was the way Barack Obama got out. That was a disaster.”
Editor’s note: Read a fact-check on his response here.
On the Iran nuclear deal: “If they cheat, how would you respond?”
Clinton: “I have said we are going to enforce [the nuclear deal] to the letter . . . I think we have enough insight into what they are doing [on the nuclear issue] to be able to say we have to distrust, but verify. What I am focused is all the other malicious activities of the Iranians: ballistic missiles, support for terrorists, being involved in Syria, Yemen and other places . . . I would rather as president be dealing with Iran on all of those issues without having to worry about their race to creating a nuclear weapon. We have made the world safer, we just have to make sure it’s enforced.”
Trump was not asked this question
On veterans and suicide:
Clinton: “I rolled out my mental health agenda last week [you can read it here]. I have a whole section devoted to veterans’ mental health. We’ve got to remove the stigma. We’ve got to help people currently serving not to feel that if they report their sense of unease or depression that it’s somehow going to be a mark against them. We’ve have to do more about addiction, not only drugs but also alcohol. I have put forth a really robust agenda working with VSOs and other groups like TAPS who have been thinking about this and trying to figure out what we’re going to do to help our veterans.”
Trump: “It’s actually 22. It’s almost impossible to conceive that this is happening in our country. Twenty to 22 people a day are killing themselves. A lot of it is they’re killing themselves over the fact that they’re in tremendous pain and they can’t see a doctor. We’re going to speed up the process. We’re going to create a great mental health division. They need help . . . We’re doing nothing for them. The VA is really almost, you could say, a corrupt enterprise . . . We are going to make it efficient and good and if it’s not good, you’re going out to private hospitals, public hospitals and doctors.”
On terrorist attacks on American soil:
Clinton: “I’m going to do everything in my power that that’s the result. I’m not going to promise something that I think most Americans know is going to be a huge challenge. We’ve got to have an intelligence surge. We’ve got to get a lot more cooperation out of Europe and out of the Middle East. We have to do a better job of not only collecting and analyzing the intelligence we do have, but distributing it much more quickly down the ladder to state and local law enforcement. We also have to do a better job combating ISIS online — where they recruit, where they radicalize and I don’t think we’re doing as much as we can . . . We have to wage this war against ISIS from the air, on the ground and online in cyberspace.”
Trump was not asked this question.
Clinton: “We have to defeat ISIS. That is my highest counter-terrorism goal. We’ve got to do it with air power. We’ve got to do it with much more support from the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground against ISIS. We have to squeeze them by continuing to support the Iraqi military. We’re going to work to make sure they have the support. They have special forces as you know, they have enablers, surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance. They are not going to get ground troops. We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again and we are not putting ground troops in Syria. Those are the kinds of decisions we have to make on a case-by-case basis.”
Trump: “The generals under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have not been successful . . . The generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s an embarrassing for our country. You have a force of 30,000 or so people. Nobody really knows . . . I can just see the great General George Patton spinning in his grave as ISIS we can’t beat . . . I didn’t learn anything [from a recent briefing to suggest that he cannot quickly defeat ISIS]. What I did learn was that our leadership, Barack Obama did not follow what our experts . . . said to do.”
On prepping for office:
Clinton was not asked this question.
Trump: “In the front row you have four generals, you have admirals, we have people all throughout the audience that I’m dealing with. Right here is a list that was just printed today of 88 admirals and generals that I meet with and I talk to . . . I’m doing a lot of different things. We’re running a big campaign, we’re doing very well . . . I’m also running a business . . . In the meantime, I am studying . . . I think I’ve learned a lot . . . Also, I really feel like I have a lot of common sense on the issues you’ve asked about.”
Veteran questions to Clinton:
How can you expect those such as myself who were and are entrusted with America’s most sensitive information to have any confidence in your leadership as president when you clearly corrupted our national security?
