Analyzing the discussion of the region in Monday evening’s presidential debate—marked by the omission of any mention of Syria—Robert Satloff comments on the two candidates’ positions:
In terms of the fight against Islamic State (IS), both candidates replayed stock lines from stump speeches. Overall, Hillary Clinton’s paragraph on defeating the group was much more detailed than Donald Trump’s; it included support for Kurdish and Arab allies, a focus on targeting IS leadership, and a sequence of actions (liberate Mosul by the end of 2016, then focus on squeezing the group in Raqqa), all done with enhanced U.S. air support but not ground forces.
For his part, Trump did not go far beyond a commitment to massive military action against IS, falling back on his critique that the Obama administration permitted the group’s rise by precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and mishandling Libya. Neither candidate, however, addressed what most experts believe to be the most serious challenge—what to do the day after liberating IS-held territory so that it does not become the base for the next iteration of radical Sunni jihadists.
Clinton and Trump spent considerable time jousting over the wisdom of the Iran nuclear accord, including Trump’s remark that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, remains displeased with the deal. However, the Republican candidate offered no specific alternative to the existing agreement, and the Democratic candidate offered no detailed suggestions [about how] to push back against Tehran’s success in taking advantage of the deal to extend Iranian influence throughout the region.