Outlining Plan to Defeat ISIS and Global Terrorism, Clinton Says U.S. Must Choose Resolve Over Fear

Hillary Clinton laid out her comprehensive strategy for defeating ISIS and combatting the scourge of radical jihad during remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday. In the face of horrific terrorist attacks like the recent ones in Paris, Sinai, Beirut and Nigeria, she said the nation faces a choice – between fear and resolve. In this speech, Hillary Clinton urged the country to choose resolve.

The strategy Clinton outlined hinges on three main elements – defeating ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; disrupting and dismantling the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilitates the flow of fighters, financing, arms, and propaganda around the world; and hardening our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.

Below is a full transcript of the remarks:

“Thank you to Richard and thanks for the great work that the council does under your leadership. It truly is an important resource for us all. Fareed, I look forward to having the conversation with you, everyone here at the Council, and Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for being here and for everything you are doing and will do to keep our city safe and strong. I am very grateful

I wanted to come here, to our city, which has shown such resilience in the face of terrorism, to talk about the events of the past week and the work we must do together to protect our country and our friends.

When the United States was hit on 9/11, our allies treated that attack against one as an attack against all.  Now it is our turn to stand in solidarity with France and all of our friends. We cherish the same values, we face the same adversaries, we must share the same determination.

After a major terrorist attack, every society faces a choice between fear and resolve. The world’s great democracies can’t sacrifice our values or turn our backs on those in need. Therefore, we must choose resolve. And we must lead the world to meet this threat.

Now, let us be clear about what we are facing.


Beyond Paris, in recent days, we have seen deadly terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. And a Russian civilian airliner destroyed over the Sinai.

At the heart of today’s new landscape of terror is ISIS. They persecute religious and ethnic minorities, kidnap and behead civilians, murder children. They systematically enslave, torture, and rape women and girls.

ISIS operates across three mutually reinforcing dimensions: a physical enclave in Iraq and Syria,

an international terrorist network that includes affiliates across the region and beyond, and an ideological movement of radical jihadism. We have to target and defeat all three.

And time is of the essence. ISIS is demonstrating new ambition, reach, and capabilities. We have to break the group’s momentum and then its back. Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS, but to defeat and destroy ISIS.

But we have learned that we can score victories over terrorist leaders and networks only to face metastasizing threats down the road. So we also have to play and win the long game.


We should pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy – one that embeds our mission against ISIS within a broader struggle against radical jihadism that is bigger than any one group, whether it’s al Qaeda or ISIS or some other network. An immediate war against an urgent enemy and a generational struggle against an ideology with deep roots will not be easily be torn out.It will require sustained commitment and every pillar of American power. This is a worldwide fight – and America must lead it.

Our strategy should have three main elements. One, defeat ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East. Two, disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilitates the flow of fighters, financing, arms, and propaganda around the world. Three, harden our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.

Let me start with the campaign to defeat ISIS across the region. The United States and our international coalition have been conducting this fight for more than a year. It is time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate and deny ISIS control of territory in Iraq and Syria. That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign, with more allied planes, more strikes, and a broader target set. A key obstacle standing in the way is a shortage of good intelligence about ISIS and its operations.

So we need an immediate “intelligence surge” in the region, including technical assets, Arabic speakers with deep expertise in the Middle East, and even closer partnership with regional intelligence services. Our goal should be to achieve the kind of penetration we accomplished with al Qaeda in the past.  This would help us identify and eliminate ISIS’s command and control and its economic lifelines. A more effective coalition air campaign is necessary, but not sufficient. And we should be honest about the fact that, to be successful, air strikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS.


Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have a hundred thousand American troops in combat in the Middle East. That is just not the smart move to make here. If we have learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that local people and nations have to secure their own communities. We can help them and we should, but we cannot substitute for them.

But we can and should support local and regional ground forces in carrying out this mission. Now, the obstacles to achieving this are significant.

On the Iraqi side of the border, Kurdish forces have fought bravely to defend their own lands and to retake towns from ISIS. But the Iraqi national army has struggled. It is going to take more work to get it up to fighting shape. As part of that process, we may have to give our own troops advising and training the Iraqis greater freedom of movement and flexibility, including embedding in local units and helping target airstrikes.

Ultimately, however, the ground campaign in Iraq will only succeed if more Iraqi Sunnis join the fight. But that will not happen so long as they do not feel they have a stake in their country or confidence in their own security and capacity to confront ISIS.


Now, we have been in a similar place before in Iraq. In the first Sunni Awakening in 2007, we were able to provide sufficient support and assurances to the Sunni tribes to persuade them to join us in rooting out Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, under Prime Minister Maliki’s rule, those tribes were betrayed and forgotten. So the task of bringing Sunnis off the sidelines into this new fight will be considerably more difficult. But nonetheless we need to lay the foundation for a second Sunni Awakening.

