Quad Abroad Opinion: Answering to the American People

Americans expect their presidential candidates to answer questions, and during the second debate Oct. 9, some answers left the audience short of a full response.

One question in particular, submitted via Facebook, was about the conflict in Syria.

“If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?”

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton responded by lashing out at Russia, promising to take a hard line against “the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia.”

“Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS,” she said. “They’re interested in keeping Assad in power. So I, when I was Secretary of State, advocated and I advocate today, a no-fly zone and safe zones. We need some leverage with the Russians, because they are not going to come to the negotiating table for a diplomatic resolution, unless there is some leverage over them.”

Clinton addressed critically important aspects of the devastatingly complex, brutal conflict occurring in Syria. She laid out a strategy to work with our allies in the region to combat Russian and Iranian aggression and influence in the Middle East.

She did not address the degree or implications of the ongoing refugee crisis or the threat that regional instability poses to the national security of the United States.  

Republic candidate Donald Trump responded to the question by holding that Clinton would not be able to take a hard line against Russia. He also spoke out against the Iran deal, holding that Clinton made Iran “very powerful with the dumbest deal perhaps I’ve ever seen in the history of deal-making.” Trump also outlined a plan to “secretly” target ISIS leaders in Syria.

Trump did not address the gravity of the humanitarian crisis occurring in Syria, Iraq, and Libya or the threat that such instability poses to U.S. national security.

It is no secret that the United States and its closest allies face a grave threat in terrorist groups, like Islamic State, headquartered in Syria and Iraq. It is not a coincidence that terror threats arise from the world’s most unstable and violent regions; a terror group could not survive long without violence and chaos to attract desperate members and avoid destruction by a legitimate government.

It is significant that when the candidates were asked about their response to the humanitarian crisis Syria and Iraq, the situation was compared to the Holocaust.  

To be fair, the Holocaust and the ongoing violence in Syria are profoundly different in their scope, causes, and implications for the United States.

But when a big, weighty question is asked of people who want to lead the free world, they are generally expected to answer it.  And neither candidate acknowledged the comparison.  


Staff writer Jimmy King (CAS ’17) is studying Political Science and Journalism at BU and is currently interning at ABC News in Washington, DC.

Featured photo by Jerry Hildeman on Flickr Commons.

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