- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 15, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa — Hillary Rodham Clinton found herself on defense during Saturday’s Democratic debate as her two rivals, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, challenged her tenure as secretary of state and her culpability in the rise of the Islamic State, known by the acronym ISIS or ISIL.

“It cannot be contained. it must be defeated,” Mrs. Clinton said of the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the rampage by gunmen and suicide bombers Friday in Paris that killed at least 129 people and injured more than 350 others.

The attack shocked the world and became the focus of much of the Democratic presidential candidates’ second debate, which was hosted by CBS News at Drake University.

The debate touched on other issues, with Mrs. Clinton and her closest rival, Mr. Sanders, a self-described socialist, clashing over whether Mrs. Clinton’s proposal for improving health care and reining in Wall Street were aggressive enough.

“Is health care a right for all people, or is it not?” demanded Mr. Sanders. “I believe it is.”

Mrs. Clinton didn’t fire back, but she fiercely defended herself when Mr. Sanders implied that she was beholden to Wall Street because of the campaign donations she has received.

SEE ALSO: Democratic debate in Iowa: Hillary Clinton refuses to say U.S. is at war with radical Islam

She said Wall Street supports her because as a U.S. senator from New York, she worked to help the financial district after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

“I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. It was good for New York. It was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country,” Mrs. Clinton said sternly.

On national security, Mrs. Clinton declared that the U.S. would lead an international effort to “root out” radical jihadi groups.

She also defended the foreign policy of President Obama, which she helped craft as secretary of state during his first term, saying the U.S. should be playing a supporting role, but “it cannot be an American fight.”

“This cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential,” she said.

Mr. O’Malley pounced on the remark.

“This is America’s fight,” said Mr. O’Malley, who is mired in low single digits in the polls far behind Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner and heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

Mr. O’Malley said the scourge of radical jihadis spreading from the Middle East was caused by intelligence failures over the past decades. He called for improved human intelligence to better anticipate emerging threats.

Mr. Sanders said Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan would have to get more involved in fighting the Islamic State.

“They are going to have to get their hands dirty,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton said Saudi Arabia and Jordan were helping the fight and exposing themselves to retaliation by jihadis in the process.

Mr. Sanders insisted that climate change was the top national security threat facing America and that climate change contributed to the spread of terrorism.

Mrs. Clinton was challenge by the moderators about whether she and the Obama administration had underestimated the Islamic State.

After all, Mr. Obama declared the Islamic State “contained” in an interview hours before the attack in Paris. In recent weeks, the terrorist group had been implicated in the downing of a Russian plane over Egypt and twin suicide bombings in Beirut.

Mrs. Clinton previously said she couldn’t have predicted the rise of the Islamic State.

Mrs. Clinton blamed the rise of the Islamic State on the Iraqis for allowing their country to fall apart and on Syrian President Bashar Assad for undertaking a bloody civil war while trying to hold on to power.

“I put that on Assad and on the Iraqis,” she said.

Mr. Sanders hit Mrs. Clinton for voting when she was a U.S. senator in favor of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing that it unraveled the region and resulted in the Islamic State and other conflicts.

Mr. Sanders, who voted against the war, has repeatedly leveled that criticism against Mrs. Clinton, but the Paris attack gave it added weight.

Mrs. Clinton said her vote had to be viewed in “historic context,” understanding the decades of terrorist attacks on the U.S. that culminated with the 9/11 attacks.

None of the Democratic candidates would endorse saying “America is at war with radical Islam,” as did Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“I don’t think we are at war with Islam. I don’t think we are at war with all Muslims. I think we are war with jihadists,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Pressed to explain her reluctance to use the phrase, Mrs. Clinton said: “I don’t want us to be painting with too broad a brush.”

Mrs. Clinton said it wasn’t “particularly helpful” to risk alienating all Muslim people, who she said would be crucial allies in combating jihadi groups such as the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks Friday.

The other two Democratic candidates agreed that the term “radical Islam” should be off limits.

“Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that all of our Muslim-American neighbors in this country are somehow our enemies here,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Mrs. Clinton entered the debate as the clear favorite to win the nomination, making her the candidate on stage with the most to lose.

She recently steadied her campaign after a rough start and several difficult months in which she appeared rusty in interviews and struggled to put to rest the scandal over her exclusive use of a private email account for official business as secretary of state.

The scandal continues to dog her, including an FBI investigation of her handling of classified material in her email that could conceivably lead to criminal charges. She also must contend with the State Department’s monthly release of thousands of her emails in accordance with a court order, which keeps the issue in front of voters.

Still, Mrs. Clinton has reversed a steep drop in the polls and blunted the surprisingly strong challenge on the left from Mr. Sanders.

She enjoyed a 19-point lead over Mr. Sanders, 52 percent to 33 percent, among Democratic voters nationwide in a CBS News/New York Times poll released Thursday.

Mr. O’Malley continued to struggle at 5 percent in the poll. He picked up a percentage point or two since the field narrowed last month from six candidates to three, but he remained an afterthought for Mrs. Clinton and most voters.

Mrs. Clinton also has regained a double-digit lead in Iowa, home to the country’s first nominating contest and is jostling for the lead with Mr. Sanders in New Hampshire, home to the first primary and where Mr. Sanders surged into first place in August and September.

Mrs. Clinton recovered her footing in the race last month with a polished performance in the first debate that was held in Las Vegas and a solid performance standing up to an 11-hour grilling before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The House panel is investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The events surrounding the attack and the role played by Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, remain a hot issue for Republicans.

Mrs. Clinton was asked in the debate whether there was another shoe to drop in the email scandal.

“After 11 hours, I think that’s pretty clear,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton has largely satisfied the party’s base that she was not at fault for the lax security at the compound nor for the mischaracterization of the attack by heavily armed militants as a spontaneous riot in response to an American-made Internet video that mocked Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Polls show that a majority of the general electorate doesn’t think Mrs. Clinton is honest or trustworthy.

The Benghazi issue and the terrorist attack in Paris highlight the challenges Mrs. Clinton will face defending her foreign policy record if Democrats pick her to go toe-to-toe with a Republican nominee in the general election.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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