We need to put sustained pressure on the government in Baghdad to get its political house in order, move forward with national reconciliation, and finally stand up a National Guard. Baghdad needs to accept – even embrace – arming Sunni and Kurdish forces in the war against ISIS. But if Baghdad will not do that, the coalition should do so, directly.

On the Syrian side, the big obstacle to getting more ground forces to engage ISIS – beyond the Syrian Kurds who are already deep in the fight – is that the viable Sunni opposition groups remain understandably preoccupied with fighting Assad, who let us remember has killed many more Syrians than the terrorists have. But they are increasingly seeing the threat from ISIS as well.


So we need to move simultaneously toward a political solution to the civil war that paves the way for a new government with new leadership, and to encourage more Syrians to take on ISIS as well.  To support them, we should immediately deploy the Special Operations force President Obama has already authorized and be prepared to deploy more, as more Syrians get into the fight. And we should retool and ramp up our efforts to support and equip viable Syrian opposition units.

Our increased support should go hand-in-hand with increased support from our Arab and European partners, including special forces who can contribute to the fight on the ground. We should also work with the coalition and the neighbors to impose no fly zones that will stop Assad from slaughtering civilians and the opposition from the air. Opposition forces on the ground, with material support from the coalition, could then help create safe areas where Syrians could remain in the country rather than fleeing toward Europe. This combined approach would help enable the opposition to retake the remaining stretch of the Turkish border from ISIS, choking off its supply lines. It would also give us new leverage in the diplomatic process that Secretary Kerry is pursuing.


Of course, we have been down plenty of diplomatic dead-ends before in this conflict.  But we have models for how seemingly intractable, multi-sectarian civil wars do eventually end. We can learn lessons from Lebanon and Bosnia about what it will take. And Russia and Iran have to face the fact that continuing to prop up a vicious dictator will not bring stability. Right now, I am afraid President Putin is actually making things somewhat worse.

Now to be clear though, there is a role for Russia to help for resolving the conflict in Syria. And we have indicated a willingness to work with them toward an outcome that preserves Syria as a unitary, non-sectarian state, with protections of the rights of all Syrians and to keep key state institutions in tact. There is no alternative to a political transition that allows Syrians to end Assad’s rule. Now, much of this strategy on both sides of the border hinges on the roles of our Arab and Turkish partners. And we must get them to carry their share of the burden, with military, intelligence, and financial contributions, as well as using their influence with fighters and tribes in Iraq and Syria.

Countries like Jordan have offered more, and we should take them up on it.  Because ultimately, our efforts will only succeed if the Arabs and Turks step up in a much bigger way. This is their fight and they need to act like it.So far, however, Turkey has been more focused on the Kurds than on countering ISIS. And to be fair, Turkey has a long and painful history with Kurdish terrorist groups. But the threat from ISIS cannot wait.


As difficult as it may be, we need to get Turkey to stop bombing Kurdish fighters in Syria who are battling ISIS and become a full partner our coalition efforts against ISIS. The United States should also work with our Arab partners to get them more invested in the fight against ISIS.

At the moment, they are focused in other areas, because of their concerns in the region, especially the threat from Iran. That is why the Saudis, for example, shifted attention from Syria to Yemen. So we have to work out a common approach.

In September, I laid out a comprehensive plan to counter Iranian influence across the region and its support for terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas. We cannot view Iran and ISIS as separate challenges.  Regional politics are too interwoven. Raising the confidence of our Arab partners and raising the costs to Iran for bad behavior will contribute to a more effective fight against ISIS.

And as we work out a broader regional approach, we should of course be closely consulting with Israel, our strongest ally in the Middle East. Israel increasingly shares with our Arab partners and has the opportunity to do more in intelligence and in joint efforts as well.


We should have no illusions about how difficult the mission before us really is. We have to fit a lot of pieces together, bring a lot of partners along, move on multiple fronts at once.  But if we press forward on both sides of the border, in the air and on the ground, as well as diplomatically, I do believe we can crush ISIS’s enclave of terror.

And to support this campaign, Congress should swiftly pass an updated authorization to use military force. That will send a message to friend and foe alike that the United States is committed to this fight. The time for delay is over.  We should get this done.

Now, the second element of our strategy looks beyond the immediate battlefield of Iraq and Syria to disrupt and dismantle global terrorist infrastructure on the ground and online. A terror pipeline that facilitates the flow of fighters, financing, arms, and propaganda around the world, has allowed ISIS to strike at the heart of Paris last week, and allowed al Qaeda affiliate to do the same at Charlie Hebdo earlier this year.

