The three candidates began their debate with a moment of silence for the victims in France, bringing Friday’s horrific attacks an ocean away to the forefront of the 2016 race as they dominated the first half hour of the political showdown.
Clinton, liberal US Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley united in calling for the destruction of the jihadists accused of massacring at least 129 people in the French capital.
“We are not at war with Islam,” said the former secretary of state, choosing her words with care as she warned ordinary Muslims should not be viewed as a threat. “We are at war with violent extremism.”
“Our prayers are with the people of France tonight, but that is not enough,” she said, calling for global resolve to defeat ISIS, “a barbaric, ruthless, violent jihadist terrorist group.”
The Islamic State group (ISIS or IS) claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on a Paris concert hall, restaurants and bars, and outside France’s national stadium — calling it retribution for French air strikes in Syria.
“It cannot be contained, it must be defeated,” Clinton said of the group which has overrun swathes of Syria and Iraq.
With all the talk of battling the jihadist wave, the Democrats on stage refused to use the term “radical Islam,” which moderators used Saturday — and Republicans in the presidential race have used throughout the campaign — to describe the scourge.
“Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking our Muslim-American neighbors… are the enemy,” O’Malley said.
Former Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush spoke up from afar during the debate, tweeting: “Yes, we are at war with radical Islamic terrorism.”
While Democrats displayed equal determination to eradicate jihadism, fissures appeared between the candidates on whether the United States should lead the struggle.
Clinton said American leadership was critical in the effort, with all the diplomatic tools at Washington’s disposal beyond just military might, “but this cannot be an American fight.”