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Paris Attacks Dominate U.S. Political Debates


What will the next president be doing against the Islamic State if the threat still exists in something more than year from now? It's dominating the presidential debate at the moment. On Saturday night, Democrats debated and foreign policy took up the first large section of the debate. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro was listening to that and listening to other political conversations over the weekend. Hi, Domenico.


INSKEEP: How did the Democrats handle this - Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders?

MONTANARO: Well, look, there's no real debate among Democrats. The differences are pretty much at the edges. Hillary Clinton, in particular, doesn't have a very good answer when it comes to the question of how President Obama has handled ISIS. She has to walk a very fine line between being a representative of the Obama administration and distancing herself from the president, whose approval ratings for foreign policy have taken a nosedive over the past year or two. She was pressed on whether the administration had, quote, "underestimated the threats of ISIS" and here's how she responded.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: We have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained. It must be defeated.

INSKEEP: Cannot be contained, she said.

MONTANARO: That is a key word there because that seemed like a preplanned line from Hillary Clinton because she had not been asked about the containment issue, which was what President Obama had brought up on Thursday himself in an interview with ABC - that ISIS had been contained in Iraq and in Syria as far as holding ground. So it seemed that that was a pretty much preplanned line that she wanted to use to be able to distance herself from the president.

INSKEEP: Did you get a clear sense of what it is that the Democrats would do if one of them is the next president?

MONTANARO: You know, they all stressed a very similar approach to President Obama, frankly. They stressed that American leadership quote, unquote, "was essential." Hillary Clinton had a little bit of a flub when she said that this was not America's war, is not - and she's since going to walk that back. You know, but - that the U.S. needs a multi-lateral approach, that European nations are more vulnerable, and that Sunni nations and Gulf nations need to step up and not just have a military response, but a diplomatic one.

INSKEEP: And then there's the Republican side. Of course, Republicans weren't on stage Saturday night, but they were talking on the Sunday shows, they've been out campaigning over the weekend. What have Republicans been saying?

MONTANARO: Well - and Marco Rubio has said that we should invoke Article 5 of - with NATO - which is the clause that says an attack on one is an attack on all. He and Jeb Bush have called for a declaration of war. Jeb Bush, in particular, being very strong about saying we need more intervention and more ground troops. And most of these candidates are talking about stopping refugees from Syria to - coming into the United States. You know, it's really interesting, we talk about a Democratic debate where there wasn't much difference between the candidates. I kind of wanted to hear a Democrat versus Republican debate because that's what Americans are going to have to decide on next year for what the worldview is that they most support.

INSKEEP: Well, it's very interesting. If you say an Article 5 declaration, that is formally saying NATO is at war - a declaration of war, that is Congress formally saying the United States is at war - that still leaves unanswered how the United States would involve itself in a war that's already going on and the United States is already involved in.

MONTANARO: No question about that. And I think that problematically, on all sides, is this reluctance after a decade or more of war of whether or not you put ground troops in, despite a very different threat that ISIS poses, compared to even what al-Qaida was before 9/11, and I think that's a big difference that the country has refocus on.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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