Thursday, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton delivered one of her most important speeches of the campaign season as she laid out a comprehensive plan on her foreign-policy vision and plan to defeat the terror group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State).
She took a position that clearly set her clearly in a more “hawkish,” than President Barack Obama. Her plan was the first clear major policy break from President as Clinton said that while the fight against ISIS and radical jihadism is a “worldwide fight,” the United States “must lead it.”
The former Secretary of State outlined the three main points of her strategy in front of an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
“One, defeat ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; two, disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilities the flow of fighters, financing arms, and propaganda around the world; three, harden our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.”
She also said that the United States should step up its efforts to deny ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq.
“That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign, with more allies’ planes, more strikes, and a broader target set,” Clinton said. “A key obstacle standing in the way is a shortage of good intelligence about ISIS and its operations. So we need an immediate intelligence surge in the region, including technical assets, Arabic speakers with deep expertise in the Middle East, an even closer partnership with regional intelligence services.”
The former Secretary of State spoke to the need to “identify and eliminate ISIS’ command and control” which is a strategy commonly known as “decapitation” as well as its “economic lifelines.”
In a clear break with President Obama, Clinton said that ground forces would also be necessary to take back territory from ISIS, but added that she would strongly consider putting troops in the region if they were part of a collation. But for now she feels that helping support forces in the region is the best first step.
“That is just not the smart move to make here,” Clinton said. “If we’ve learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people and nations have to secure their own communities. We can help them, and we should, but we cannot substitute for them. But we can and should support local and regional ground forces in carrying out this mission.”
Clinton addressed the need for American advisers training Iraqi soldiers to have more freedom to go out with local units and help target airstrikes.
She also said the United States should “ramp up our efforts to support and equip viable Syrian opposition units” and acknowledged that these groups “remain understandably preoccupied with fighting the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
After her address she sat down with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and she once again stated that her top priority is defeating ISIS rather than removing Assad from power.
“There is not going to be a successful military effort at this point to overturn Assad,” Clinton said. “That can only happen through the political process. So our effort should be focused on ISIS.”
Clinton was firm on the point that there needs to be more targeting ISIS’ infrastructure and that would include “fighters, financing, arms, and propaganda.”
“Most urgent is stopping the flow of foreign fighters to and from the war zones of the Middle East,” Clinton told CNN. “Stemming this tide will require much better coordination and information-sharing among countries every step of the way. We should not stop pressing until Turkey, where most foreign fighters cross into Syria, finally locks down its border.”
Clinton also was clear about protecting the United States from ISIS as well as homegrown terrorists that might be sympathetic to the terrorist group.
“After 9/11, the United States made a lot of progress breaking down bureaucratic barriers to allow for more and better information sharing among agencies responsible for keeping us safe,” she said. “… The United States must work with Europe to dramatically and immediately improve intelligence sharing and counterterrorism coordination. European countries also should have the flexibility to enhance their border controls when circumstances warrant.”
Clinton referenced the successful “Sunni Awakening” of the Iraq war, during which Sunni tribal leaders fought alongside US forces against Al Qaeda.
“The ground campaign in Iraq will only succeed if more Iraqi Sunnis join the fight,” Clinton said. “But that won’t happen so long as they do not feel they have a stake in their country or confidence in their own security and capacity to confront ISIS.”