Hillary Clinton detailed her ISIS strategy in a Thursday speech in New York
Clinton's ties to President Obama's legacy are under scrutiny after the Paris attacks
Hillary Clinton is calling for more allied planes, more airstrikes and a “broader target set” – though no large-scale mobilization of U.S. ground troops – to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
She urged Congress to approve a new authorization of the use of military force against ISIS, saying that doing so would signal “that the U.S. is committed to this fight. The time for delay is over. We should get this done.”
In the wake of the Paris attacks, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility, Clinton said that “every society faces a choice between fear and resolve” – an indirect shot at her Republican foes in the 2016 presidential race, who have called for the United States to shut out Syrian refugees.
“This is no time to be scoring political points. We must use every pillar of American power, including our values, to fight terror,” Clinton said.
She said airstrikes by an international anti-ISIS coalition “will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS,” the former secretary of state said Thursday in a speech in New York City.
Clinton called for more “flexibility” for U.S. Special Operations forces and trainers to work with regional forces – particularly Sunnis and Kurds – in opposing ISIS. She said she is open to sending more than the 50 of those forces that President Barack Obama has already mobilized. But Clinton said she opposes a new U.S. ground war in the Middle East.
“That is just not the smart move here,” she said.
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But Clinton did not detail her plans if regional powers fail to supply more troops and arms for the fight and left herself leeway on how many American troops she would support sending.
Instead, Clinton sought to ramp up pressure on Iraq’s Shia-led government and on Turkey to set aside old grievances, saying that “the threat from ISIS cannot wait.” She said Qatar and Saudi Arabia “need to stop their citizens from directly funding extremist organizations.” And she acknowledged that the U.S. desire to see the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who she said has slaughtered more Syrians than terrorists have, isn’t a top priority.
“We need people to turn against the common enemy of ISIS,” Clinton said.
In a shot at Republicans who have criticized her for not using the phrase, Clinton said that denouncing “radical Islamic terrorism” amounts to giving “these criminals, these murderers, more standing than they deserve.”
“Our priority should be how to fight the enemy,” Clinton said during a speech attended by many of her top aides, an indication of how important they considered the remarks. “In the end, it didn’t matter what kind of terrorist we called bin Laden, it mattered that we killed bin Laden.”
Clinton, in a major break from her GOP presidential rivals, called for the United States to continue accepting Syrian refugees despite reports that at least one of the Paris attackers entered Europe under that guise.
“Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee – that is just not who we are,” Clinton said.
She added: “It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes and then also prevent them from ever finding new ones.”
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Aides were working on the speech, which Clinton was said to have a substantial hand in, until hours before she delivered it. Clinton delivered the speech at the Council on Foreign Relations’ Pratt House, an ornate mansion on New York’s Upper Eastside.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, who just recently endorsed Clinton’s candidacy, sat in the front row, joined by Vernon Jordan, a longtime adviser to the Clintons, and Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Thomas Nides, Clinton’s deputy Secretary of State, was also seated in the front row.
Clinton, using a teleprompter, also called for stronger intelligence-gathering capabilities – saying U.S. tech companies have a role to play.
“We need Silicon Valley not to view government as its adversary,” she said, calling for solutions that “will both keep us safe and protect our privacy.”
Clinton also made the case for U.S. leadership, saying – in a shot at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her Democratic primary opponent, who has placed major emphasis on the need for coalitions to fight ISIS – that “there has been lot of talk about coalitions. Everybody wants one.”
After the Paris attacks tilted the presidential race toward foreign policy, Clinton is attempting to escape the shadows of her hawkish history and her ties to President Barack Obama’s legacy.
Foreign policy is an area Clinton, who spent four years as Obama’s secretary of state and was involved in nearly all of his administration’s key decisions during that tenure, counted as a strength at the campaign’s outset.
But even as she has embraced Obama’s domestic policy achievements – a popular move in the Democratic nominating contest – his foreign policy record has become more complicated to address.
