Clinton urges war on Islamic State, not Muslims
Frontrunner plays defense on Iraq, Wall St at debate
DES MOINES, Iowa: White House hopeful Hillary Clinton called for global unity to crush the Islamic State group, as the carnage in Paris took center stage at Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate. The three candidates began their debate with a moment of silence for the victims in France, bringing Friday’s horrific attacks an ocean away to the forefront of the 2016 race as they dominated the first half hour of the political showdown.
Clinton, liberal US Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley united in calling for the destruction of the jihadists accused of massacring at least 129 people in the French capital. “We are not at war with Islam,” said the former secretary of state, choosing her words with care as she warned ordinary Muslims should not be viewed as a threat. “We are at war with violent extremism. Our prayers are with the people of France tonight, but that is not enough,” she said, calling for global resolve to defeat ISIS, “a barbaric, ruthless, violent jihadist terrorist group.”
The Islamic State group (ISIS or IS) claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on a Paris concert hall, restaurants and bars, and outside France’s national stadium - calling it retribution for French air strikes in Syria. “It cannot be contained, it must be defeated,” Clinton said of the group which has overrun swathes of Syria and Iraq.
With all the talk of battling the jihadist wave, the Democrats on stage refused to use the term “radical Islam”, which moderators used Saturday - and Republicans in the presidential race have used throughout the campaign - to describe the scourge. “Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking our Muslim-American neighbors... are the enemy,” O’Malley said. Former Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush spoke up from afar during the debate, tweeting: “Yes, we are at war with radical Islamic terrorism.”
While Democrats displayed equal determination to eradicate jihadism, fissures appeared between the candidates on whether the United States should lead the struggle. Clinton said American leadership was critical in the effort, with all the diplomatic tools at Washington’s disposal beyond just military might, “but this cannot be an American fight.”
That drew a sharp disagreement from O’Malley. “This actually is America’s fight,” he insisted. “America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world.” Relatively hawkish Clinton, self-described democratic socialist Sanders and lowpolling O’Malley took the stage in Des Moines, Iowa for their second Democratic showdown in the 2016 primary cycle. With 79 days before the first state-wide vote in Iowa, frontrunner Clinton has reinforced her status as the woman to beat in the race.
Her poll numbers have risen steadily since mid-September, to more than 54 percent today according to a RealClearPolitics average. Sanders is at 33 percent, while O’Malley is languishing at three percent. With Sanders eager to take the fight to Clinton on the economy - he is calling for an economic revolution, while knocking Clinton for her ties to Wall Street - the refocus on terrorism shifted the early portion of the debate in favor of the former top diplomat, fluent in foreign policy.
But Sanders stood his ground, arguing that the Iraq war, which thensenator Clinton voted to authorize in 2002, laid the foundation for the surging jihadist threat that once more sowed carnage on Friday. “I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of AlQaeda and to ISIS,” Sanders said. The Iraq war, he repeated, “was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of the United States.”
Clinton, who has frequently called the Iraq vote a mistake, said it should be placed in the historical context of years of terrorism before the invasion. “This is an incredibly complicated region of the world. It’s become more complicated. And many of the fights that are going on are not ones that the United States has either started or have a role in,” she said.
Clinton said countries in the region would have to play a major role in resolving the conflict. “It cannot be an American fight. And I think what the president has consistently said, which I agree with, is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS,” she said. Clinton struck a sharp contrast to Obama’s comments in an interview aired on Friday that IS had been contained, saying it “cannot be contained, it must be defeated.”
She also played up her efforts to find solutions in the region, noting she had pushed for an effort to train and equip Syrian moderates “because I thought there would be extremist groups filling the vacuum”. The former secretary of state drew another contrast with Obama on Syrian refugees, saying she urged the administration to increase its plan to accept 10,000 refugees in fiscal 2016. “I said we should go to 65 (thousand), but only if we have as carefully screening and vetting process as we can imagine, whatever resources it takes,” she said.
On the economic front, the candidates sparred - gently, compared with their Republican rivals who have already clashed in four on-stage debates - over how to increase wages and expand the work force. Clinton also said Saturday she had a “very aggressive plan” to rein in Wall Street’s big banks. Sanders shot back with a blunt message - “Not good enough” - and essentially challenged Clinton to disavow much of her connections to Wall Street millionaires who back her campaign. “They expect to get something, everybody knows that,” Sanders said, implying that establishment candidates like Clinton would be in debt to Wall Street supporters. “The business model of Wall Street is fraud,” Sanders said. “I will break up these banks” if elected. —Agencies
DES MOINES, Iowa: Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (left) wave and Martin O’Malley looks on during the second Democratic presidential primary debate in the Sheslow Auditorium of Drake University on Saturday.—