Republican Donald Trump's running mate said the United States should use military force against Syrian government targets if Russia continues its "barbaric attack" on Aleppo, in what was one of the talking points of a charged debate with his Democratic opponent that often focused on Russia.
"If Russia chooses to be involved and continue...in this barbaric attack on Aleppo, the United States of America should use military force to strike the targets of [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's] regime," said Indiana Governor Mike Pence during the first and only vice presidential debate on October 4.
Pence's comments on the possibility of using U.S. force to break the joint Syrian-Russian assault on Syria's largest city went well beyond Trump's own rhetoric. Earlier in the day, Trump had suggested Russia broke a cease-fire agreement in Syria because it did not respect the United States, but he did not say he would take military action in response.
The Pence statement on Syria was among the few news items coming out of the only vice presidential debate before the November 8 election.
During the debate, the Republican nominee had to repeatedly defend Trump against charges from Democratic candidate Tim Kaine that the real estate mogul idolizes Russian President Vladimir Putin and his strong-arm tactics.
"He loves dictators," said Kaine, a Virginia senator who is Hillary Clinton's running mate. "He's got like a personal Mount Rushmore: Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Muammar Qaddafi, and Saddam Hussein."
"Donald Trump, again and again, has praised Vladimir Putin, and it's clear that he has business dealings with Russian oligarchs...that he refuses to disclose," Kaine said.
Because Trump has not disclosed his finances, Kaine said Americans should wonder whether the billionaire could meet with Putin and put national interests above his own.
Pence tried to turn the tables by accusing the Democrats of stoking Russia's belligerence.
"The weak and feckless foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has awaked an aggression in Russia that first appeared in Russia a few years ago," Pence said.
What the United States needs to respond to Russia is "strength, plain and simple," Pence said.
While Pence echoed Trump's message of military strength during the debate, he also distanced himself from Trump's praise of Russia at two points, calling Putin a "small and bullying" leader, and asserting that the U.S. political and economic system is "superior to the crony corrupt cabal system in Russia in every way."
In response to Pence's charges, Kaine said that Clinton repeatedly showed strength and "stood up" to Putin when she was President Obama's first secretary of state.
"Hillary Clinton has gone toe to toe with Russia," including over Russia's invasion of Georgia, he said.
Pence recalled that Clinton sought to "reset" relations with Russia when she first took the top diplomat job in 2009, but that effort failed. He asked Kaine what happened
"What went wrong with the Russian reset? Vladimir Putin," said Kaine. "You've got to be tough on Russia, so let's start with not praising Vladimir Putin."