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I wanted to highlight some comments from the debate that really baffled me:
Trump: I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example. But I don’t know Putin.
Is he unaware that the US has been trying, frantically, to get Russia to “fight ISIS together” — and that this has been the result?
U.S.-Russia relations fell to a new post-Cold War low Monday as the Obama administration abandoned efforts to cooperate with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war and forming a common front against terrorists there, and Moscow suspended a landmark nuclear agreement.
But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia. I know — I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia. …
Russia attacked the United States. Trump was apparently extensively briefed about this. Why would he intimate that this is all made up? Does he really believe that? Do you think he really believes it? If not, why is he saying it?
But if you look at Russia, just take a look at Russia, and look at what they did this week, where I agree, she wasn’t there, but possibly she’s consulted. We sign a peace treaty.
A peace treaty? Does he mean the ceasefire?
Everyone’s all excited. Well, what Russia did with Assad and, by the way, with Iran, who you made very powerful with the dumbest deal perhaps I’ve ever seen in the history of deal-making, the Iran deal, with the $150 billion, with the $1.7 billion in cash, which is enough to fill up this room.
But look at that deal. Iran now and Russia are now against us.
What deal? Does he think the deal caused Russia and Iran to become hostile to the United States? What is he talking about?
So she wants to fight. She wants to fight for rebels. There’s only one problem. You don’t even know who the rebels are. So what’s the purpose?
The only one who doesn’t seem to know who the actors here are is Trump.
RADDATZ: Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump, your two minutes is up.
TRUMP: And one thing I have to say.
RADDATZ: Your two minutes is up.
TRUMP: I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy.
Frankly, we’d be better off with the guy who didn’t know what Aleppo was. Trump either believes something nonsensical, or he knows what he’s saying is rubbish and he’s trying deliberately to mislead the American people about who our adversaries are and the seriousness of the threat. None of these parties is “killing ISIS.” Russia’s campaign has barely dented ISIS. ISIS’s territorial losses have mostly come at the hands of Kurdish militias backed by a US-led coalition. Russia rarely even targets ISIS in Syria. Unless you live in a universe of skepticism so profound that the only sources you believe are Russian propaganda outlets, you’d know this. This paper is one of almost infinitely many reports and analyses from groups across the political spectrum to report that no, Russia’s not killing ISIS:
Initial Russian Defense Ministry combat reports claimed that ISIS was the only target. Yet analysis of open source and social media intelligence (OSSMINT) quickly revealed that the ministry’s claims were deceptive, and that the Russian strikes were not primarily targeting ISIS. Subsequent research also revealed evidence of the use of cluster munitions and bombs that destroyed civilian targets.
OSSMINT analysis further reveals that Putin’s claim that Russia was “able to radically change the situation in fighting international terrorism” does not match the reality on the ground. The almost six months of Russian air strikes caused only peripheral damage to ISIS: Their positions at the end of the campaign were little altered from those at the start. The strikes also had a limited effect on the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which launched an attack on more moderate forces just days before Putin announced: mission accomplished.
In fact, the main beneficiary of the Russian air strikes was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces were able to retake key areas in and around Latakia and Aleppo. The main losers were the more moderate rebels against Assad, including those backed by the West.
The hallmark of the Russian campaign was disinformation. It accompanied the launch of the campaign; it covered the targets chosen and the weapons used to strike them; it masked the real purpose of the campaign, and the strategic effect that it achieved.
In the words of the study’s authors,
Putin’s policy was to distract, deceive, and destroy. The buildup to the Russian air strikes distracted Western and Russian attention from Putin’s Ukrainian operations and the buildup of his forces in Syria. The official campaign reports deceived the world about the mission’s true targets and goals. The operation destroyed the capabilities of the only credible non-jihadist alternative to Assad’s regime, including those elements directly backed by the West. This fits a pattern of behavior already played out in Ukraine. It can be used as a template to predict, examine, and judge his future actions.
Key Takeaway: Russia’s involvement in Syria is facilitating ISIS’s territorial gains, while also strengthening Assad. Russia is supporting the Syrian regime’s offensives in Latakia, the al-Ghab Plain, and northern Hama. Russia also intensified strikes on rebel-held northwestern Aleppo, likely to set conditions for an imminent Russian-Iranian-Syrian regime offensive in the area. U.S. defense officials and local Syrian activists reported the arrival of hundreds of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force fighters and other Iranian proxy forces in Aleppo over the past few days. Russian strikes largely concentrated along the rebel-held supply route leading to the besieged regime enclaves of Nubl and Zahraa northwest of Aleppo City. If the regime can link with these enclaves, they will successfully sever the rebel-held supply route from Aleppo City to the Turkish border. Simultaneous regime offensives in both Hama and Aleppo Provinces will likely fix rebel forces along multiple fronts and prevent them from reinforcing their positions across northwestern Syria, resulting in a loss of terrain for the Syrian opposition.
ISIS is benefiting from Russia’s strikes on the Syrian opposition. On October 9, ISIS advanced 10 kilometers against rebels in northeastern Aleppo, the largest advance by ISIS in the province since August 2015. ISIS continued to conduct probing attacks against rebels northeast of Aleppo City from October 10-14. The Syrian regime and ISIS have historically leveraged one another’s offensives in order to advance against rebel forces in the northern Aleppo countryside. Both ISIS and the regime will likely capitalize on the effects of Russian airstrikes on rebels. Russian airstrikes have thus far failed to deter ISIS from launching new offensives and rather have facilitated ISIS’s seizure of new terrain.
Someone — probably many people — has explained this to Donald Trump. But he’s either chosen not to believe it, or he’s consciously lying about it. Why? If he wins the election, he’ll have to do something about this situation. How is he going to explain that no, we can’t cooperate with Russia to kill ISIS, because Russia doesn’t share our objectives?
RADDATZ: Mr. Trump, let me repeat the question. If you were president…
… what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? And I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in air strikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.
TRUMP: OK. He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.
RADDATZ: You disagree with your running mate?
Why does he disagree with his running mate about this very fundamental issue of national security? Does he really believe that Assad is fighting ISIS?
TRUMP: I think you have to knock out ISIS. Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS. We have people that want to fight both at the same time. But Syria is no longer Syria. Syria is Russia and it’s Iran, who she made strong and Kerry and Obama made into a very powerful nation and a very rich nation, very, very quickly, very, very quickly.
Here we have something, maybe, like an argument — that we’re hamstrung and unable to maneuver without assuming apocalyptic risk, given Russia’s involvement in Syria. But if that’s so, how does he propose we “get ISIS?”
I believe we have to get ISIS. We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved. She had a chance to do something with Syria. They had a chance. And that was the line. And she didn’t.
RADDATZ: What do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?
TRUMP: I think Aleppo is a disaster, humanitarian-wise.
RADDATZ: What do you think will happen if it falls?
TRUMP: I think that it basically has fallen. OK? It basically has fallen.
Does this sentence make sense to anyone? Is he saying, “It will fall and we can’t do anything about it?”
Is it plausible that Trump is getting his news from Russian disinformation sources? If not, why does he sound like it? Can you put any spin on these comments that isn’t sinister? If he’s saying these things for a crude electoral purpose, why does he think it will help him to sound like Sputnik News?