ISIS is working hard to extend its reach, establishing affiliates and cells far from its home base.   And despite significant setbacks it has encountered, not just with ISIS and its ambitious plans but even al Queda, including the death of Osama bin Laden. They are still posing rape threats to so many. Let’s take one example. We have had a lot of conversation about ISIS in the last week. Let’s not al Queda. They still have the most sophisticated bomb-makers, ambitious plotters, and active affiliates in places like Yemen and North Africa.


So we can’t just focus on Iraq and Syria – we need to intensify our counterterrorism efforts across a wider scope. Most urgent is stopping the flow of foreign fighters to and from the war zones of the Middle East. Thousands, thousands, of young recruits have flocked to Syria from France, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and yes, even the United States. Their western passports make it easier for them to cross borders and eventually return home, radicalized and battle-hardened.

Stemming this tide will require much better coordination and information sharing among countries every step of the way. We should not stop pressing until Turkey, where most foreign fighters cross into Syria, finally locks down its border.  The United States and our allies need to know and share the identities of every fighter who has traveled to Syria.

We also have to be smart and target interventions that will have the greatest impact. For example, we need a greater focus on shutting down key enablers who arrange transportation, documents, and more. When it comes to terrorist financing, we have to go after the nodes that facilitate illicit trade and transactions.


The UN Security Council should update its terrorism sanctions. They have a resolution that does try to block terrorist financing and other enabling activities but we have to place more obligation on countries to police their own banks. And the United States, which has quite a record of success in this area, can share more intelligence to help other countries.

And, once and for all, the Saudis, the Qataris, and others need to stop their citizens from directly funding extremist organizations, as well as schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path toward radicalization. When it comes to blocking terrorist recruitment, we have to identify the hotspots – the specific neighborhoods and villages, the prisons and schools – where recruitment happens in clusters. Like the neighborhood in Brussels where the Paris attacks were planned. Through partnerships with local law enforcement and civil society – especially Muslim community leaders – we have to work to tip the balance away from extremism in these hotspots.

Radicalization and recruitment also is happening online. And there is no doubt we have to do a better job contesting online space, including websites and chat rooms where jihadists communicate with followers. We must deny them virtual territory, just as we deny them actual territory.


At the State Department, I built up a unit of communications specialists fluent in Urdu, Arabic, Somali, and other languages to do battle with extremists online. We need more of that, including from the private sector.

Social media companies can also do their part by swiftly shutting down terrorist accounts so they are not used to plan, provoke, or celebrate violence.

Online or offline, the bottom line is that we are in a contest of ideas against an ideology of hate – and we have to win it.

Now, let’s be clear though: Islam itself is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.

The obsession in some quarters with a “clash of civilizations” or repeating the specific words “Radical Islamic Terrorism” is not just a distraction, it gives these criminals, these murderers, more standing than they deserve and it actually plays into their hands by alienating partners we need by our side. Our priority should be how to fight the enemy.


In the end, it didn’t matter what kind of terrorist we called Bin Laden, it mattered that we killed Bin Laden. But we still can’t close our eyes to the fact that there is a distorted and dangerous strain of extremism within the Muslim world that continues to spread. Its adherents are relatively few in number, but capable of causing profound damage – most especially to their own communities throughout an arc of instability that stretches from North and West Africa to Asia.

Overlapping conflicts, collapsing state structures, widespread corruption, poverty, and repression have created openings for extremists to exploit. Before the Arab Spring, I warned that the region’s foundations would “sink into the sand” without immediate reforms. Well, the need has only grown more urgent.

We have to join with our partners to do the patient, steady work of empowering moderates and marginalizing extremists: supporting democratic institutions and the rule of law, creating economic growth that supports stability, working to curb corruption, helping train effective and accountable local intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism services.

As we do this, we must be building up a global counterterrorism infrastructure that is more effective and adaptable than the terror networks we’re trying to defeat. When I became Secretary of State, I was surprised to find that nearly a decade after 9/11, there was still no dedicated international vehicle to regularly convene key countries to deal with terrorist threats.

So we created the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which now brings together nearly 30 countries, many from the Muslim world. It should be a clearinghouse for directing assistance to countries that need it, for mobilizing common action against threats.


And let’s not lose sight of the global cooperation needed to lock down loose nuclear material, and chemical and biological weapons – and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

At the end of the day, we still must be prepared to go after terrorists wherever they plot, using all the tools at our disposal. That includes targeted strikes by U.S. military aircraft and drones, with proper safeguards, when there aren’t any other viable options to deal with continuing imminent threats. All of this – stopping foreign fighters, blocking terrorist financing, doing battle in cyberspace – is vital to the war against ISIS, but it is also lays the foundation for defusing and defeating the next threat and the one after that.

Now the third element of our strategy has to be hardening our defenses at home and helping our partners do the same against both external and homegrown threats.

After 9/11, the United States made a lot of progress breaking down bureaucratic barriers to allow for more and better information sharing among agencies responsible for keeping us safe.

