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 White House 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. “We need to have a resolve that will bring the world together to root out the kind of radical jihadist ideology that motivates organizations like 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.
While they 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.”
That drew a sharp disagreement from O’Malley.
“This actually is America’s fight,” he insisted. “America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world.