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Clinton Surrogate Gen. John Douglass Weighs In On Presidential Debate

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is the morning after the first presidential debate. We're spending time on this program listening to voices, responding to what we heard last night. Steve is in Georgia. He's been talking to voters. And we're also talking to surrogates and advisers from both campaigns. And joining us on the line now is General John Douglas. He was assistant secretary of the Air Force under President Bill Clinton.

He's now endorsing Hillary Clinton. He watched the debate at Hofstra University last night, was in the so-called spin room talking to reporters afterwards. And he was kind enough to get up early in the morning and speak to us this morning from New York City. General, good morning.

JOHN DOUGLASS: Good morning, David.

GREENE: I want to start with foreign policy, if I could. The Iran nuclear deal came up a number of times last night. And here's what Donald Trump had to say about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE)

DONALD TRUMP: You look at the Middle East, it's a total mess, under your direction, to a large extent. But you look at the Middle East. You started the Iran deal. That's another beauty where you have a country that was ready to fall. I mean, they were doing so badly. They were choking on the sanctions. And now they're going to be, actually, probably a major power at some point pretty soon, the way they're going.

GREENE: General, could you argue that that deal ended sanctions that were actually working and really squeezing Iran, as Donald Trump just said?

DOUGLASS: You know, you look at this Iran deal as glass half-full or glass half-empty, and it's obvious that Trump looks at it as a glass half-empty. And if Donald Trump thinks that a collapse of a nation like Iran, with all the chaos that's already going on there in the Middle East, is a good thing, it just shows one more time how appallingly uninformed he is about national security and about foreign policy.

GREENE: But you're saying there are two ways to look at this. I mean, there is legitimate criticism about that deal and a question to ask about whether sanctions were working against that country.

DOUGLASS: Well, you know, there's always two ways in every story, particularly in arms control. You know, I spent five years on the president's staff at the White House. And we were negotiating some of the arms-control treaties that allowed us to reduce the level of nuclear weapons between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

And we always put - the first principle in our negotiations was don't trust, verify. And this treaty has considerable verification built into it where we actually have access on the ground to some of the Iranian activities that we didn't have before.

GREENE: I guess you just look at Iran now, and they do seem to be growing in power, influence in the neighborhood - I mean, Syria, Yemen. Fair for voters to wonder if that would be the case if those sanctions remained in place.

DOUGLASS: Well, you know, it's not a zero-sum game. And I think people on both sides of the political divide here in the United States believe that if we could find a way to build more stability into the Middle East and reduce the chaos there, we would all be better off - all of humanity and people in that area and surrogates on both sides.

That's why about 50 national security experts - people who have served at high levels in former Republican administrations - have come out for Hillary. I think there's another list of about 75 former diplomats who have also come out for Hillary that were...

GREENE: Just - just about a minute left. I wanted to get to one more topic if I could, and that's trade. Donald Trump talked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this trade deal that has been much debated in this election - noted that Hillary Clinton at one point called it the gold standard, but has since come out and raised many doubts and says she's an opponent of that trade deal. Is she flip-flopping here?

DOUGLASS: No, I think she's talking about a process. When - when, you know, the original position of - that she saw in the beginning was started, she thought it was a good deal. But after the negotiation, she looked at it again and said, well, look, the way this thing turned out, I don't think it's a good deal anymore. And she came out against it.

And, you know, David, the thing about last night's debate that I thought was the most striking thing is that Donald Trump doesn't seem to have the temperament to be commander-in-chief. I mean, we know he doesn't have the experience, and we hope that maybe he could learn the knowledge and apparently didn't do much prepping for the thing.

But, man, the demeanor and the temperament that he showed last night, you know? I think she's dead on when she says, do you want this guy's finger on the nuclear button?

GREENE: OK, we'll have to leave it there. General John Douglass is a retired Air Force general and a surrogate for Hillary Clinton. General, thanks so much.

DOUGLASS: Thanks, David. Have a great day.

GREENE: You do the same. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.