Democratic Candidates Butt Heads in Debate on ISIS Response: 'This Cannot Be an American Fight'
The Democratic presidential hopefuls addressed the devastating Friday attacks in Paris – as well as issues of national security and counter-terrorism efforts in Saturday’s debate in Des Moines, Iowa.
Senator Bernie Sanders, 74, was the first to give his opening statement, expressing shock and disgust at the attacks in Paris before segueing immediately in economic issues and “corrupt political finance reform.”
Meanwhile, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, 68, expressed that her prayers are with the people of France and then digging into ISIS and “radical jihadist ideology that motivates organizations like ISIS.”
Finally, former governor Martin O’Malley used his opening remarks to reflect on how the United States needs a “new thinking and fresh leadership” to combat organizations like ISIS.
“We must remember this is the new face of conflict and warfare,” O’Malley said.
The main point of contention amongst the candidates was how much responsibility the United States should take when dealing with terrorism and ISIS – although they all seemed to agree that a non-hawkish and international approach was best.
“I don’t think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility,” Clinton said. “This cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.”
Sanders immediately jumped on Clinton’s answer, saying that the United States does have some responsibility for the current situation in the Middle East due to the “disastrous invasion of Iraq.”
“We have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region, all these nations are going to have to get their hands dirty, get boots on the ground,” Sanders said. “This is a war on the soul of Islam. We should be supportive of this effort. Those Muslim countries need to lead.”
Clinton was quick to point out that Sanders was “selling some of the [Muslim] countries short” particularly with Jordan, who she said has “put a lot on the line for the United States” and has taken in many refugees from neighboring countries and dealt with their own attacks from ISIS.
O’Malley also struck a personal note when he took issue with Sanders calling it “boots on the ground” when referring to the lives of American soldiers. The governor also countered Clinton, saying that “this actually is America’s fight but it cannot solely be America’s fight.”
Clinton also stuck to her guns when moderator John Dickerson asked her why she wouldn’t say that the United States should fight “radical Islam” and would instead repeatedly use the phrase “radical jihadists.” She explained that she was uncomfortable with making it sound like America was against Islam, and even commended former President George W. Bush for explicating laying out that the United States was not at war with Islam in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
“I don t think we re at war with Islam, I don t think we re at war with all Muslims,” Clinton said. “You can talk about Islamists who are clearly also jihadists. I don t think it s particularly helpful to say that we are somehow against Islam.
“We are not at war with Islam or Muslims,” she continued. “We are at war with violent extremism.”
Of course, the debate didn’t just focus on foreign policy (which was a last-minute change to the debate in the wake of the attacks) and also touched on economic and domestic hot-button issues like immigration.
The debate was not without some laughs, particularly after Sanders joked about his reputation of being a Socialist.
When discussing taxes, Sanders said, “I’m not that much of a socialist as Eisenhower.”
The Democrats also weren’t afraid to go after a GOP hopeful, Donald Trump. When discussing immigration, O’Malley called the real estate mogul an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker,” to cheers from the audience.