Clinton: No Troops in Syria, Even if Attack on US Soil

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

NEW YORK -- Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed to keep American troops out of Syria in a sweeping foreign policy address, saying she would resist sending forces to fight Islamic militants even if there's another terrorist attack within the US.

Offering a detailed assessment of the conflict in Syria, the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner said America must lead the effort to fight Islamic State militants but called on Arab nations to supply much of the military force on the ground. Her remarks also drew a striking contrast with many of her Republican opponents who have advocated for a large-scale military mobilization.

During a question-and-answer session with CNN's Fareed Zakaria in New York, the former secretary of state was asked if the pressure to send in U.S. ground troops to Syria would be "unstoppable" if another terrorist attack occurred in the U.S.

"It would certainly grow but I think it would be a mistake," she said, noting her support for sending in more U.S. special forces, empowering U.S. trainers in Iraq and the use of an air coalition in the region. "Right now we need to keep the pressure on the people on the ground and get them to change their priorities and work together."

While Clinton said she largely backed President Barack Obama's efforts to combat Islamic militants, she broke with the administration's focus on ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad -- a position that's stood in the way of greater military co-operation between the U.S. and Russia. Clinton reiterated her support for a no-fly zone over the northern region of the country -- a position opposed by Obama -- saying it would help with conditions on the ground and pressure Assad to reach a political settlement in peace talks being brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Right now we have one overriding goal as I outlined we need to crush their territorial domain," she said. "We have to prioritize."

Republicans have sought to link Clinton to the unpopular foreign policy of Obama, casting her as continuing his strategy in the region. His critics have said he underestimated the threat posed by Islamic State militants.

Clinton spoke just hours before her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, was set to address the conflict.

Clinton urged Americans to overcome partisan battles and rise above personal fear to combat the threat of jihadism across the globe. She said the U.S. must welcome refugees from the region even as the country toughens its defences at airports, online and in the financial sector. Clinton also urged Congress to "swiftly" pass an updated authorization to use military force against the militants.

"Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee, that is just not who we are. We are better than that," she said.

She urged Turkey and Saudi Arabia to redirect their attention from battling Kurdish forces and the conflict in Yemen to the fight against Islamic State militants. And she promised that her broader approach would not lessen the pressure on Iran to comply with recently completed nuclear deal.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush on Wednesday called for the U.S. to "increase our presence on the ground," in a speech in South Carolina. In Congress, House Republicans are pushing legislation toward approval that would erect fresh hurdles for Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the country. Obama has promised to veto the bill.

Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Ken Thomas contributed to this report from Washington.

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