Hillary Clinton lays out a strategy for defeating ISIS

Editor’s note: This post was updated on November 20 to reflect ongoing developments.

In a detailed speech to the Council on Foreign relations this morning, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out her strategy for defeating ISIS. Among the key points, she said that we should:

  • Directly arm the Kurds and Iraqi Sunnis if the Baghdad government continues to throw up obstacles;
  • Establish a safe/no-fly zone in northern Syria;
  • Put pressure on the Turkish government to stop bombing Syrian Kurdish forces and to interdict the flow of jihadis to and from Syria by sealing its southern border;
  • Make it clear to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that they must stop funding—and prevent their citizens from funding—violent extremism

In addition, Secretary Clinton offered specifics on the longer-term generational struggle against global jihadism. While rejecting the “clash of civilizations” thesis, she made it clear that there are strains of violent extremism within the Muslim world that need to be opposed on multiple fronts—most fundamentally, on the terrain of ideas.

While calling for a hardening of our defenses at home, Secretary Clinton rejected Republican proposals to apply religious tests to the admission of Syrian refugees.

In response to questions following the speech, she described her approach as—in the main—an intensification of the strategy President Obama has already put in place. However, her proposals in a number of areas would represent a qualitative change in American strategy.

In a sign of the shifting contours of the debate over the best way of confronting ISIS, there is significant agreement between Secretary Clinton and the position former Florida governor Jeb Bush outlined in a major speech at the Citadel earlier this week. Mr. Bush summarized his position in five points:

  • We must unleash the power of our Air Force by removing self-imposed restraints;
  • Enforce a no fly zone
  • Create safe zone in Syria
  • Allow our special operations forces to target terrorist networks; and
  • Arm the Kurdish forces.

While insisting on the need for intensified military action on the ground, Mr. Bush—like Mrs. Clinton—made it clear that he was not recommending a major deployment of American forces. Instead, he said, “The bulk of these grounds troops will need to come from local forces that we have built workable relationships with.”

A third major participant in this debate—Florida Senator Marco Rubio—stated his position in an article for Politico published yesterday. He declared that “When I am president, what I will do to defeat ISIL is very simple: whatever it takes.” Elaborating on this pledge, he said that he would “provide direct military support to Sunnis and the Kurds if Baghdad fails to act”—a proposal that tracks Secretary Clinton’s almost word for word. Regarding Syria, he said that he would “declare no-fly zones to ground Assad’s air force and coalition-controlled ‘safe zones’ in the country to stop his military, . . . stem the flow of refugees and provide a place to train and arm rebel fighters”—again, in line with Mrs. Clinton’s stance.

On two critical issues—how to oppose ISIS in Iraq and Syria—these three presidential candidates are closer to one other than they are to the Obama administration’s current policy. Across party lines, impatience with the Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad is growing, as is the appetite for a tougher stance in Syria that could bolster the anti-Assad forces and reduce the intensity of the refugee crisis.