Clinton’s primary rivals, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, repeatedly latched Clinton to Obama when Democrats held their second debate Saturday.
Republicans, too, are connecting Clinton to Obama – with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus saying her speech Thursday was largely a repeat of Obama’s existing plans.
“Hillary Clinton is the architect of the failed Obama foreign policy that has presided over a steep increase in radical Islamic terrorism and the rise of ISIS. Rather than putting forward a new plan to defeat ISIS, Hillary Clinton offered soaring platitudes and largely doubled down on the existing Obama strategy.”
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Clinton praised Obama in February, saying that “a lot of the right moves are being made.” And in June of 2015, Clinton said she “would have advised him to do exactly as I believe he is now doing.”
Clinton has highlighted some of her differences with Obama in recent days, casting herself as a hawkish member of Obama’s cabinet. She pushed for the United States to join a coalition to oust Libya’s strongman Moammar Gadhafi. And Clinton pointed Saturday to her calls to train and equip moderate rebels in Syria “very early on.”
She underscored that position again Thursday.
“I have made clear that we have differences, as I think any two people do,” Clinton said, adding that she and Obama “largely agreed” during her time as America’s top diplomat.
“But even as I was still there, which is publicly known, I thought we needed to do more, earlier” to help local Syrian fighters against leader Bashar al-Assad.
Clinton was asked by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, who moderated a post-speech discussion, whether Obama erred in once referring to ISIS as the “JV” team – but she deflected. “I don’t think it’s useful to go back and re-plow old ground,” she said.
Clinton criticized Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, two GOP 2016 hopefuls who have said the United States should focus on helping Syrian Christians first. “I just don’t think we should have religious test about who we bring as refugees into our country,” she said.
Already, Clinton had split with Obama by calling for the institution and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria designed in part to offer safe harbor for refugees fleeing the country’s civil war and ISIS – a move that would require greater military involvement.
And she made news Saturday by saying that ISIS “cannot be contained; it must be defeated.”
Further complicating Clinton’s task is the original foreign policy wedge between her and Obama: Iraq.
Then-New York senator Clinton in 2002 supported George W. Bush’s push for war. That vote – which she has since repeatedly called a mistake – was key to helping Obama surpass Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.
Now, Clinton’s chief intra-party rival for the 2016 nomination, Sanders, is again using her Iraq vote against her – blaming that war for creating a power vacuum that allowed for the rise of ISIS.
“I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now,” Sanders said Saturday during the Democratic debate in Iowa.
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Clinton must also keep one eye on the general election – and Republicans who are advocating a much more aggressive U.S. role in fighting ISIS. Jeb Bush called Wednesday in a speech at The Citadel, a military academy in South Carolina, for American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
The Paris terrorist attacks have in recent days dominated the 2016 cycle and Clinton has used many of her events since then to comment on how she would handle the response. Thursday’s speech is an attempt to set her record out in one place, at one time.
Clinton has advocated for accepting refugees fleeing Syria over the last few days, but stressed that – unlike her Republican foes in the 2016 race – she would not commit ground troops to the fight.
“We need to have a resolve that will bring the world together to root out the kind of radical jihadist ideology that motivates organizations like ISIS, the barbaric, ruthless, violence jihadist, terrorist group,” Clinton said at the second Democratic presidential debate earlier this month.
But she said the United States should “support those who take the fight to ISIS” rather than fighting the group alone.
“This cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential,” she said.
The former secretary of state cautiously supported Obama last month when he decided to authorize the use of special forces in Syria. Her spokesman, Nick Merrill, said that the candidate “sees merit” in deploying the 50 special operations forces.
Clinton has also called for the United States to continue to take in refugees from Syria, something a host of Republican governors and presidential candidates have said they would not do.
“We can’t act as though we are shutting the door to people in need without undermining who we are as Americans,” she told a crowd of supporters in Dallas on Tuesday.