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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump went on TV on Wednesday night in a made-for-TV non-debate on MSNBC -- the "Commander-In-Chief Forum" -- to make the case that they were each the most qualified to blow up the world if their grateful nation asks them to. Set on the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier museum ship, Matt Lauer threw foreign policy and national security questions at the candidates -- VERY BADLY, according to the internet! --  before an audience of veterans and service members, some of whom got the chance to ask questions too. Hillary Clinton went first, and was able to hobble onstage without any apparent assistance.

Immediately after accepting Lauer's request to focus on her own abilities rather than running down the other candidate, Clinton took the first question, "What's the most important characteristic of a commander in chief?" and ran with it as an opportunity to contrast herself with Trump: "Steadiness. An absolute, rock steadiness, mixed with strength, being able to make the hard decisions." She made sure to remind us that she was in the Situation Room and helped make the decision to go after bin Laden too. Funny, she didn't even have to invoke the image of Donald Trump flying into a rage on Twitter to make us think of it.

Did You Know Hillary Clinton Had An Email Server?

Needless to say, we were treated to not one but two questions about Hillary's emails, so no, that's never going to be over, and why isn't she in jail right now? Clinton almost seemed like she was tired of getting the question, but gamely said it was a mistake and that she's learned her lesson on that one all right.

On her Iraq war vote, Clinton said, as she has for years now, that yeah, it was not a good thing, and pulled a nice preemptive fact check on Trump, noting that he had been for the war before it happened, but pretends he's always opposed it. "I have taken responsibility for my decision. He refuses to take responsibility for his support -- that is a judgment issue."

This Promise Couldn't Possibly Bite Her In The Ass

The Big Controversial Moment for Clinton came while she was answering a question about how she'd combat ISIS and made the kind of promise a president might come to regret:

We’re going to work to make sure that they have the support — they have special forces, as you know, they have enablers, they have surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance help.

They are not going to get ground troops. We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we’re not putting ground troops into Syria. We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.

Somehow, that sounded less like a reassuring promise that we won't get dragged into another quagmire, than like one of those video clips that may come back to bite her somewhere down the line. Whenever a candidate says they'll never do something, events have a rotten habit of laughing sarcastically at them a few years later.

How About We Not Give U.S. Muslims A Reason To Join ISIS?

Hillz did better with another "Please promise something impossible about the future" question at the end of her half-hour. Asked whether she would tell Americans there's no way to completely rule out the possibility of further terrorist attacks on America, or whether she could "guarantee people that after four years of a Clinton presidency, they will be safer on the streets of San Bernardino or Boston than they are today," Clinton said she'd do everything in her power to prevent terrorism, but that she would not "promise something that I think most thinking Americans know is going to be a huge challenge[.]"

Citing an article by former director of the National Center on Counterterrorism Matt Olsen, she said it would help a hell of a lot if we didn't make things easier for ISIS by demonizing American Muslims, like attacking the family of a Muslim war hero -- at which Matt Lauer tsk-tsked her and tried to remind her they'd agreed not to badmouth the other candidate.

Donald Trump Knows All The Things

Then it was Trump time, and after Lauer reminded him of the rule against trashing the other candidate, he never mentioned it again as Trump went on to repeatedly call President Obama and Hillary Clinton the worstest national security team ever in history. Trump started off by explaining his chief qualification for being commander in chief, which is that he's the best at business, of course. Oh, and also Hillary lied about his position on Iraq, didn't you know?

Well, I think the main thing is I have great judgment. I have good judgment. I know what’s going on. I’ve called so many of the shots. And I happened to hear Hillary Clinton say that I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq. From a -- you can look at Esquire magazine from ’04. You can look at before that.

Lauer somehow managed to let that slide without pointing out that the Esquire article came out a year after "Mission Accomplished" in 2003, by which time the war in Iraq was already headed south.

Lauer did at least ask a question about Trump's temperament, noting that he has a bit of a habit of being undiplomatic. Didn't Trump admit he'd said things he later regretted? Is that something we want in a president, someone who'll shoot off his mouth and then say he's sorry? In classic Trump form, Trump explained that maybe he had some regrets, but he won, didn't he?

Yeah sure, I regret. But in the meantime, I beat 16 people, and here I am. So to a certain extent there is a regret, I would've liked to have done it in a nicer manner, but I had sixteen very talented people that I hadda go through, and that was a lot of people. That was a record, Matt, that was a record in the history of Republican politics, I was able to get more votes than anybody ever has gotten in the history of Republican politics.

