Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined a more aggressive approach to fighting ISIS in a major speech Thursday that showcased a more hawkish approach to foreign policy than her former boss.
In a closely watched speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Democratic frontrunner called for sending more U.S. special forces to Syria, imposing a no-fly zone in northern Syria and possibly arming Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq.
The speech struck a more assertive tone than President Obama’s remarks on the same subject earlier this week, even as she was careful to keep from directly criticizing the current strategy.
“It is in many ways an intensification, an acceleration of the strategy,” Clinton said of her plan to attack and destroy ISIS. “There has been an evolution in their threat and we have to meet it.”
Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War divided her and Obama in the 2008 election and was a decisive reason she lost the nomination. She has said repeatedly the vote was a mistake, but her reputation as being more aggressive on foreign policy issues than the president has not changed. In her time as Secretary of State, she called for more action to arm moderate Syrian rebels, and was a voice for more intervention in Libya.
Their differences may be amplified by their current positions too. Nearing the end of his second term and facing no more elections, Obama has grown increasingly impatient with the political side of his job, while Clinton is already looking ahead to a general election where she expects to square off against a Republican candidate who will use similarly tough rhetoric on foreign policy.
During a Q&A in Turkey Monday, Obama said he wasn’t going to take action against ISIS simply because it would “make America look tough, or make me look tough,” and compared critics to people who “want to pop off” on the issue.
By contrast, Clinton struck a more assertive tone in her speech.
“Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS, but to defeat and destroy ISIS,” she said. “And we should be honest about the fact that, to be successful, air strikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS.”
She said that U.S. troops may need to take a greater role and more flexbility in Iraq and Syria, including in embedding in local units and helping target airstrikes.
“As part of that process, we may have to give our own troops advising and training the Iraqis greater freedom of movement and flexibility, including embedding in local units and helping target airstrikes,” she said. Clinton has also called for a no-fly zone in northern Syria, a policy that some critics including Robert Gates have said would be tough to implement.
Back in familiar territory three years after leaving her post as Secretary of State, Clinton’s understanding of the nuances in the Middle East were clear on Thursday. She parsed the complicated relationships in the region with familiarity, calling on Turkey to overcome its animosity towards the Kurds, for example. She detailed how she would convince Saudi Arabia to turn its attention from the Shiite Houthis to joining a coalition against ISIS.
She also called for better intelligence sharing between European countries and the United States, and warned that impenetrable encryption of mobile communications of the kind being developed in Silicon Valley could make it more difficult to prevent a future attack.
“The United States and our allies need to know and share the identities of every fighter who has traveled to Syria,” Clinton said.
Clinton also joined Obama in criticizing Republicans for calling for Syrian refugees to be denied access to the United States. Since the Paris attacks, GOP presidential candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have argued that the U.S. can’t reliably run background checks on incoming refugees, while Chris Christie has even said he wouldn’t allow orphan children to enter.
“After a major terrorist attack, every society faces a choice between fear and resolve,” Clinton said. “Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every single Syrian refugee – that is just not who we are. We are better than that.”
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