Hillary Clinton: ‘Defeat ISIS Through Principled American Leadership’

Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for president, here at a NYC rally, laid out a detailed strategy to defeat ISIS © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for president, here at a NYC rally, laid out a detailed strategy to defeat ISIS © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.”

That small section from Hillary Clinton’s speech at Stanford University is getting a lot of play, but the former Secretary of State Democratic presidential candidate laid out an incredibly detailed, rational vision for defeating ISIS and terrorism  “through principled American leadership.”

The speech came in the wake of the terror attacks at the Brussels international airport and a metro station, reigniting American fears in a way that attacks in Turkey and in other parts of the world never seem to do.

In her speech, she refers to “radical jihadist terrorists<” rather than the term preferred by the Republican candidates, “Radical Islamists” – as if semantics  like “War on Terror” or “War on Drugs” or “political correctness” are the cause of the problem or the solution.

Instead, she detailed her strategy for defeating ISIS and the indispensable role of steady American leadership, of reinforcing our alliances, and of doing what actually works. Indeed, many point to the isolation, alienation and discrimination of the Muslim community in Brussels, with unemployment at 40%, as a reason why Belgium has sent some 1500 radicalized people to become trained by ISIS (some 400 have returned), while on a per capita basis, the US, with its well assimilated Muslim community, has had only a handful radicalized (indeed, there are more White Supremacists than radical jihadists).

Her speech was a rebuke to those who have responded to the terrorist attacks in Brussels exactly as its perpetrators would hope, trafficking in bigotry and bluster, and capitalizing on voters’ fears.

With an unequivocal rejection of such fear-mongering, she declared Americans “will not turn on each other, turn on our allies, or turn away from our principles.”

Here are highlights from her remarks on March 23, 2016:

“Yesterday’s attack in Brussels was the latest brutal reminder that our fight against ISIS and radical jihadist terrorism is far from finished.  More than 30 innocent people are dead — men and women hurrying to catch a plane or waiting for a train or meeting a loved one.  Hundreds more are wounded, including three Mormon missionaries from Utah, a U.S. Air Force Officer, his wife and four children, and other Americans.

“It’s understandable that Americans here at home are worried.  The threat we face from terrorism is real, it’s urgent, and it knows no boundaries.  Even as Brussels grieves, the memories of Paris and San Bernardino are painfully fresh as well.  On Saturday, a bombing in Istanbul killed four people, including two U.S.-Israeli dual citizens.  Many other places have been targeted by terrorists in the past year alone.  Hotels in West Africa.  Beaches in Tunisia.  A market in Lebanon.  A Russian passenger jet in the Sinai.

“ISIS is attempting a genocide of religious and ethnic minorities.  It beheads civilians. It enslaves, tortures, and rapes women and girls.   

“Walls will not protect us from this threat.  We cannot contain ISIS – we must defeat ISIS.

This will be one of the most important challenges facing the next President who takes office on January 20.  Our new Commander-in-Chief will walk into the Oval Office and find a world of hard choices and complex problems.  That president  will sit down at that desk and start making decisions that will affect the lives and livelihoods of every American and people around the world.  So the stakes could not be higher.

“Today, I want to emphasize three points:  First, we face an adversary that is constantly adapting and operating across multiple theaters, so our response must be just as nimble and far-reaching.  Second, to defeat this transnational threat, we need to reinforce the alliances that have been core pillars of American power for decades.  And third, we need to rely on what actually works, not bluster that alienates our partners and doesn’t make us any safer.

“Let’s begin by being clear about what we are facing: ISIS controls a shrinking but still sizeable territory in Iraq and Syria.  It leads a far-flung network that includes affiliates across the Middle East and North Africa, and cells in Europe, Asia, and even here in North America.  It’s also part of a broader ideological movement that includes other terrorist groups.  We need to do battle on all these fronts.

“Last year, in speeches in New York and Minneapolis, I laid out a three-part plan to defeat ISIS in the Middle East, around the world, and here at home.  Recent events have only reinforced the urgency of this mission.

“First, we do have to take out ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq and Syria.  We should intensify the coalition air campaign against its fighters, leaders, and infrastructure, step up support for local Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground, and coalition efforts to protect civilians.  And pursue a diplomatic strategy aimed at achieving political resolutions to Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s sectarian divide.

