For the first five days following the attacks in Paris, the debate over how America should proceed in its war on ISIS focused largely on questions of rhetoric and refugees. Aside from Republican quibbles about what words we should use to describe our enemies and which refugees we should accept, none of the presidential candidates from either party offered a detailed alternative to the military’s status quo.
But on Thursday, Hillary Clinton revealed a strategy for combating the threat of terrorism that departs in significant ways from President Obama’s current battle plan.
“The United States has been conducting this fight for more than a year; it’s time to be begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate,” Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
The former secretary of State called for giving U.S. soldiers “greater flexibility” to embed with Iraqi troops at the war’s front lines and arming Sunni and Kurdish tribes in Iraq even if the government in Baghdad objects, reiterated her support for establishing no-fly zones in Syria, and urged the military to drastically expand its intelligence capabilities by hiring more Arabic speakers.
Obama expressed his opposition to Clinton’s suggestion for a no-fly zone in Syria just last month, when he dismissed the proposal as a political gesture.
But Obama wasn’t the only ally Clinton gently rebuked in her speech. She also scolded Turkey and the Gulf states for their inadequate contributions to the fight against ISIS, and then gave Silicon Valley a rap on the knuckles for its terrorist-enabling encryption technologies.
Finally, Clinton reiterated her support for the resettling of Syrian refugees in the face of widespread Republican opposition, saying, “After a major terrorist attack, every society faces a choice between fear and resolve. The world’s great democracies can’t sacrifice our values or turn our backs on those in need.”
While infinitely more detailed than any foreign-policy vision offered by her opponents in the Democratic primary, Clinton’s strategy is also considerably more hawkish than that of her party’s current president.
Whether the Democratic base will admire Clinton’s competence more than they question her interventionism remains to be seen. But at least among the chattering classes, initial returns were mostly positive.