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In the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris, CBS held to its plans Saturday to refocus the second Democratic presidential to address issues of terrorism and national security, with moderator John Dickerson asking the toughest questions of frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
In the opening minutes of the evening debate in Iowa, it was clear that the Face the Nation anchor was in no mood to give Clinton a break. He asked about whether or not she she underestimated ISIS, he highlighted the fact that she voted for the Iraq war, he quizzed her on the problems in Libya and he noted that “hours before the attack” in Paris President Barack Obama said ISIS was contained.
“Seventy-two percent of Americans think the fight against ISIS is going badly,” Dickerson told Clinton. “Won’t the legacy of this administration, which you were a part of, won’t that legacy be underestimating the threat of ISIS?”
Clinton responded, saying: “Well John I think we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained. It must be defeated. There is no question in my mind that if we summon our resources, both our leadership resources and all of the tools at our disposal — not just military resources, which should be used as a last resort, but our diplomacy, our law enforcement, the sharing of intelligence in a much more cooperative way. We can bring people together, but it cannot be an American fight.”
Dickerson followed up: “Secretary Clinton, the question was about whether or not ISIS was underestimated. The president referred to ISIS as the JV (team) in a speech. In 2014 he said ‘I could not have predicted the effect to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq.’ So you have prescriptions for the future, but how do we know those prescriptions are any good if you missed it in the past?”
Clinton responded: “Well, John look, we abided by the agreement that George W. Bush made with the Iraqis to leave by 2011. An Iraqi army was left that had been trained, that was prepared to defend Iraq. Unfortunately, the prime minister set about decimating it. And then with the revolution against Assad, and I did early on say that we needed to find a way to train and equip moderates to deal with Assad. …So yes, this has developed. I think there are many other reasons why it has. But I don’t think the United States has the bulk of the responsibility. I put that on Assad, the Iraqis and on the region itself.”
Dickerson turned to Martin O’Malley, who trails both Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the polls. “OK, Governor O’Malley, would you critique the administration’s response to ISIS?” he asked. “If the United States doesn’t lead, who leads?”
O’Malley responded: “I would disagree with Secretary Clinton on this score. It is America’s fight. It cannot solely be America’s fight. America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies. America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world. ISIS, make no mistake about it is an evil in this world…Our great failing over the past ten to 15 years has been the lack of intelligence on the ground.”
Dickerson then turned the question to Sanders, who used the opportunity to highlight the fact that he did not vote for the Iraq war. “The disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, had unraveled the region and led to the rise of Al Qaeda and to ISIS,” Sanders said. “What we need to do now is to lead an international coalition that includes all the Muslim nations of that region who are going to have to fight and defend their way of life.”
Dickerson pressed Sanders for more information. “Senator Sanders, when you say it was a disastrous vote on Iraq, let’s just be clear about what you’re saying. You’re saying to Secretary Clinton — who was then Senator Clinton who voted for the Iraq war — are you making a direct link between her vote on that to what’s happening now with ISIS? Just so everyone is clear.”
Sanders responded: “I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability. It was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States.”
“Ok,” Dickerson said. “Let’s let Secretary Clinton respond to that.”
Clinton said, as she has before, that she believes the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. She added: “If we are really ever going to really tackle the problems posed by jihadi extreme terrorism, we need to understand it and realize that it has antecedents to what happened in Iraq and we have to continue to be vigilant about it.”
Dickerson continued his questioning for about 20 minutes before shifting the debate to domestic issues, ranging from immigration reform to regulating Wall Street.
O’Malley received a big applause from the audience when he called Donald Trump “an immigrant bashing carnival barker.” Trump responded by mocking O’Malley on Twitter. “Hillary and Sanders are not doing well, but what is the failed former Mayor of Baltimore doing on that stage? O’Malley is a clown,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, Sanders drew laughs from the crowd when he said his highest tax rate would be lower than 90 percent, as it was under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. “I’m not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower,” he quipped.
But with all joking aside, Dickerson kept his focus on Clinton, at one point asking her if she could reassure Democrats that there wouldn’t be “another shoe dropping.”
She responded that after 11 hours before the House Benghazi Committee, “that’s pretty clear.”
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