National Security Center Stage in Heated Presidential Debate

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton debate at Hofstra University, N.Y., on Sept. 26, 2016. Screenshot photo.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sparred over the looming threat of ISIS, cyber warfare, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the United States’ relationship with NATO, Russia, and other state actors during a heated and often unusual presidential debate Monday night.

Though the US faces cyber attacks from independent hacking groups, Clinton said Russia poses the most significant threat. “There is no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country. I’m deeply troubled by this. I know Donald is very praiseworthy of Vladimir Putin, but Putin is playing a dangerous game here,” said Clinton. “We recently learned this is one of their preferred methods of trying to wreak havoc and collect information. We need to make it very clear that the US has much greater capacity and we’re not going to sit ideally by and let state actors go after our information.”

Trump agreed that, “as far as cyber we should be better than anyone else,” but said, “I don’t think anybody knows Russia broke into the [Democratic National Committee]; maybe it was China, maybe it was Russia. It could also be somebody sitting at home on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

On the threat of nuclear war, Clinton called Trump’s “cavalier attitude toward nuclear weapons … deeply troubling” and said, “a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his hands anywhere near” the nuclear codes.

Trump agreed “the single greatest problem the world has is nuclear armament, nuclear weapons,” but then quickly changed the subject to NATO, saying the United States provides the lion share of defense funding for the alliance and alluded that article 5 protection should not be provided to countries that do not “pay their fair share.”

Trump argued that the United States should not be the world’s policeman and noted that, “We defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea … They don’t pay us. That’s why we’re losing a fortune. We lose on everything.” Clinton called for an “intelligence surge” and cautioned about being “dismissive” of NATO “and our friends in the Middle East.” She said the United States should bolster its relationship with allies and try to “vacuum up intelligence from Europe and the Middle East.” Trump said that policy hasn’t worked out so far.

Trump blamed the rise of ISIS on Barack Obama and Clinton’s failed policies, saying the terrorist organization never would have formed “had we taken their oil” and kept troops in Iraq longer. He accused Clinton of providing too many details about how she would attack ISIS on her website and said, “No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.” To which Clinton called on the fact checkers to “get to work.” Both agreed ISIS is using the Internet to radicalize people across the globe. Clinton said that’s why the US must “intensify airstrikes against ISIS” and go after its leaders.