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Candidate Clinton Says U.S. Must Take Lead To Defeat IS


U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton delivers a national security address on her strategy for defeating the Islamic State group in the wake of the Paris attacks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on November 19.

WASHINGTON -- Laying out a hawkish vision for grappling with Islamic State militants, top Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton has called for the United States to take a leading role by establishing a no-fly zone over Syria and deploying more special forces there.

In a wide-ranging speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on November 19, the former secretary of state and U.S. senator called for an "intelligence surge" to improve U.S. policies in the Middle East, and urged Arab states to contribute more to the effort.

The Islamic State (IS) group, "is demonstrating new ambition, reach, and capabilities. We have to break the group's momentum and then its back," she said.

"Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS, but to defeat and destroy ISIS," she added, using an alternate acronym for the extremist group.

The effort, she said, "will require sustained commitment in every pillar of American power."

"No other country can rally the world to defeat ISIS and win the struggle against radicalization -- only the United States can," Clinton said. "The entire world must be part of this fight, but we must lead it."

The comments were a reflection of how the focus of the U.S. presidential race, and U.S. politics more broadly, has changed in recent weeks, particularly following last week's terrorist attacks in Paris and the continuing mass exodus of migrants and refugees from war-torn Syria.

The IS-orchestrated Paris attacks, which killed 129 people and wounded more than 350, have sparked a furious public debate about whether the administration of President Barak Obama is doing enough to fight IS; whether a plan to accept 10,000 Syrian migrants should be suspended; and whether intelligence agencies should have more surveillance powers.

Some of Clinton's comments were in clear contrast to the Obama administration, whose approach to Syria and IS has come under some criticism. Clinton herself has been criticized by Democratic rivals for her past policies, including her 2002 vote as a New York senator to authorize the invasion of Iraq.

She said Washington needs to deal with Iran's influence and its proxy forces in the region as a way to counter Islamic State militants.

"We cannot view Iran and ISIS as separate challenges. Regional politics are too interwoven," she said. "Raising the confidence of our Arab partners and raising the costs to Iran for bad behavior will contribute to a more effective fight against ISIS."

Sharing Intelligence

Her call for a no-fly zone over northern Syria was an option the Obama administration considered after the Syria uprising morphed from public protests in 2011 to a full-scale civil war.

Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others warned against it, saying it would amount to an act of war.

Asked about the danger of confrontation with Russia, which is conducting its own air campaign in Syria largely in support of President Bashar al-Assad, she said Russia had begun to shift its position, and appears more open to having Assad leave office as insisted upon by Washington.

"That has changed, there is an indication that has changed," she said.

Even with the air campaign, more ground forces would be needed to defeat IS, she said, but she suggested that the bulk of the fighting should be carried out by local forces.

One prominent Republican candidate, Jeb Bush, specifically called this week for more U.S. troops to be sent back to Iraq to help in the fight there.

Addressing the Paris attacks, Clinton said the United States need to work better with European countries in sharing intelligence on potential terror threats.

She also touched on the question of encryption technology, which some officials, including CIA Director John Brennan, have warned may be exploited by terrorist plotters. She said the federal government needed to work with Silicon Valley technology companies.

Clinton also weighed in on the festering debate in the United States over whether the Obama administration should suspend a plan to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria.

"We cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations," Clinton said. "Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee: That is just not who we are."

Following Clinton's speech, the House of Representatives defied Obama's veto threat by backing legislation that would tighten the vetting process for Syrian and Iraqi migrants and refugees.​

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent in Prague, where he reports on developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and money laundering. Before joining RFE/RL in 2015, he worked for the Associated Press in Moscow. He has also reported and edited for The Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera America, Voice of America, and the Vladivostok News.