For former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the most important front for the war on the Islamic State may not be in Iraq and Syria.
During a New Hampshire town hall on Tuesday, the Democratic presidential front-runner said that although the war in the Middle East is a top concern, the most immediate threat that ISIS poses to the US is the propaganda that the organisation is spreading across the Internet to inspire new followers and gain new recruits.
“We have got to shut down their internet presence, which is posing the principle threat to us,” Clinton said.
Though Clinton’s comments about ISIS’ Internet savvy mostly mirror those made by President Barack Obama and members of his administration, they also reveal something else: Clinton’s view of the threat posed by radicals online has slightly shifted since her time as secretary of state.
“I gave a speech when I was secretary of state on Internet freedom, and I believe in that. But I also believe that you’ve got to look carefully at terrorist groups and criminal cartels and other illegal actors to figure out whether they can use the Internet to cause crimes, to cause harm, to cause terrorist attacks,” Clinton said on Tuesday.
Clinton was referring to a speech made in 2010 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., during which she laid out her vision of how the Internet could spread democracy and how the State Department would encourage different countries to embrace Internet freedom through a series of initiatives.
As the New York Times reported in 2010, Clinton’s speech was a major pillar of the former secretary of state’s “smart-power” foreign-policy strategy. It marked the first speech by a major US official that made Internet freedom a key part of the US’s foreign policy agenda.
“The Internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others,” Clinton said then.
At the time, Clinton’s remarks were viewed mostly as a critique of Internet censors in countries like China — where Google was butting heads with the government over cyber-attacks and censorship of Internet-search results — as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
But Clinton’s comments on Tuesday suggest that she is perhaps more wary of the Internet’s power to spread democracy and is now more concerned about the creative ways that it’s being used by extremists and militants.
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