Democratic candidates condemned the attacks in Paris as they started their second debate on Saturday, with Hillary Clinton defending her record as Secretary of State. The debate was held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Asked twice whether the Obama administration underestimated the threat of ISIS, Clinton said she “doesn’t think the United States has the bulk of the responsibility” in the region, citing the continued regime of Bashar al-Assad and the troubled regime of Nouri al-Maliki after U.S. forces were withdrawn.
“We have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international network. It cannot be contained—it must be defeated,” she said, in a seeming rhetorical break from President Obama.
She also declined to characterize the threat of ISIS as “radical Islam.”
“I don’t think we are at war with all of Islam,” Clinton said, instead referring to it as “jihadist.” She said twice that she doesn’t “think you can paint too broad a brush” when characterizing the nature of the threat. “This is an incredibly complicated part of the world.”
Bernie Sanders said that other Muslim countries would have to “lead the effort” to root out ISIS, but he criticized U.S. efforts to topple regimes in the Middle East and cited his opposition to authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002. Clinton had supported it, but has since acknowledged it was a “mistake.”
Sanders also defended a comment made at the last debate, when he called climate change the greatest threat facing the world. “Climate change is directly related to the rise of terrorism,” he said.
Martin O’Malley, meanwhile, said that ISIS was “a new kind of challenge, a new sort of threat that requires a new sort of thinking.” He said that the U.S. has fallen short when it comes to intelligence gathering on the ground.
The debate started with a moment of silence for the Paris victims led by moderator John Dickerson, the host of CBS’s “Face the Nation.” The debate had been expected to focus on the economy, but the dynamics changed after the attacks in Paris. CBS News announced late on Friday that it was reworking some of the planned questions to focus more on issues of national security and terrorism. While that would seem to be an advantage for Clinton given her tenure as secretary of state, her rivals both within the party and in the GOP have criticized her tenure and handling of the conflicts in the Middle East.
This was the second presidential debate among the Democratic candidates this cycle, though this group is smaller than the last encounter in Las Vegas. Two candidates, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, have since dropped out.