Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton faced a grilling Saturday night over whether the US underestimated the terrorist group ISIS.
Democratic presidential debate moderator John Dickerson asked if the legacy of the Obama administration, in which Clinton served as secretary of state, would be that it underestimated the threat from ISIS (also known as the Islamic State).
Clinton didn’t quite answer the question initially.
“I think that we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network,” she said. “It cannot be contained. It must be destroyed. There is no question in my mind that if we summon our resources, both our leadership resources and all of the tools at our disposal … that we can bring people together. But it cannot be an American fight.”
She continued: “What the president has consistently said … is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS. That is why we have troops in Iraq that are helping to train and build back up the Iraqi military, why we have special operators in Syria working with the Kurds and Arabs, so that we can be supportive.”
But Dickerson didn’t let Clinton off with that answer.
“But, Secretary Clinton, the question was about, ‘Was ISIS underestimated?'” Dickerson said. “The president referred to ISIS as the JV [team]. You, in a speech on foreign relations in June of 2014, said, ‘I could not have predicted the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq.’
“You’ve got prescriptions for the future,” he added, “but how do we know if those prescriptions are any good if you missed it in the past?”
Clinton responded with a long, somewhat rambling, answer that placed the blame on actors in the Middle East:
“I think that what happened when we abided by the agreement that George W. Bush made with the Iraqis to leave by 2011, is that an Iraqi army was left, that it had been trained and that was prepared to defend Iraq. Unfortunately, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, set about decimating it. And then with the revolution against [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, and I did, early on, say we needed to try to find a way to train and equip moderates very early so that we would have a better idea of how to deal with Assad because I thought there would be extremist groups filling the vacuum, yes, this has developed, I think that there are many other reasons why it has in addition to what happened in the region, but I don’t think that the United State has the bulk of the responsibility, I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.”
Saturday night’s Democratic debate focused heavily on foreign policy in light of the terror attacks in Paris on Friday night. A group of terrorists carried out bombings and shooting attacks across Paris, killing 129 people and wounding more than 300. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
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