MANCHESTER, N.H. — Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton battled Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Gov. Martin O’Malley through Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate by stressing her foreign policy experience in the face of an increasing terrorism threat.
Clinton said she had worked as U. S. secretary of state on negotiations that helped lead to a United Nations Security Council directive announced last week by President Obama to diplomatically end the civil war in Syria and build a coalition against the terror group ISIS.
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“All of these are difficult issues — I know, I’ve been dealing with them,” Clinton said.PhotosSee 32 notable, revealing Democratic debate quotesPhotosCheat sheet: Fast facts on Democratic presidential contendersMore coverageThe 2016 campaign: Complete coverage
Sanders said Clinton is too enamored by replacing dictatorial regimes, making the Middle East even more volatile.
“I say this with due respect, I worry too much Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change . . . without knowing what the consequences will be,” said Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont.
The terrorism issue dominated a more than two-hour debate that also focused on the economy, Wall Street, police shootings of minorities and combating illicit drug abuse.
Sanders was more vocal on foreign policy than in past debates. Clinton focused on what separates Democratic candidates from the Republicans, while O’Malley, a former Maryland governor, attacked Clinton and Sanders on gun control, and said he was a new generation of leader.
Each candidate took shots at the Republican front-runner, billionaire developer Donald Trump. In last week’s GOP debate, Trump called for halting at least temporarily immigration by Muslims, building a wall to block illegal immigration from Mexico, and bombing Syria to destroy ISIS even at the risk of antagonizing Russia.
“Mr. Trump has a great capacity to use bluster and bigotry to inflame people and make them believe there are simple answers to complex questions,” Clinton said.
Clinton called Trump, the leader of the GOP race, the Islamic State’s “best recruiter.”
“If you’re going to put together a coalition in the region to take on the threat of ISIS, you don’t want to alienate the very countries you need to be part of the coalition.”
But a statement she made that a video of Trump being used by ISIS to attract combatants has been discredited by nonpartisan fact-checking groups and others.
“We must never surrender our American values to racists . . . and billionaires with big mouths,” former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said. “Our enduring symbol is not a barbed wire fence. It is the Statue of Liberty.”
“What you have is a very dangerous time in American history,” Sanders said. “And somebody like Trump comes along . . . and meanwhile, the rich get richer.”
Sanders said Clinton is too enamored of replacing dictatorial regimes and will make the Middle East even more volatile.
Sanders said he opposes the use of U.S. troops on the ground to destroy ISIS, while Clinton said she would use special forces in a limited way.
“This is a war for the soul of Islam,” Sanders said. “The troops on the ground shouldn’t be American troops. They should be Muslim troops.”
Clinton said that as secretary of state, she “advocated arming the moderate opposition” in Syria. “We now finally are where we need to be. We have a strategy and a commitment to go after ISIS. We finally have a UN Security Council resolution.”
But she added: “If the United States does not lead, there is not another leader. There is a vacuum.”
In the previous debates, Sanders hammered Clinton for her close to ties to campaign donors from Wall Street banks and wealthy hedge fund investors.
The ABC News moderators asked Clinton if corporate American should love Hillary Clinton.
“Everybody should!” she said to laughs and applause. “I said I want to be the president for the struggling, for the surviving and the successful.”
“They ain’t going to like me and Wall Street is going to like me even less,” Sanders said. “We have to deal with the elephant in the room. . . . Wall Street greed.”
O’Malley said the economy won’t be fixed “by either trying to replace American capitalism with socialism, nor will we fix it by Wall Street-directed croney capitalism . . . I have the back bone to take on Wall Street that Senator Clinton never has.”
Sanders also offered front-runner Hillary Clinton an apology for some of his staffers who viewed sensitive Clinton campaign information last week.
“I apologize,” Sanders told Clinton at his side in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. “Not only do I apologize to Secretary Clinton, I want to apologize to my supporters. This is not the campaign that we brought.”
With the Associated Press