Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Thursday blasted Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for what he said was a failed tenure as secretary of state while pledging to "defeat the barbarians of ISIS" if elected president.
In his speech accepting the nomination on the last day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the real estate mogul and reality television star criticized President Barack Obama's record in the Middle East and Africa when Clinton was a cabinet secretary from 2009 to 2013.
"America is far less safe -- and the world is far less stable -- than when Obama made the decision to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America's foreign policy," he said.
"I am certain it is a decision he truly regrets," he added. "Her bad instincts and her bad judgment -- something pointed out by Bernie Sanders -- are what caused the disasters unfolding today. Let's review the record: In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS was not even on the map."
That was one of three references to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the al-Qaida-inspired terrorist group that took over territory in both countries following the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011, in Trump's more than hour-long speech.
Obama later reversed course and sent American troops and commandos back into Iraq -- and into Syria -- to combat the militants. To date, the president has approved a force level of more than 4,600 service members in Iraq -- and Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, this week signaled that number may still increase.
Trump made repeated reference to combating Islamic extremists, but also warned against overextending the military and "nation building."
"We must have the best intelligence gathering operation in the world," he said. "We must abandon the failed policy of nation building and regime change that Hillary Clinton pushed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. Instead, we must work with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping out Islamic terror. This includes working with our greatest ally in the region, the State of Israel."
In a line that seemed to rebuke the policies of not just Obama and Clinton but also fellow Republican and former President George W. Bush, Trump said, "After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before."
Trump also referenced the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi -- a repeated topic throughout the convention -- in which four Americans were killed, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. "Our ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers," he said.
Earlier in the week, Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, the U.S. foreign service information management officer who was among those killed in the Benghazi attacks, blamed Clinton for the tragedy. "I blame Hillary Clinton personally," she said. "She lied to me and then called me a liar," she added amid loud boos from the crowd.
Clinton has defended her response to the incident. "You know, look, I feel a great deal of sympathy for the families of the four brave Americans that we lost at Benghazi. And I certainly can't even imagine the grief that she has for losing her son," Clinton said during a debate in March, referring to Smith. "But she's wrong. She's absolutely wrong."
Also this week, the co-chair of Trump's national veterans coalition, Al Baldasaro, a state representative in New Hampshire and delegate for Trump, said Clinton "should be shot for treason." The Secret Service later said he was under investigation.
Meanwhile, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who also spoke at the convention, called Clinton an "Obama clone" who would put the interests of other nations above those of the U.S. "The destructive pattern of putting the interests of other nations ahead of our own will end when Donald Trump is president," said Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. "We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law."
During his acceptance speech, Trump defended recent remarks in which he questioned the automatic U.S. defense of NATO states unless they contribute more funding to collective defense. The comments caused a stir on both sides of the Atlantic, but especially among Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- the three Baltic states in Eastern Europe.
"Recently, I have said that NATO was obsolete because it did not properly cover terror, and also, that many of the member countries were not paying their fair share," Trump said. "As usual, the United States has been picking up the cost. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that NATO will be setting up a new program in order to combat terrorism -- a true step in the right direction."
It was not immediately clear to which program Trump was referring, but Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday pressed the anti-ISIS coalition, which includes all 28 NATO members, to do a better job of coordinating and sharing intelligence to counter the increasing attacks directed or inspired by ISIS worldwide.
At a meeting of defense and foreign ministers at the State Department, Kerry suggested that Interpol would have a part in the information sharing, noting that the International Criminal Police Organization based in Lyon, France, had agreed to become the 67th member of the anti-ISIS coalition.
Kerry also said that Director of National intelligence James Clapper led a session at the defense and foreign ministers meetings on the necessity of eliminating the "stovepipes" between countries on intelligence sharing. He stressed "the importance of real-time communication between countries, information sharing so that our police and our border guards and airport security officials know when they are coming into contact with suspected terrorists."
Trump also veered from his prepared remarks to talk about expanding health care options for veterans. "We will guarantee they will be able to visit the doctor or hospital of their choice without waiting in line or dying," he said.
He was referring to the recent scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs in which veterans were put on secret wait lists to mask the high numbers of patients seeking care. While the department's inspector general initially said it couldn't conclusively determine whether veterans died because of a lack of "timely quality care," CNN in 2014 reported that as many as 40 veterans died awaiting care at the Phoenix medical center alone.
"We will take care of our great veterans like they have never been taken care of before," Trump said. "My opponent dismissed the VA scandal as being not widespread – one more sign of how out of touch she really is."
-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.