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Paris Attacks Dominate The Democratic Debate

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AP Photo / Charlie Neibergall

The second Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa began with a moment of silence for the victims of the attacks. While Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley dedicated their opening statements to addressing the situation in Paris, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) only lingered on the attacks for a brief moment.

Here's a running list of what the candidates are saying during the debate:

Clinton Says U.S. Doesn't Bear 'Bulk Of Responsibility'

CBS News anchor and moderator John Dickerson confronted Clinton right off the bat on whether she and the rest of the Obama administration, in which she served as secretary of state from 2009-2013, underestimated the threat of the Islamic State. Clinton responded that while American leadership is "essential" in taking the fight to the terror group, the U.S. should take on a role supporting its allies in the Middle East.

When Dickerson pressed her on that point, Clinton asserted that the Obama administration abided by the agreement former President George W. Bush made to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. She laid responsibility for the power vacuum in the Middle East that allowed Islamic State militants to grow in strength at the feet of regional governments.

"I think that there are many other reasons why it has in addition to what happened in the region, but I don't think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility," she said. I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself."

Clinton later said she believes the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed after 9/11 "certainly does cover" the Paris attacks. She added that she would like the AUMF to be updated though Congress so that the government could gather better intelligence.

Sanders Says 'Disastrous Invasion Of Iraq' Unraveled the Middle East

Sanders challenged Clinton's argument that the "bulk of responsibility" for the destabilization of the Middle East belonged to regional governments.

"In fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of al- Qaeda and to ISIS," the senator said.

After drawing that distinction from Clinton, Sanders agreed with the former secretary of state that the U.S. must lead an international coalition that includes Muslim nations in the region in order to combat terror groups. He argued that those Muslim nations must do more to "get their hands dirty" and combat extremists on the ground.

Sanders: Climate Change 'Directly Related' to the Growth Of Terrorism

Separately, the Vermont senator warned that combating climate change will prove to be essential in combating terrorism.

"Climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism," he said. "And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you're going to see counties all over the world...they're going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops, and you're going to see all kinds of international conflict."

O'Malley Wants To Retire The Phrase 'Boots On The Ground'


In response to a question about his lack of foreign policy experience, O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, related a story about an Iowa woman he met whose son served two tours of duty in Iraq. "My son is not a pair of boots on the ground," O'Malley recalled her saying.

"These are American soldiers and we fail them when we fail to take into account what happens the day after a dictator falls and when we fail to act when a whole of government approach with sustainable development, diplomacy, and our economic power in alignment with our principles," he said.

O'Malley went on to criticize the American military's inability to both use human intelligence to anticipate threats and build stable democracies after intervening in foreign conflicts.

Clinton Says 'We're Not At War With Islam'

Clinton disagreed with Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) assertion that the Paris attacks showed the U.S. was at war with "radical Islam."

"I don't think we're at war with Islam," Clinton said. "I don't think we're at war with all Muslims."

She then praised former President George W. Bush for visiting a mosque after 9/11 and declaring that the U.S. was at war with "violent extremism," not Islam or Muslims.

"If they hear people running for President who basically shortcut it to say we are somehow against Islam ... yes, we are at war with those people," she said. "But I don't want us to be painting with too broad a brush."

O'Malley Still Wants U.S. To Let In 65k Syrian Refugees

Dickerson asked O'Malley whether he'd revise the number of Syrian refugees he previously said should be let into the U.S. after the Paris attacks. O'Malley likened his call for letting in 65,000 refugees to "[making] room for 6.5 more people in a baseball stadium with 32,000."

The moderator asked O'Malley if he was sticking by that number.

"I would want us to take our place among the nations of the world to alleviate this sort of death and the specter we saw of little kids' bodies washing up on a beach," O'Malley responded.

Clinton Says Bin Laden Raid Shows She's Been Tested


The final question that Dickerson posed to the candidates was about what crises they've experienced in their lives that showed how they would handle unexpected challenges in the Oval Office. O'Malley was unable to name a specific incident while Sanders recalled being forced to make concessions on a veterans bill that was important to him.

Clinton, however, focused her answer around one of the Obama administration's greatest foreign policy successes: the 2011 bin Laden raid.

"That was the most challenging because there was no certainty attached to it," she said. "The intelligence was by no means absolute. We had all kinds of questions that we discussed, and, you know, at the end, I recommended to the president that we take the chance to do what we could to find out whether that was bin Laden and to finally bring him to justice."

The former secretary of state recalled how difficult it was not to be able to talk to anyone, not even her husband, former President Bill Clinton, about the raid. It "was an excruciating experience," she said.

"There was nobody to talk to and it really did give me an insight into the very difficult problems presidents face," Clinton concluded.

This post has been updated.

About The Author

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Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.