Lauer pointed out that saying inflammatory things in a primary is one thing, but when a president does that, it could get people killed. Trump answered by noting he'd managed to go to Mexico without shitting on the podium, and also he "let them know where the United States stands," which strikes us as a tad premature, given that he's not actually running anything in the USA just yet. Then he explained that the firing of a Mexican official who helped set up the meeting was proof of what a great success the trip was:

If you look at the aftermath today, the people who arranged the trip in Mexico have been forced out of government. That’s how well we did, and that’s how well we have to do.

So yeah, wherever Donald trump goes in the world, governments will fall. Hooray?

Paging General Ozymandias

Things then went even more downhill. Asked about his statement that he knows "more about ISIS than the generals do," Trump went from bad to worse. First he said "generals under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have not been successful," then when Lauer pressed him on whether that meant he really knew more about ISIS than the generals did, Trump really put his foot in it:

I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing for our country. You have a force of 30,000 or so people. Nobody really knows.

But you know who could beat ISIS? General George S. Patton, who unfortunately has actually been rather significantly reduced to rubble himself since 1945. Oh, and of course Douglas MacArthur, which is another general Trump likes. As for the ones actually in our military, Trump thinks they kind of suck, because of all that rubble.

Leave The Cannoli, Take The Oil

What else? Let us count the ways! He got the history of ISIS wrong yet again, insisting the group only came into existence after Barack Obama left Iraq, and repeated his claim -- which seemed a complete surprise to the media, although he's been saying the same insane thing for over three goddamned years -- that ISIS never would have been a problem if only America had "taken the oil" before leaving Iraq. All we had to do was take over Iraq's oil fields and leave troops to defend them, which probably would have left everyone in the region perfectly happy. No way THAT could backfire. Also, as talking heads pointed out, even if we had decided to play nineteenth century colonial power with Iraq's oil, it would have done precisely fuck-all to keep ISIS from financing itself with oil: ISIS finances itself with oil from territory it controls in Syria.

Trump also has a secret plan to defeat ISIS (it involves taking the oil, we bet!), which he'll put up against whatever plan his generals come up with -- and they'll have to be new, non-rubble generals, possibly the reanimated corpses of Patton and MacArthur, and then decide which plan is best. (It will be his plan, because he is a smart man.)

Caught With His Briefing Showing

Then came the part of the interview that's going to have ripple effects for weeks: Asked about his intelligence briefings, he did at least manage not to reveal any secrets, but even without any details, he managed to make an ass of himself, suggesting the briefers had insinuated that "President Obama and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who is another total disaster, did exactly the opposite" of what the CIA had recommended -- a judgment he came to from the briefers' "body language." Uh huh.

What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly -- when they call it intelligence, it’s there for a reason -- what our experts said to do [...]

And I was very, very surprised. In almost every instance. And I could tell you. I'm pretty good with the body language. I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.

The intelligence briefings provided for candidates are, of course, supposed to be neutral presentations of facts, not policy recommendations. Washington Post reporter David Ignatius was skeptical that briefers would have said anything of the sort:

Moscow Does Not Believe In Polls

Would you believe Trump still wasn't finished? He kissed up to Vladimir Putin, talking about what terrific poll numbers the Russian president has, and praising him for being a ton stronger than wimpy Barack Obama. Not that he is at all influenced by Putin's flattery:

I think when he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK? The fact is, look, it’s not going to get him anywhere.

Except maybe into Trump's pants.

Women's Vote: Nailed

Trump closed with the bizarre claim that rape in the military is a huge problem because at the moment, in Trump's imagination, there is no military court system, or at least not much of one. That is because he is a moron who doesn't know there have been generals since MacArthur and Patton. Lauer reminded Trump of his 2013 tweet on the subject:

Because he is Donald Trump, he had no choice but to explain, “It is a correct tweet. There are many people that think that’s absolutely correct.” Many, many people, but Trump retrosplained he didn't think women shouldn't serve in the military, just that something needs to be done to stop rape. Like maybe setting up some kind of justice system within the military, maybe he'll look at that.

When you have somebody that does something so evil, so bad as that, there has to be consequences for that person ... You have to go after that person. Right now, nobody is doing anything.

Thank God Donald Trump has noticed there's a problem. Now he can fix it, by making America great again. Also winning a lot.

[Time transcript / Factcheck /Time / The Hill / Politifact / MediaMatters]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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