America has had better weeks than the one just past.
Only days away from the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates convened for what was dubbed the “Commander-in-Chief Forum,” sponsored by NBC News and hosted by “Where in the world is Matt Lauer?”
And then there was the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, whose spaceship apparently had just landed in the middle of Earth’s 2016. Appearing Thursday on “Morning Joe,” he responded to Mike Barnicle’s question about Aleppo with, “And what is Aleppo?” Barnicle might as well have said it was an Italian coffeemaker and moved on.
At the forum, we learned Lauer apparently just got wind that Clinton used a private email server because he devoted fully one-third of her allotted time to questions about the email, which has been investigated exhaustively, including by the FBI, for about two years. Otherwise, we learned that Clinton’s top counterterrorism goal is to defeat the Islamic State, which failed to awaken any of the thousands of people who requested an induced coma until after Nov. 8.
From Trump we learned he built a great company, which was news to us, and that he has a plan for defeating the Islamic State, but he’s not about to tell anyone because he might win the election and then the terrorists would know he intends to ask his top generals for a plan.
We also learned, because we’ve never heard this before, that the U.S.-led Iraq invasion was a mistake that Clinton once favored and that Trump did not — except he did. But who, pray tell, ever cared what Trump the New York real estate developer thought about our military plans for Iraq? Why not just ask Joe the doorman at 30 E. 76th Street? Or the cashier at Madison Avenue’s 3 Guys Restaurant?
Today, let’s face it, everybody’s against it after they were for it.
Clinton seems to have abandoned even her qualifying trope for voting for the Iraq invasion —based on the intelligence we had at the time. At the forum, rising from her seat, she simply and solemnly intoned that it “was a mistake.”
This was a noteworthy moment, obviously premeditated in anticipation of the question, and seems to have been choreographed to convey statesmanlike buck-stops-here gravitas. A curious choice when speaking to the military audience gathered and an unqualified obscenity to the ears of families whose loved ones perished. Why not use the opportunity to say that as commander in chief, her first order of business would be to ensure no such intelligence failure ever happens again?
Similarly curious was Trump’s response outlining his qualifications to command the military: “I’ve built a great company.” For real? He missed an obvious opening to say something thoughtful and original that highlights what he has over his opponent — a record of dealmaking and negotiation. He had a chance to create a new narrative: If war is a failure of diplomacy, then Trump could say he’s uniquely qualified to use his talents to end all wars.
This isn’t necessarily so, but it sure beats his usual campaign Big Talk about nukes and nationalistic jingoism. Instead, he essentially finessed the forum by saying so little of substance that no one’s the wiser and his supporters can continue to invent whatever fantasy narrative gets them through the night. Including, it would seem, that it’s OK for the Republican nominee to blow kisses at Vladimir Putin, whom Mitt Romney long ago — and to much eye-rolling — identified as our greatest geopolitical foe.
Not to Trump, who declared Wednesday that Putin is a far better leader for Russia than Barack Obama has been for the U.S. Never mind that Putin — former KGB officer, aggressor, oppressor, autocrat and, yes, dictator — leads in part by ensuring his opponents cease breathing. Is this really Trump’s idea of leadership? What could go wrong?
To distill the week: Clinton proved herself knowledgeable, if foggy, and experienced in public affairs, as well as in artifice and deceit. Trump is a substance-free figment of his own imagination, whose stated reason for running for president is that he thinks he can win. Finally, Johnson is a former governor who stopped smoking pot to run for commander in chief because a crow landed on his shoulder in the New Mexico desert and whispered in his ear that he should.
Missing Romney yet?
Kathleen Parker is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is email@example.com.