Wall Street Journal on first presidential debate:

The two most unpopular presidential candidates in modern history had their first debate Monday, and the best we can say is that they lived up to those expectations. Hillary Clinton offered a relentless assault on Donald Trump’s business record and qualifications to be President, but she offered little reason to believe she would lift the country out of its economic and psychological funk. Mr. Trump made the case for change, but in a blunderbuss fashion that will have voters wondering if he knows enough for the job.

There’s little doubt that Mrs. Clinton won on debating points. She can master a briefing book, and from the first answer she dumped most of it on Mr. Trump. The central argument of her campaign is to elect her because the New Yorker is "unfit" to be President, and her strategy was to taunt him with attacks on his business record that always seem to drive him to distraction.

And sure enough, Mr. Trump often took the bait, wasting time on details about his company’s history while barely going on offense against the Clinton Foundation. He also couldn’t resist a long, defensive explanation of his opposition to the Iraq war and why he hasn’t released his tax returns.

These columns warned Mr. Trump — and GOP voters — during the primaries that by not releasing his returns he was giving Democrats an opening to assert what he might be "hiding." Mrs. Clinton took full advantage, offering a list of imagined horribles and even suggesting he might have paid "zero" taxes.

On policy Mrs. Clinton rolled out her list of seemingly endless programs that amount to the agenda of the last eight years, only more so. She has a government solution to every social and economic anxiety, and if you like the current economy she is your candidate.

That unhappy status quo remains Mr. Trump’s opening, yet he missed more chances than he hit. Offered a lay-up opportunity at the start on the economy, he sounded a Donny-one-note on trade — as if cutting imports is the magic cure for 1 percent growth. He eventually got around to touting his tax cut, albeit with few specifics, but he barely mentioned the burden of regulation.

The Republican did better on race and crime, showing a sympathy on the question while calling for "law and order." He also had a better grasp of the legal history of New York’s "stop and frisk" policing than moderator Lester Holt, who took the liberal line that it was declared "unconstitutional." That ruling was by a lower court judge whose bias was rebuked by an appellate court, and then New York’s new mayor dropped the city’s appeal.

Washington Post on the U.S., Russia and Syria:

"What Russia is sponsoring and doing" in the Syrian city of Aleppo "is barbarism," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said on Sunday. She’s right: For days, Russian and Syrian planes have rained bombs — including white phosphorus, cluster munitions and "bunker-busters" designed to penetrate basements — on the rebel-held side of the city. Hundreds of civilians have been killed; as many as half are children. U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura described "new heights of horror." Ms. Power said that "instead of helping get lifesaving aid to civilians, Russia and (Syria) are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive."

It goes without saying that this war-crimes-rich offensive, which Syria’s U.N. ambassador said is aimed at recapturing east Aleppo, has shredded the Obama administration’s attempt to win Russian and Syrian compliance with a cessation of hostilities. So naturally reporters asked senior officials as the attack was getting underway how the United States would respond. "I don’t think .?.?. this is the time to say where we will go from here," one answered. Said another: "We’re waiting to see what the Russians come back with."

In other words: Hem, haw.

By Monday, the administration’s response seemed clear: It will hotly condemn the assault on Aleppo, but do absolutely nothing to stop it. On the contrary, Secretary of State John F. Kerry insisted he will continue to go back to the regime of Vladimir Putin with diplomatic offers, hoping it will choose to stop bombing. "The United States makes absolutely no apology for going the extra mile to try and ease the suffering of the Syrian people," he grandly declared after a meeting Thursday on Syria. By "extra mile," he doesn’t mean actual U.S. steps to protect civilians — just more futile and debasing appeals to Moscow.

The Putin and Bashar al-Assad regimes are well aware that the only U.S. action President Obama has authorized is diplomatic, and that they are therefore under no pressure to alter their behavior. They already obtained, via Mr. Kerry, U.S. agreement to the principle that the Assad regime should remain in power while the United States and Russia join in fighting those rebels deemed to be terrorists. The regime then took advantage of a mistaken bombing of Syrian soldiers in eastern Syria to launch the assault on Aleppo, and Russia joined in. If it succeeds, Damascus will have essentially won the civil war and will have no real need for the negotiations Mr. Kerry says the cease-fire should lead to. If the offensive stalls, Mr. Putin can send Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov back to renew the deal with Mr. Kerry. Either way, Russia wins.

The losers are the civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo — 250,000 to 275,000 human beings — who are cut off from supplies of food and medicine and being bombed mercilessly. They are being offered the same choice the regime has successfully imposed on other towns across the country: surrender or starve. Those who try to approach the evacuation corridors Russia says have been established are shot at. They are, indeed, victims of barbarism — but the rhetoric of U.S. diplomats, and continued petitioning to Mr. Putin, won’t help them much.