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Politics & Government

Hillary Clinton Calls For Shift In Strategy To Destroy ISIS

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made what you could call a respectful pivot from President Obama's approach to ISIS. The former secretary of state wants the U.S. to intensify, accelerate and broaden its effort to destroy, not contain, ISIS. NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City today, Hillary Clinton called for more airstrikes, more special operations forces and better intelligence. And she said airstrikes will have to be combined with ground forces to take back territory from ISIS, but not U.S. ground forces.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have a hundred-thousand American troops in combat in the Middle East. That is just not the smart move to make here. If we've learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's that local people and nations have to secure their own communities.

LIASSON: Republicans have attacked Clinton for refusing to call ISIS Islamic terrorists. She prefers the term radical jihadists because, she said, most Muslims are peaceful and tolerant and have nothing to do with terrorism and Islam is not our enemy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: The obsession in some quarters with a clash of civilization or repeating the specific words radical Islamic terrorism isn't just a distraction, it gives these criminals, these murderers more standing than they deserve. It actually plays into their hands by alienating partners we need by our side.

LIASSON: Clinton does, however, agree with the Republicans on one issue - they all want to establish a no-fly zone in Syria, an idea President Obama has rejected. And Clinton broke with the president on something else. While President Obama has stuck to his demand that Assad must go, today Clinton seemed to suggest that might not be possible, at least in the near future.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: Right now we've got the Russians in protecting Assad, the Iranians and Hezbollah protecting Assad. We need to get people to turn against the common enemy of ISIS.

LIASSON: We have to prioritize, she said, and the first priority is defeating ISIS.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: And then we need to figure out how we put together a political outcome that provides enough autonomy so that the separate communities within Syria will be able to recreate a Syrian state even though it probably is unlikely it will be controlled by the Alawites from Damascus the same way it was before the civil war started.

LIASSON: Clinton was also asked whether President Obama underestimated ISIS when he called it the JV team. Clinton swatted that one away, saying it wasn't useful to re-plow old ground. With this speech, Clinton tried to plant herself squarely in the middle of the 2016 foreign policy debate, to the right of Bernie Sanders, more aggressive than Barack Obama and not as bellicose as the GOP.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.