Second, we must dismantle the global network of terror that supplies money, arms, propaganda, and fighters.   This means targeted efforts to deal with ISIS affiliates from Libya to Afghanistan.  It means going after the key enablers who facilitate illicit financial transactions and help jihadists arrange travel, forge documents, and evade detection.  And it means waging online battles with extremists to discredit their ideology, expose their lies, and counter their appeals to potential recruits in the West and around the world.

[If Republicans really were serious about defeating ISIS versus making President Obama look bad – -perhaps even inviting a terror attack here which they believe will bolster their ability to win back the White House – the Senate would have already confirmed the appointment of Adam Szubin’s as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, the post in charge of tracking down and stopping the funds going to terrorist organizations.]

Third, we must harden our defenses and build our resilience here at home.  We need to counter each step in the process that can lead to an attack, deterring would-be terrorists and discovering and disrupting plots before they’re carried out.

“Our enemies are constantly adapting, so we have to do the same.  For example, Brussels demonstrated clearly we need to take a harder look at security protocols at airports and other sensitive so called “soft sites,” especially areas outside guarded perimeters.

“To do all this, we need an intelligence surge, and so do our allies.

“We also have to stay ahead of the curve technologically.  That does mean working with the brightest minds here in Silicon Valley to more effectively track and analyze ISIS’s social media posts and map jihadist networks online.  When other candidates talk about building walls around America, I want to ask them: How high does the wall have to be to keep the Internet out?

“And we also have to tackle a thorny challenge that is top-of-mind here in the Bay Area – navigating the security and civil liberties concerns surrounding the encryption of mobile devices and communications.

“Impenetrable encryption provides significant cybersecurity advantages, but may also make it harder for law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals to investigate plots and prevent future attacks.  ISIS knows this too.  At the same time, there are legitimate worries about privacy, network security, and creating new vulnerabilities that bad actors – including terrorists – can exploit.

“There may be no quick or magic fix.  In the Apple case, the FBI may have found a work-around, but there will be future cases with different facts and different challenges.  So the tech community and the government have to stop seeing each other as adversaries and start working together to protect our safety and our privacy.  A National Commission on Encryption, like Senator Mark Warner and Congressman Mike McCaul are proposing, could help.  And our security professionals could use the advice and talents of technology professionals to help us figure out how we do stay ahead of the terrorists.

“Our fight against radical jihadist terrorists will be long, and there is very real risk of future attacks here at home.  But pursuing this comprehensive strategy will put us in the best position to defeat ISIS and keep our families and communities safe.  This is a very personal issue for me, having served as a Senator from New York on 9/11. Having seen the horrors that were produced by a well-planned and executed attack on our country, knowing how important it is that we do stay ahead of those who wish to do us great harm, without panic, without paranoia, but with resolve not to give in to the very behavior the terrorists are hoping to engender.

“We can’t let fear stop us from doing what’s necessary to keep us safe – nor can we let it push us into reckless actions that end up making us less safe.

“For example, it would be a serious mistake to stumble into another costly ground war in the Middle East.  If we’ve learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that people and nations have to secure their own communities.  We can, I argue, must support them, but we can’t substitute for them.

“It would also be a serious mistake to begin “carpet bombing” populated areas “into oblivion.”  Proposing that doesn’t make you sound tough, it makes you sound like you’re in over your head. Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.

“To do that, we need to strengthen America’s alliances in Europe, Asia, and around the world. And that is the second point I want to emphasize.

“On 9/11, NATO treated an attack against one as an attack against all.  On September 12, headlines across Europe, most notably in Le Monde proclaimed, “We are all Americans.”  There were very few planes in the air that day – but one was a British jet carrying the UK’s top national security leaders to Washington to offer any help they could.

“Now it’s our turn to stand with Europe.  We cherish the same values and face the same adversaries – so we must share the same determination.

“This is especially true at a time when Europe faces multiple overlapping crises, from President Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, to the massive influx of refugees, to continuing economic challenges, to the rise of right-wing nationalist parties.  We have made so much progress together toward the goal of a Europe that is free, whole, and at peace, and we can’t risk letting it fall apart now.

“For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have understood that America’s alliances make us stronger.  Secretary Shultz compared the slow, steady work of building diplomatic relationships to gardening.  He knew that when you cultivate effective partners, you can can harvest real rewards.

