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Clinton Strikes Hawkish Tone with Support for No-Fly Zone in Syria

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)

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton proved to be the most hawkish of the three democratic candidates in the most recent debate, emphasizing her support for a no-fly zone over Syria.

The former secretary of state and U.S. senator from New York has generally supported the Obama administration's strategy for dealing with the conflict in Syria, with the notable exception of how to best protect the civilians caught in the crossfire as military forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad forces go after rebel forces and extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

"One of the reasons why I have advocated for a no-fly zone is in order to create those safe refuges within Syria, to try to protect people on the ground both from Assad's forces, who are continuing to drop barrel bombs, and from ISIS," Clinton said during the Dec. 19 debate in New Hampshire that focused on foreign policy and domestic issues.

ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz, one of the debate's moderators, asked Clinton how far a no-fly zone would go to protect civilians.

"ISIS doesn't have aircraft. Al-Qaida doesn't have aircraft. So would you shoot down a Syrian military aircraft or a Russian airplane?" Raddatz asked.

Clinton responded by saying, "I do not think it would come to that. We are already de-conflicting air space" with Russian military aircraft.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and others have called for a much more aggressive strategy to combat ISIS, including committing far more U.S. ground forces.

Clinton attacked Trump for proposing to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people and another ISIS-inspired mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2.

"He is becoming ISIS's best recruiter," she said of Trump. "They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America's interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry."

Two day later, Trump responded to Clinton by demanding an apology.

During the debate, Clinton said she has a plan to go after ISIS, "not to contain them, but to defeat them." But said she is opposed to committing large numbers of U.S. ground troops to fight the terrorist organization.

"I think it's absolutely wrong policy for us to be even imagining we're going end up putting tens of thousands of American troops into Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS," she said.

"What's happening in Syria and Iraq is that, because of the failures in the region, including the failure of the prior government in Baghdad ... there has been a resurgence of Sunni activities, as exemplified by ISIS," she added. "And we have to support Sunni-Arab and Kurdish forces against ISIS, because I believe it would be not only a strategic mistake for the United States to put ground combat troops in, as opposed to special operators, as opposed to trainers, because that is exactly what ISIS wants."

Instead, Clinton said the U.S. needs to form a coalition made up of countries in the Middle East to fight ISIS on the ground.

"We do have to form a coalition. I know how hard that is," Clinton said. "And the final thing I would say, bringing Donald Trump back into it, 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 and people you need to be part of the coalition."

--Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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