Clinton: “I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously. When I traveled I went into one of those little tents. . . because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it was that I was seeing that was designated, marked and headed as classified. I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously. Always have, always will.”
Editor’s note: For a fact-check on her response to handling classified information, go here.
How do you respond to progressives . . . that your hawkish foreign policy will continue and what is your plan to end wasteful war campaigns?
Clinton: “I view force as a last resort, not a first choice. I will do everything in my power to make sure that our men and women in the military are fully prepared for any challenge that they may have to face on our behalf. I will also be as careful as I can in making the most significant decision any president or commander in chief can make.”
Do you think the problems with the VA have been made to seem worse than they really are?
Clinton has faced criticism for making the comment that “the problems with the VA are not as widespread as they are made out to be.”
Clinton: “I was outraged by the stories that came out about the VA. I have been very clear about the necessity of doing whatever is required to move the VA into the 21st century, to provide the kind of treatment options that our veterans today desperately need and deserve. I will not let the VA be privatized. I think that would be very disastrous for our military veterans. I’m going to have a meeting every week in the Oval Office, we’re going to bring the VA people and the DoD people. We’ve got to have a better fit between getting mustered out and getting into the VA system.”
Veteran questions to Trump:
Assuming we do defeat ISIS, what next? What is your plan for the region to ensure that a group like them doesn’t just come back? (Editor’s note: This question was posed by Marine vet Phil Klay, the award-winning author of “Redeployment.”)
Trump: “Part of the problem that we’ve had is we go in, we defeat somebody and we don’t know what we’re doing after that . . . You look at Iraq. You look at how badly that was handled. And then, when President Obama took over, likewise it was a disaster . . . If I win, I don’t want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is . . . I may like my plan or I may like the generals’ plan . . . There will probably be different generals then. ”
Do you believe that an undocumented person who serves or wants to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces deserves to stay in this country legally?
Trump: “I think that when you serve in the Armed Forces that’s a very special situation and I could see myself working that out. If they plan on serving, if they get in, I would absolutely hold those people. Now we have to very careful, we have to vet very carefully, everybody would agree with that. But the answer is it would be a very special circumstance.”
In your first 120 days of your presidency, how would you de-escalate the tensions and, more importantly, what steps would you take to bring Mr. Putin and the Russian government back to the negotiating table?
Trump: “I think I would have a very good relationship with many foreign leaders . . . I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin and I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia . . . Russia wants to defeat ISIS as badly as we do. If we had a relationship with Russia, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS? . . . I’m a negotiator. We’re going to take back our country.”
How will you translate those words [about helping veterans] to action after you take office?
Trump: “I’ve been very close to the vets. You see the relationship I have with the vets just by looking at the polls . . . I have a very, very powerful plan that’s on my website. One of the big problems is the wait time. Vets are waiting six days, seven days, eight days . . . Under a part of my plan, if they have that long wait, they walk outside, they go to their local doctor, they choose their doctor, they choose their hospital, whether its public or private, they get themselves better. In many cases, it’s a minor procedure, or it’s a pill a prescription. And they end up dying because they can’t see the doctor. We will pay the bill . . .”
Editor’s note: Read Trump’s 10 Point VA Plan here.
What specifically would you do to support all victims of sexual assault in the military?
Trump: “It’s a massive problem. The numbers are staggering and hard to believe. We’re going to have to run it very tight. At the same time, I want to keep the court system within the military. I don’t think it should be outside the military, but we have to come down very, very hard on that . . . The best thing we can do is set up a court system within the military. Right now, the court system practically doesn’t exist.”
Trump was also asked about his controversial tweet about sexual assault:
Trump: “It is a correct tweet. There are many people that think that is absolutely correct. Since then, it’s gotten worse. Something has to happen. Nobody gets prosecuted. You have the report of rape and nobody gets prosecuted. There is no consequence . . . You have to go after that person. Look at the small number of results.”
(This article was provided by Military One Click.)