WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said Thursday that she would convene a bipartisan group of national security experts to discuss ways to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and expanded on a pledge to bring “to justice” the leader of the terrorist organization.
“We will discuss how to intensify our efforts to defeat ISIS and keep our country safe,” said Clinton, using another acronym for ISIL. “We should make it a top priority to hunt down the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and bring him to justice, just as we did Osama bin Laden.”
Doing so, Clinton said, “will send a resounding message that nobody directs or inspires attacks against the United States and gets away with it.”
Clinton’s campaign released a list of 16 expected participants for Friday’s session, including military, intelligence and homeland security officials, several of whom have served in Republican administrations or previously advised Republican candidates.
Clinton spoke to reporters after a “commander in chief” forum Wednesday night at which she and Republican Donald Trump appeared back-to-back to discuss national security and military issues.
Speaking before boarding her campaign plane en route to North Carolina, Clinton claimed that Trump had “failed once again” to come off as a credible commander in chief. She criticized him for “trash-talking” American generals and said it was “scary” to hear him praise Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Meanwhile, bizarrely, once again, he praised Russia’s strongman, Vladimir Putin, even taking the astonishing step of suggesting that he prefers the Russian president to our American president,” Clinton said. “Now that is not just unpatriotic and insulting to the people of our country as well as to our commander in chief, it is scary.”
Trump took to Twitter on Thursday in response, writing: “Hillary just gave a disastrous news conference on the tarmac to make up for poor performance last night.”
Trump announced this week that, as president, he would task a group of generals to develop a plan within 30 days to quickly defeat ISIL. During the forum, Trump said that he would possibly meld that plan with one that he has already developed but not publicly shared.
Clinton was also highly critical of Trump’s characterization of what he said he has been told during intelligence briefings he’s received since becoming the Republican nominee. During the forum, Trump said the briefers had intimated that President Obama and others did not follow the advice of the experts — a takeaway that Trump said he gathered in part from the body language of his briefers.
“I think what he said was totally inappropriate and undisciplined,” Clinton said Thursday.
During her session with reporters, Clinton also sought to clarify her statement Wednesday night that the United States should never insert ground troops into Iraq again or send them into Syria. “First of all, I’ve said that before. I’ve said it on numerous occasions ... that I think putting a big contingent of American ground troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria would not be in the best interest for the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups,” Clinton said. “In fact, I think it would fulfill one of their dearest wishes, which is to drag the United States back into a ground war in that region.”
She reiterated, however, that she supported “special forces” in the region, calling them “the enablers.”
“I support surveillance intelligence and reconnaissance,” Clinton said. “I will absolutely be prepared to do whatever is necessary to support the Arab and Kurdish fighters on the ground.”
Clinton has repeatedly voiced support for a so-called no-fly zone in northern Syria, marking one of her most significant policy differences with Obama. But she has not discussed that option lately.
Clinton dismissed criticism following Wednesday’s forum from the Republican National Committee that she looked too serious and had not smiled enough. “Well, I’m going to let all of you ponder that last question,” she said. “I think there will be a lot of Ph.D.s, theses, popular journalism, writing on that subject for years to come. ... I won’t take anything seriously that comes from the RNC.”
Clinton was also asked about the blank look from Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson when he was interviewed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday and was asked a foreign-policy question.
“What is Aleppo?” Johnson said when asked how, as president, he would address the refugee crisis in the war-torn Syrian city.
“Well you can look at a map and find Aleppo,” Clinton said with a note of disbelief.