We still have work to do on this front, but by comparison, Europe is way behind.

Today, European nations do not even always alert each other when they turn away a suspected jihadist at the border or when a passport is stolen. It seems like after most terrorist attacks, we find out that the perpetrators were known to some security service or another, but too often the dots never get connected. I appreciate how hard this is, especially given the sheer number of suspects and threats, but this has to change. The United States must work with Europe to dramatically and immediately improve intelligence sharing and counterterrorism coordination.

European countries also should have the flexibility to enhance their border controls when circumstances warrant. And here at home, we face a number of our own challenges.

The threat to airline security is evolving as terrorists develop new devices like non-metallic bombs, so our defenses have to stay, at least, one step ahead. We know that intelligence gathered and shared by local law enforcement officers is absolutely critical to breaking up plots and preventing attacks. So they need all the resources and support we can give them.


Law enforcement also needs the trust of residents and communities, including in our own country Muslim-Americans. This should go without saying, but in the current climate it bears repeating: Muslim Americans are working every day on the frontlines of the fight against radicalization.

Another challenge is how to strike the right balance of protecting privacy and security. Encryption of mobile communications presents a particularly tough problem. We should take the concerns of law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals seriously. They have warned that impenetrable encryption may prevent them from accessing terrorist communications and preventing a future attack.

On the other hand we know there are legitimate concerns about government intrusion, network security, and creating new vulnerabilities that bad actors can and would exploit. So we need Silicon Valley not to view government as its adversary. We need to challenge our best minds in the private sector to work with our best minds in the public sector. To develop solutions that will both keep us safe and protect our privacy. Now is the time to solve this problem, not after the next attack.

Since Paris, no homeland security challenge is being more hotly debated than how to handle Syrian refugees seeking safety in the United States.

Our highest priority, of course, must always be protecting the American people.

So yes, we do need to be vigilant in screening and vetting any refugees from Syria, guided by the best judgment of our security professionals in close coordination with our allies and partners.


And congress needs to make sure the necessary resources are provided for comprehensive background checks, drawing on the best intelligence we can get. And we should be taking a close look at the safeguards in visa programs as well. But we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and humanitarian obligations.

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

And remember, many of these refugees are fleeing the same terrorists who threaten us.

It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes and then also prevent them from ever finding new ones. We should be doing more to ease this humanitarian crisis, not less. We should lead the international community in organizing a donor conference and supporting countries like Jordan who are sheltering the majority of refugees fleeing Syria.

And we can get this right.  America’s open, free, tolerant society is described by some as a vulnerability in the struggle against terrorism. But I actually believe it is one of our greatest strengths.  It reduces the appeal of radicalism and enhances the richness and resilience of our communities.

This is not a time for scoring political points. When New York was attacked on 9/11, we had a Republican president, a Republican governor, and a Republican mayor, and I worked with all of them. We pulled together and put partisanship aside to rebuild our city and protect our country. This is a time for American leadership.

No other country can rally the world to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle against radical jihadism. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale.


And that is exactly what we need. The entire world must be part of this fight, but we must lead it.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about coalitions. Everyone seems to want one.  But there is not nearly as much talk about what it actually takes to make a coalition work in the heat and pressure of an international crisis.

I know how hard this is because we have done it before–To impose the toughest sanctions in history on Iran.  To stop a dictator from slaughtering his people in Libya. To support a fledgling democracy in Afghanistan.

We have to use every pillar of American power – military might but also diplomacy, development aid, economic and cultural influence, technology, and the force of our values, that is smart power.

You have to work with institutions and partners, like NATO, the EU, the Arab League, and the UN.  Strengthen alliances and never get tired of old-fashioned shoe-leather diplomacy.

And, if necessary, be prepared to act decisively on our own, just as we did to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. The United States and our allies must demonstrate that free people and free markets are still the hope of humanity.

This past week, as I watched the tragic scenes from France, I kept thinking back to a young man the world met in January, after the last attack in Paris. His name was Lassana, a Muslim immigrant from Mali who worked at a kosher market. He said the market had become a new home and his colleagues and customers, a “second family.”

When the terrorist arrived and the gunfire began, Lassana risked his life to protect his Jewish customers. He moved quickly, hiding as many people as he could in the cold storage room and then slipping out to help the police.

“I didn’t know or care,” he said, “if they were Jews or Christians or Muslims. We are all in the same boat.”

What a rebuke to the extremists’ hatred.

The French government announced it would grant Lassana full citizenship. But when it mattered most, he proved he was a citizen already.

That is the power of free people. That is what the jihadis will never understand and never defeat.

And as we meet here today, let us resolve that we will go forward together and we will do all we can to lead the world against this threat that threatens people everywhere. Thank you all.”

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