The Cable

Clinton Slams Trump and Cruz in Counterterrorism Speech

In a sharp-elbowed speech that heavily criticized her Republican rivals, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton outlined her strategy to prevent homegrown terrorist attacks like the recent massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, by a couple with ties to the Islamic State.

Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful speaks during the 2015 integration immigration conference in Brooklyn, New York on December 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO/KENA BETANCUR / AFP / KENA BETANCUR        (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful speaks during the 2015 integration immigration conference in Brooklyn, New York on December 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO/KENA BETANCUR / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

In a sharp-elbowed speech that heavily criticized her Republican rivals, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton outlined her strategy to prevent homegrown terrorist attacks like the recent massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

In the nearly hourlong speech Tuesday, Clinton emphasized the importance of shutting down Islamic State recruitment in the United States by cracking down on cyber-jihadists, tightening the U.S. visa waiver program, disrupting potential terrorist plots by ramping up surveillance and reconnaissance efforts, and forging closer ties with Muslim American communities.

“We have to stop jihadists from radicalizing new recruits in person and through social media, chat rooms, and what’s called the dark web,” she said.

Most of her proposals were light on details, and she delivered the lines with a sober matter-of-factness. But the former secretary of state became animated when contrasting her counterterrorism policies to those of her Republican rivals, especially businessman Donald Trump, who has called for barring Muslims from entering the United States.

“We cannot give in to demagogues who play on our basest instincts,” she said. “To all our Muslim American brothers and sisters: This is your country too. I’m proud to be your fellow American.”

She also criticized Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a presidential candidate who has surged in the polls after proposing to “carpet-bomb” the Middle East in order to defeat the Islamic State.

“Promising to carpet-bomb until the desert glows doesn’t make you sound strong,” she said. “It makes you sound like you’re in over your head.”

The content of the speech, a familiar mix of recommendations about closer partnership between law enforcement and Silicon Valley and tightening gun laws, offered few surprises. But the fact that she felt the need to deliver the speech at all was telling.

Clinton’s address marked the third speech on the Islamic State and terrorism she has given in less than a month and is a signal that she’s already shifting into general election mode as she focuses on issues that more independents and Republicans care about than Democrats.

In a recent Gallup survey, only 9 percent of Democrats picked terrorism as their top issue, while 24 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of independents offered the same view. The economy continues to dominate the minds of Democrats, with 21 percent selecting it as a top issue. But given Clinton’s sizable lead over Democratic challengers Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Martin O’Malley of Maryland, she can comfortably begin shifting away from the left-wing economic populism that marked the beginning of her campaign.

In recent days, the Clinton campaign has watched with concern as fears over terrorism have dragged down President Barack Obama’s overall approval numbers to 43 percent, the lowest number in more than a year, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

Clinton spoke just hours before the crowded field of Republican presidential contenders squared off in a debate focused heavily on issues of national security and terrorism — issues they have been using to batter Obama after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and California.

The setting of Clinton’s speech, the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, was no accident. Clinton held up efforts to combat extremism among the state’s Somali-American population as a road map for police-community relations around the country. The Gopher State is home to the country’s largest Somali population, which some foreign militant groups, such as al-Shabab in Somalia and the Islamic State, view as a potential recruiting pool. The state also hosts a widely touted pilot program to strengthen relations between the Muslim community and law enforcement officers.

“In the Twin Cities, you have also seen firsthand how communities come together to resist radicalization,” Clinton said. “As the first Somali-American police sergeant in Minnesota and probably in the country said recently, ‘Safety is a shared responsibility, so we have to work together.’”

Photo credit: Getty Images

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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