Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump outlined their competing visions to keep Americans safe from terrorist strikes, and vowed to improve services for military veterans and combat troops during a national security forum Wednesday night in Manhattan.
The presidential hopefuls, each looking to portray themselves as the most qualified to serve as commander-in-chief, fielded questions on foreign policy and military affairs from an audience of veterans and active service members aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
Clinton touted her foreign affairs experience as secretary of state, and her time as U.S. senator from New York in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to make the case that she has the “rock steadiness” to make tough national security decisions.
“When you’re sitting in the Situation Room, as I have on numerous occasions . . . what you want in a president, a commander-in-chief is someone who listens, who evaluates what is being told to him or her, who is able to sort out the very difficult options,” Clinton told NBC’s Matt Lauer, who moderated the forum, and an audience organized by sponsors the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America advocacy group and NBC News.
Trump, who addressed the audience second, as determined by a coin toss, brushed aside questions about his level of preparedness to lead the nation’s armed forces, saying his business experience, including his private ventures in foreign countries, made him equipped to handle major foreign policy decisions.
“I’ve called so many of the shots,” the real estate mogul said.
Clinton defended her use of a private email server while serving in the State Department, saying it was a “mistake” while adding that she “communicated about classified material on a separate system,” and took the handling of classified information “very serious.”
She stood by her past statements that she regretted voting for the war in Iraq, adding that “it’s imperative we learn from our mistakes” to not repeat them.
“We must learn what led us down that road, so that it never happens again,” Clinton said.
Trump defended his earlier claim on the campaign trail that he knows “more about ISIS than the generals do.” He told the forum audience that under the Obama administration the generals have “not been successful” and have been “reduced to rubble.”
On the issue of combating the Islamic State terrorist group, Clinton said eradicating the group was her “highest counterterrorism goal,” pledging to do so without deploying ground troops to Iraq or Syria.
Clinton said the U.S. should continue working with its international allies to attack the group’s leaders through airstrikes and by working with the tech industry to wipe out the group’s online recruitment presence.
Trump said he did not want to “broadcast” his plans to defeat ISIS, but said the U.S. should “take the oil” from the group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria, which he said the group was selling to finance its operations.
When asked by Lauer to clarify his plan, Trump replied: “You would leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil.”
Asked by a military father about his plans to combat growing rates of sexual assault in the military, Trump said “we have to come down very hard on that” but stood by a 2013 Twitter post where he wrote “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military—only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
In the view of John Kinsedahl, 60, of Freeport, who watched the forum with nearly 50 other military veterans in the Manhattan offices of Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans of America, neither candidate satisfied his need to know about their plans to take care of veterans.
“I don’t think either addressed veterans issues adequately,” said Kinsedahl, who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 with the New York National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment. “Can the VA system adequately take care of them as opposed to throw pills at them?”
Augustin Cabrera, 35, of Massapequa, also watching at the Manhattan veterans’ gathering, said he was disappointed neither Clinton nor Trump addressed the military’s practice of discharging troops for behavioral problems that are often related to PTSD, which he said happened to him after he served in Iraq during his 2001-2004 Army enlistment.
“They had certain topics they discussed,” Cabrera said. “But they didn’t discuss the meaty stuff.”