“Allies extend our reach, share intelligence, provide troops in conflicts like Afghanistan, offer bases and staging areas around the world for our military, and serve as a bulwark against competitors like Russia and China.  And by the way, both Moscow and Beijing know our global network of alliances is a significant strategic advantage they can’t match.

“NATO, in particular, is one of the best investments America has ever made.  From the Balkans to Afghanistan and beyond, NATO allies have fought alongside the United States, sharing the burdens and the sacrifices.  In the 1990s, Secretary Perry helped guide NATO’s expansion based on the alliance’s core tenets of collective defense, democracy, consensus, and cooperative security.   They became known as the “Perry Principles,” and they’re still at the heart of what makes NATO the most successful alliance in history.

“Turning our back on our alliances, or turning our alliance into a protection racket, would reverse decades of bipartisan American leadership and send a dangerous signal to friend and foe alike.  Putin already hopes to divide Europe.  If Mr. Trump gets his way, it’ll be like Christmas in the Kremlin.  It will make America less safe and the world more dangerous.

“When it comes to the struggle against ISIS, we need our allies as much as ever.  We need them to be strong and engaged, for they are increasingly on the frontlines.  London, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Istanbul – they’ve all been hit by terrorism.  And, as we saw when a terrorist cell in Hamburg carried out the 9/11 attacks, what happens in Europe has a way of making it to America.  So it’s essential that we have strong partners who can work with us to disrupt plots and dismantle networks in their own countries before they lead to attacks in ours.

“America needs European intelligence services working hand-in-hand with our own, including where they may have better reach and expertise like in North Africa.  We need European banks to stop terrorist financing.  We need European planes flying missions over Iraq and Syria, and European special forces helping train and equip local anti-ISIS forces on the ground.

“We need European diplomats and development experts working to improve governance and reduce the appeal of extremism across the wide arc of instability that stretches from West Africa all the way to Asia.  Together, we can do more — and more urgently — to support moderate voices and stand with Tunisians, Libyans, Kurds, and others in the region who are trying to do the right thing.

“And as we should, of course, be closely consulting with Israel, our strongest ally in the Middle East, we also have to extend our consultations to Arab partners as well.

“All of this will make America safer and help defeat ISIS.

“There is much we can do to support our European partners – helping them improve intelligence and law enforcement, facilitating information sharing, working more closely at every level.  There’s also more they can do to share the burden with us.  We’d like to see more European countries investing in defense and security, following the example Germany and others have set during the Obama administration.

“The most urgent task is stopping the flow of foreign fighters to and from the Middle East.  Thousands of young recruits have flocked to Syria from France, Germany, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.  Their European passports make it easier for them to cross borders and eventually return home, radicalized and battle-hardened.  We need to know the identities of every fighter who makes that trip and start revoking passports and visas.

“Stemming this tide will require much better coordination among every country along the way.  Right now, many European nations don’t even alert each other when they turn away a suspected jihadist at the border or when a passport is stolen.  And Turkey, a NATO ally, still has more work to do to control the border where most foreign fighters cross into Syria.

“After the Paris attack, France and Belgium pledged to move forward together on reforms, but that’s difficult without the European Union.  In January, the EU announced a new integrated counterterrorism center.  But intelligence cooperation still lags and the EU keeps delaying a vote to share traveler information between member states.  It’s actually easier for the United States to get flight manifests from EU nations than it is for EU nations to get them from their own neighbors, thanks to an agreement the U.S. negotiated when I was Secretary of State.

“There also has to be a special emphasis on identifying and investing in the hot spots — the specific neighborhoods, prisons and schools, where recruitment happens in clusters, as we’ve seen in Brussels.  And it’s time to make good on the promise of establishing a new unified European Border and Coast Guard to strengthen the continent’s external borders, which are under unprecedented pressure from refugees and migrants.

“Now this is a heart-breaking crisis.  Last year, the world was horrified by the photo of a drowned toddler lying on a Turkish beach.  In the months since then, hundreds more children have died trying to reach safety.  We’ve seen Europe and Syria’s neighbors in the Middle East struggle under the weight of this challenge.  It’s too big for any one country or even continent to handle alone.  I’m glad that the EU and Turkey are now working closely together, and the United States should do whatever we can to support that.

