Hillary Clinton is facing Republican criticism for seeming to take a sharper tone on terrorism as she leaves the primary race behind – not only in her willingness to invoke the term “radical Islamism,” but her calls for a more aggressive anti-ISIS campaign and her criticism of Gulf allies.
Republicans specifically pointed to the contrast between her point-by-point strategy detailed Monday and her stance just six months earlier during a primary debate in New Hampshire.
At that forum, she voiced utmost confidence in the Obama administration's approach for confronting ISIS and pursuing political transition in Syria.
“We now finally are where we need to be,” she said at the time. “We have a strategy and a commitment to go after ISIS which is a danger to us as well as the region, and we finally have a U.N. Security Council resolution bringing the world together to go after a political transition in Syria.”
On Monday in Cleveland, however, she said while the Obama administration's coalition effort in Syria and Iraq has made gains, more needs to be done to combat the growing threat around the world.
“As ISIS loses actual ground in Iraq and Syria, it will seek to stage more attacks and gain stronger footholds wherever it can, from Afghanistan, to Libya, to Europe,” Clinton said. “The threat is metastasizing.”
She also called for an “intelligence surge,” along with renewed efforts to work “hand-in-hand” with allies to dismantle networks that move money and fighters. She added, “Here at home, we must harden our own defenses.”
On another front, Clinton took a firm line on Gulf allies, saying “it is long past time for the Saudis, the Qataris and the Kuwaitis and others to stop their citizens from funding extremist organizations. And they should stop supporting radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism.”
Presumptive Republican rival Donald Trump fired back, noting her family foundation’s ties with those same allies runs deep. Saudi Arabia reportedly has donated millions to the foundation.
Trump said on Facebook: “Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries!”
Meanwhile, Clinton also responded Monday to Trump’s criticism that she doesn’t use the term “radical Islam” – by openly addressing the religious factor.
“To me, radical jihadism, radical Islamism, they mean the same thing. I'm happy to say either but that's not the point,” Clinton told NBC News.
Trump later claimed credit for Clinton using that terminology – but contrasted it against the language she used during the primary campaign last year. During Monday’s speech, he read aloud part of a November 2015 tweet from Clinton that said: “Let’s be clear: Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing to do whatsoever with terrorism.”
Trump said Monday, “Hillary Clinton, for months, and despite so many attacks, has repeatedly refused to even say the words ‘radical Islam.’”
The dynamics for Trump have not changed as much as they have for Clinton as the candidates shift from primary to general election.
On the Democratic side, the former secretary of state spent much of the primary race battling allegations from her left flank that she took too hawkish a view toward foreign intervention while in the Obama administration. In the December debate, she was responding to criticism from then-candidate Martin O’Malley about “traveling the world looking for new monsters to destroy.”
Now, Clinton turns to the general election trying – like Trump – to assure the country that her administration would be tough on the terror threat.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday denied that there was any daylight between Clinton and Obama in how they now describe the threat.
“She is somebody who agrees strongly with the president's approach to ensuring that we are not giving legitimacy to a terrorist organization that would love to advance the narrative that they are somehow holy warriors advancing the cause of Islam by waging war against the United States. That is an utterly baseless myth,” he said.
He later added, “I am confident that she agrees 100 percent with the president's approach to fighting ISIL and strongly supporting this goal of making clear that Muslims in the United States should not be stigmatized or marginalized.”