Politics

Hillary Clinton lays out differences with Obama, GOP on fighting Islamic State

The U.S. needs to “intensify and broaden” its effort against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, including sending more ground forces, Hillary Clinton said Thursday in a speech that set out clear differences with the Obama administration as well as the Republican presidential field.

“A more effective air campaign is necessary, but not sufficient,” Clinton said. “We should be honest that to be successful, airstrikes will have to be combined with ground forces” to take back the territory that Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has conquered in Syria and Iraq.

Clinton's speech laid out a significantly more active approach toward combating Islamic State than President Obama has been willing to accept, a view she shied away from last weekend during the latest Democratic candidates' debate.

Clinton, the former secretary of State, repeated her call for creating “no-fly” zones in northern Syria, which Obama has rejected; sharply criticized Turkey and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies that have been on-again, off-again partners in the effort against Islamic State; and said the U.S. should make clear to the Iraqi government that Washington will arm Sunni Arab militias and Kurdish forces in Iraq with or without Baghdad's cooperation.

She also warned that the encryption technology firms such as Apple have embraced for mobile phones and other devices may be interfering with the government's ability to prevent terrorist attacks.

“We need Silicon Valley not to view government as its adversary,” she said, but to work with the government “to develop solutions that will both keep us safe and protect our privacy.”

In the aftermath of last week's attacks in Paris, which French authorities say were planned by Islamic State, the question of how to combat the group has become central to the presidential campaign.

Jeb Bush, the onetime Republican front-runner, laid out his policy on Wednesday in a speech in South Carolina that resembled Clinton's on several key points — including the call for an expanded U.S. presence on the ground in Syria — although with fewer specifics.

Clinton's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, also spoke about Islamic State during a speech Thursday that mainly discussed his ideas about democratic socialism.

Sanders said the U.S. should help “create an organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century.”

The U.S. should work with its allies to defeat Islamic State, he said. But, he added, “wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them.”

In her speech, Clinton made clear that an expanded ground force does not mean a full-scale U.S. combat mission. “That is just not the smart move to make here,” she said, adding that “if we have learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's that local people and nations have to secure their own communities.”

But, she added, the U.S. needs to “be prepared to deploy more” special operations forces than Obama has authorized and give U.S. troops currently in Iraq more leeway to embed with Iraqi units engaged in combat.

As recently as Monday, Obama rejected the idea of creating a no-fly zone over northern Syria. Clinton, however, said that creating that kind of safe area would be a “strategic opportunity” that would reduce the refugee crisis in Europe by giving a haven to Syrians fleeing the country's civil war. It would also give the U.S. more “leverage” in negotiations with Russia, Turkey and other nations aimed at ending Syria's civil war, now in its fifth year.

Clinton also said she believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be prepared to cooperate more with the U.S. effort against Islamic State, which has taken responsibility for blowing up a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula last month. And she held out what appeared to be an incentive for Russian involvement, saying that the U.S. needs to “prioritize” the fight against the Islamic State over the effort to remove from power Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Russian ally.

“There is not going to be a successful military effort at this point to overturn Assad,” Clinton said. “So our efforts should be focused on ISIS,” which she described as the “common enemy.”

The Obama administration has been skeptical of Russia's willingness to help in the effort against Islamic State and has worried that a public acknowledgment that Assad might remain in power, even for a transitional period, would alienate Sunni Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, which sees Assad as a client of Iran.

Clinton, however, seemed less concerned with placating the Saudis and Gulf Arab states. “Once and for all, the Saudis, the Qataris and others need to stop their citizens from directly funding extremist organizations” as well as “schools and mosques around the world” that have become centers of recruitment for extremist militant groups, she said.

“Our efforts will only succeed if the Arabs and Turks step up in a much bigger way,” she said. “This is their fight, and they need to act like it.”

In a statement, the Republican National Committee labeled Clinton the “architect of the failed Obama foreign policy that has presided over a steep increase in radical Islamic terrorism.”

“Rather than putting forward a new plan to defeat ISIS, Hillary Clinton offered soaring platitudes and largely doubled down on the existing Obama strategy,” the statement said.

Clinton offered her own riposte, criticizing Republicans who have called for blocking Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. or allowing in only Christian refugees.

“We cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values,” she 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. We are better than that,” she said.

Referring to a common refrain among Republicans on the campaign trail, Clinton said the “obsession in some quarters with a ‘clash of civilizations' or repeating the specific words ‘radical Islamic terrorism' … gives these criminals, these murderers more standing than they deserve.

“Islam is not our adversary.”

david.lauter@latimes.com

evan.halper@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidLauter

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

7:16 p.m.: This article has been revised throughout for additional details and for clarity. 

2:13 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background, quotes from Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Republican National Committee and additional details on Hillary Clinton's position.

The article was first published at 9:50 a.m.

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