As Hillary Clinton approaches a general election showdown, she is aiming this week for a public relations twofer: forcefully rebutting her Republican rivals while laying out her own strategy for addressing terrorism in the wake of the Brussels attacks.
In a speech at Stanford University on Wednesday, Clinton methodically countered statements by leading Republican candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, calling their counterterrorism proposals “wrong” and “counterproductive,” while calling for stepped up surveillance and increased partnership with American allies.
It was an indication of the kind of aggressive, policy-driven campaign that she wants to run against the Republican nominee in the coming months.
“America doesn’t cower in fear or hide behind walls,” Clinton said. “We lead and we succeed. Throughout our history we have stared into the face of evil and we refused to blink, whether it was fascism, the Cold War or hunting down Osama bin Laden.”
In her remarks, Clinton ridiculed Trump’s call to retreat from the United States’ obligations to NATO and his advocating the use of torture. Trump has said he approved of waterboarding and added in television interviews on Tuesday that “if they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding.” He has also called for a ban on Muslim migration to the United States.
During a lengthy paean to America's alliances in Europe, she reaffirmed her commitment to NATO, a position against Trump also taken by Cruz. “On 9/11, NATO treated an attack against one as an attack against all,” Clinton said. "Now it’s our turn to stand with Europe. We cherish the same values and face the same adversaries, so we must share the same determination.”
“If Mr. Trump gets his way, it’ll be like Christmas in the Kremlin,” Clinton added.
Cruz, Trump's chief, and lagging rival for the Republican nomination, has called for the United States to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” a proposal mocked by New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton who said Wednesday that Cruz “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.”
Clinton piled on. “It’s hard to imagine a more incendiary, foolish statement,” she said, calling Muslims a “first line of defense” against terrorism. “One thing we know that does not work is offensive, inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes all Muslims.”
The speech is part of Clinton's general election strategy to paint her Republican rivals as callow and rash, appealing to moderates with her vision of American foreign policy.
But as the former Secretary of State, Clinton will have to carefully navigate her close ties to President Obama’s foreign policy. Republicans have sought to highlight her part in Libya, the withdrawal from Iraq and the Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration's chief voice on foreign policy, Clinton presided over a turbulent period that saw the rise of radical Islamic terrorism and chaos in Libya and Syria, as well as the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“Hillary Clinton and President Obama have been wrong about ISIS at every turn, which has resulted in more attacks and a more dangerous world,” said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus.
Clinton, long a more hawkish voice in the administration, has called for an aggressive counterterrorism strategy earlier during her presidential campaign. After the Paris attacks last year when 130 people were killed in shootings in France’s capital, Clinton said the United States needs a “360-degree strategy to keep America safe,” including fighting recruitment online, partnering with law enforcement agencies and renewing an assault weapons ban.
As Secretary of State during President Obma’s first term, she called for arming moderate rebels in Syria. During her campaign, she has advocated for stepping up bombing campaigns against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and the expanded use of special forces in advisory roles in the region. She has called for a no-fly zone over the area to protect U.S. allies and rebel groups.