“The only truly effective answer is to go to the source, end the conflict that is displacing all these people.  So we have to support and maintain the ceasefire in Syria.  And we should also work with our coalition partners and opposition forces on the ground to create safe areas where Syrians can remain in the country rather than fleeing toward Europe.   

“In the meantime, it would be wrong to shut our doors to orphans or to apply religious tests for people fleeing persecution.  That’s not who we are.   But of course we have to be vigilant in screening and vetting everyoneWe can’t allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and humanitarian obligations.  But we also have to be smart and vigilant about how we process people into our country: it would be doubly cruel if ISIS can not only force families from their homes and but also prevent them from ever finding new ones.

“And that brings me to my third point: In our fight against radical jihadism, we have to do what actually works.   


“One thing we know that does not work is offensive, inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes all Muslims.  There are millions of peace-loving Muslims living, working, raising families, and paying taxes in this country.  These Americans are a crucial line of defense against terrorism.  They are the most likely to recognize the warning signs of radicalization before it’s too late, and the best positioned to block it.

“Last year in Minneapolis, I met parents, teachers, imams, and others in the Somali-American community who are working with law enforcement and mental health professionals to intervene with young people at risk of being radicalized.  Efforts like that deserve more local and national support.

“Since 9/11, law enforcement has worked hard to build trustful and strong relationships with American Muslim communities.  As the Director of the FBI told Congress, anything that erodes that trust makes their job more difficult.

“We need every American community invested in this fight, not fearful and sitting on the sidelines.  So when Republican candidates like Ted Cruz call for treating American Muslims like criminals, and for racially profiling predominantly-Muslim neighborhoods, it’s wrong, it’s counter-productive, it’s dangerous.  As a spokesman for the New York Police Department pointed out last night, that kind of blanket bigotry would treat the city’s nearly 1,000 Muslim police officers as threats.  “It’s hard to imagine a more incendiary, foolish statement,” he said.

“Commissioner Bill Bratton of the NYPD was even more blunt this morning.  He said Senator Cruz “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.” 

“Demonizing Muslims also alienates partners and undermines moderates we need around the world in the fight against ISIS.  There’s been a lot of talk from both Republicans and Democrats about the importance of building coalitions with Muslim nations.  Having actually done this, I can tell you, insulting allies and partners is not a good way to start.

“Another thing we know that does not work, based on lots of empirical evidence, is torture. Many intelligence, military and law enforcement experts have attested to this fact. It also puts our own troops and increasingly our own civilians at greater risk.

“I’m proud to have been a part of the administration that banned torture after too many years in which we had lost our way. And if I’m President, the United States will not condone or practice torture anywhere in the world.  Even when we’re up against opponents who don’t respect human life or human rights, torture is not the right choice.  As Senator John McCain has said, the high standard to which we hold ourselves “isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us.  It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.”

“America is a great nation.  And this is a time for American leadership.  Smart, strong, steady leadership.

“No other country can rally allies and partners to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle against radical jihadist terrorism. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale in defense of our people and our values.

“America doesn’t cower in fear or hide behind walls.  We lead and we succeed. 

“Throughout our history, we have stared into the face of evil and refused to blink.  Whether it was Fascism, the Cold War, and or hunting down Osama bin Laden.  And we will defeat ISIS too.  No enemy or adversary should ever underestimate the determination of the American people.

“I will never forget what it was like to arrive in Brussels for the first time as Secretary of State in March of 2009. I was on my way to NATO. NATO headquarters was buzzing.  Hundreds of young people at the European Parliament had stood and cheered, not for me, but for the idea of American leadership – for the promise of an alliance that delivered unprecedented peace and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

“That’s what we need to remember today.  Americans cannot and I believe will not turn on each other, turn on our allies, or turn away from our principles.

“We’re in it for the long haul.  And that means We’re going to work together.  And we’re going to prevail.

This may be another one of the long struggles we have confronted from time to time in our history; but like all the rest of those, if we can forge a bipartisan consensus, if we can bring our people to understand what this struggle means to us, if we can maintain our alliances and our partnerships, we will be successful.

“And that will benefit not only our country but the world. And that, when you boil it down is what American leadership has to be about.


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