By Con Coughlin
27 September 2016 • 7:15pm
Watching the first of the live televised debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it was hard not to sympathise with the millions of Americans who feel short-changed about the choice they’ve been given in this year’s presidential contest.
An estimated 80 million Americans are said to have tuned in to see the Republican contender go head-to-head with his Democratic rival for the White House. But rather than cheering on their preferred candidate, many voters found themselves watching simply to see who will be the least worst option when it comes to November’s election.
Recent polls show that rarely in the history of modern US politics has a party’s chosen candidate been so unpopular as Mrs Clinton – except, that is, for Mr Trump, who has suffered even worse ratings among the Republican faithful.
So while the pundits argued over which candidate came out on top during the 90-minute debate – the general consensus is that Mrs Clinton gave the more assured performance – the fact that neither contender seems capable of inspiring widespread support among the American public does not bode well for the future of the world’s most powerful democracy.
In one corner, Mr Trump was his usual bombastic self, claiming that his record as a successful businessman made him the ideal choice to repair America’s battered economy and get a better deal for Americans in global trade negotiations. Mrs Clinton, by contrast, was more poised and had a better grasp of the issues, as one would expect of a former Secretary of State.
But few viewers, either in America or elsewhere, will have been impressed by Mrs Clinton’s claim that her State Department record makes her the ideal candidate to replace Barack Obama as president. On the contrary, it could be argued that Mrs Clinton’s four-year tenure at Foggy Bottom has been a significant contributing factor to the marked decline in America’s global influence in recent years.
It began with Mrs Clinton’s naive attempt in 2009 to curry favour with the Kremlin by presenting Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s belligerent foreign minister, with a mock “reset” button, which was supposed to herald a new era in Russo-US relations.
The failure of Washington’s repeated attempts to forge closer ties with Moscow has been brutally exposed by the collapse of the recent Syrian ceasefire, with the US now openly accusing the Kremlin of war crimes, while being completely powerless to do anything about it.
Given Mrs Clinton’s close association with many of the Obama administration’s glaring foreign policy failures – the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and Libya are two more that spring to mind – it is quite remarkable that she has managed to secure the Democratic nomination at all.
But for some unknown reason the Clintons still seem to have the Democrat hierarchy in their thrall, despite Bill Clinton’s less-than-edifying conduct in the Oval Office in the late 1990s.
For tactical reasons, Mr Trump decided not to focus on Mr Clinton’s sexual shenanigans as president during the debate, preferring instead to concentrate on his wife’s failings in the political arena.
But while Mr Trump managed to score points on Mrs Clinton’s record, he struggled to reassure voters that he was a viable alternative as commander-in-chief.
His point about European members of Nato contributing more to national defence spending was well made. A situation where Washington pays nearly 75 per cent of the cost of defending the Nato alliance while many European member states struggle to spend 1 per cent of GDP on defence is clearly untenable, particularly as Russia’s aggressive military posture now poses a clear and present danger to European security.
The EU’s response has been to revive talk of forming a European army, an ill-conceived concept that would simply add another layer of bureaucracy without making any tangible improvement to the alliance’s military strength.
Mr Trump, then, deserves credit for raising concerns about future Nato spending. But on other issues, such as tackling Isil and standing up to the Kremlin, he did little to destroy the perception that he is too outspoken and thin-skinned to become America’s 45th president.
After Moscow’s blatant breach of the Syrian ceasefire, Mr Trump’s invitation to Moscow to hack the computers of his Democratic rivals now looks like a joke made in very bad taste. And his threat to bomb Iranian sailors for making offensive gestures to US warships is a good way of provoking hostilities with Tehran.
There are still two more debates to come, and it may well be that in the weeks ahead Mr Trump can make a convincing case for being entrusted with the US military’s top secret military codes.
But until he does so, Mrs Clinton, for all her many faults, must remain the preferred option for those in the West who long for strong and effective leadership in the White House. And, if she wins, we can only hope that she has learnt from her mistakes and makes a better president than she did a secretary of state.
Kerry’s Syria Offer To Putin — Ash Carter is openly skeptical of Mr. Kerry’s latest overture — Plus Hillary Clinton’s Idea For An “Intelligence [Cooperation] Surge” (Who knows more about sharing U.S. government secrets?)
Those were fun times, weren’t they? U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov press a red button symbolizing Mrs. Clinton’s intention to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations during their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, March 6, 2009. Only the Clinton State Department Used the word for “overcharge” instead of the word for ‘reset.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton left her post as U.S. Secretary of State with a Russia in military resurgence. The button meant “Reset to the Soviet Union and the Cold War” to Putin’s Moscow government, we suppose. (AP Photo)
Tags: cyber, Donald Trump, EU forming a European army, first presidential debate, foreign policy, hacking, Handarat refugee camp, Hillary Clinton, Iraq, Islamic state, Libya, Nato spending, reset, reset button, Russia, Russian air strikes, Sergei Lavrov, Syria, Syrian ceasefire