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Clinton Says US Must Lead Fight Against ISIS

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laid out her strategy Thursday for dealing with the threat posed by Islamic State.

Clinton said the United States must lead the effort to confront the terrorists, but she added that Arab nations must do more militarily in the wake of the Paris terror attacks. “This is a time for American leadership,” Clinton said in a speech in New York City. “No other country can rally the world to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle to defeat jihadism.”

In her remarks, Clinton said the U.S. needs to intensify its efforts against Islamic State not to contain it, but to defeat it. “That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign with more allied planes, more strikes and a broader target set.”

Skeptical About Sending in Ground Troops

Clinton said she favors additional U.S. Special Forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but opposes a large American troop presence. She also supports a no-fly zone in northern Syria. Clinton said additional air support would help Kurdish and Sunni ground fighters already engaged in battle with Islamic State insurgents.

Clinton also took issue with several Republican presidential contenders who want to bar Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S. “Discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee, that is just not who we are.”

Republicans More Open to Ground Forces

Clinton’s remarks came a day after speeches by Republicans Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. Bush told an audience at the Citadel, a military school in South Carolina, that he would send additional U.S. ground troops into Iraq, although he did not specify how many. “This is the war of our time,” Bush said. “Radical Islamic terrorists have declared war on the Western world. We have but one choice: to defeat it.”

Trump also seized on the conflict with Islamic State during a raucous rally in Worcester, Massachusetts, where three protesters were removed from the audience. Trump said he would change what he called weak Obama administration policies toward ISIS and would “bomb the hell out of them” if elected. “We have a president that says ISIS is contained,” Trump continued. “He’s contained it. The only thing contained is us! We’re contained because we have no leadership!” Trump said as the crowd erupted in cheers.

Campaign Reset Following Paris Attacks

The Paris attacks have refocused the presidential contenders on national security and what they would do to counter Islamic State.

Ohio Governor John Kasich said he also favors the deployment of some U.S. ground forces into Iraq and Syria. “We must create an international coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” Kasich told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington recently. “We must join with our NATO allies and, importantly, with allies in the region as well.”

But Kasich was vague when pressed about how many U.S. troops he would send into the region. “I don’t think that you can deal with ISIS by just looking the other way. And when people say, ‘Well, how many boots on the ground or what should the force look like?’ Well, that is a case where the military and the civilian experts will make recommendations.”

Public Skeptical of Deeper U.S. Involvement

The Republican presidential contenders have grown increasingly critical of President Barack Obama’s handling of Islamic State, and several have raised the prospect of sending in U.S. ground troops.

But even as the campaign rhetoric gets tougher, analysts warn that any decision to send in sizeable numbers of U.S. ground troops into the Middle East would be both risky and complicated. “So the whole idea that you are just going into these theaters with U.S. ground troops as if you weren’t intervening in countries on the edge of civil war, or actively in it, simply defies reality. So does the idea that you can instantly deploy ground forces,” said Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Recent public opinion polls presented a complicated picture on how the American public sees the battle against Islamic State militants. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found 60 percent think the U.S. should be doing more to attack Islamic State. But the same survey also showed that 65 percent of Americans oppose sending in U.S. Special Forces, something the president has already ordered. When asked about sending in U.S. ground troops in general, the opposition was even greater. Seventy-six percent said they oppose large numbers of troops heading to either Iraq or Syria.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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