Minneapolis, Hillary Clinton’s choice of backdrop for a counterterrorism speech on Tuesday, encapsulates the urgency and complexity of the homeland security challenge facing whomever follows President Barack Obama into the White House.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice charged the tenth Twin Cities’ man in a “broad conspiracy” to provide material support to the Islamic State. Two weeks ago, a married couple who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., the deadliest attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.
“We cannot give in to fear. We can’t let it stop us from doing what is right and necessary to make us safe and doing it in a way that is consistent with our values,” Clinton said at the University of Minnesota, adding, “Bluster and bigotry are not credentials for commander in chief.”
The former secretary of state’s comments come as new polls this week showed national security and terrorism are the top concerns for American voters, who have little faith in the government to protect them. Those issues will take center stage at the GOP presidential debate Tuesday night.
Republican candidates have capitalized on the national anxiety by ratcheting up their rhetoric and seizing on the attacks as evidence the Obama administration has no strategy for homeland or national defense.
Forty percent of Americans now say the federal government’s top priority should be terrorism and national security, up 19 points from April, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday. More than 70 percent say shootings and random acts of violence such as San Bernardino are now a permanent fixture in American life. Yet for the first time since the 9/11 attacks, less than half of Americans believe the government can prevent terrorism, according to a Tuesday Pew Research Center survey,
The GOP frontrunners responded to San Bernardino by upping the ante on the backlash against Muslims after the Paris attacks last month. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who said the U.S. should keep out Muslim refugees, later followed with calls for “carpet bombing” Iraq and Syria. Donald Trump said the U.S.“has no choice” but to shutter mosques, and later, bar Muslims from entering the country altogether, including American citizens.
Clinton and others have admonished Trump and Cruz, but it hasn’t hurt their campaigns. While sixty percent of Americans disagree with Trump’s proposal, nearly six out of 10 Republican voters back it, according to a Monday Washington Post/ABC News poll. While many of Trump’s own party have repudiated his fear-mongering, Republican leaders still said they’d back him if he wins the nomination. Roughly a month from the first caucuses and primaries, Cruz is rising, and Trump remains way out front.
Clinton, though far and away the Democratic frontrunner, is also looking to take political advantage of the moment. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted days after the Paris attacks, more Americans trust Clinton to handle the threat of terrorism than any of the top Republicans — including Trump.
She responded last month to Paris with a three-part plan to defeat ISIS, and global terrorism more broadly, calling for an “intelligence surge,” more special operations troops in Iraq and Syria, direct arming of Kurdish and Sunni fighters and a no-fly zone in Syria, elements of which she repeated Tuesday. Part three of that plan was preventing radicalization, and in her Minneapolis speech, she turned homeward.
She presented what her campaign termed a “360-degree” homeland security strategy, designed to work at every stage of ISIS-inspired domestic terrorism simultaneously, from recruitment, particularly online; to travelling abroad for training (and preventing foreign fighters from travelling here); to planning attacks. “We do have to be prepared for more terrorists plotting attacks,” she said Tuesday.
To do so, she said, the U.S. should reform its visa programs, including requiring social media screenings. She also noted authorities need to work with industry to look at encryption, a heated debate among law enforcement and privacy advocates. Though authorities haven’t yet determined if the San Bernardino attackers used encryption, one of the shooters had made her support for violent jihad publicly known on social media. But U.S. authorities typically do not conduct social media checks, and she was granted a visa to come here. Clinton additionally called for gun control measures, from closing the “no-fly, no-buy” loophole to reinstating the assault weapons ban.
She said her strategy would empower those on the front lines: law enforcement and Muslim-American community leaders, confronting tensions that have spread across the country and shaped the 2016 election.
Taking Minneapolis as example, just last month, authorities there arrested three men who shot at a “Black Lives Matter” protest of the killing of an unarmed black man by local police officers. Terrorist group Al Shabaab threatened the nearby Mall of America, one of the country’s largest, in February. And while the Twin Cities’ Somali community, one of the largest outside of Somalia, has been the focus of efforts to counter extremism, Clinton noted that the administration also touts successful programs there that partner law enforcement and Muslim leaders.
Law enforcement agency chiefs have expressed concerns about the public backlash against Muslims in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks and heated rhetoric from American politicians, which they say work against national security.
Clinton said such comments demonstrate her GOP rivals aren’t ready to lead, noting the U.S. needs Muslim leaders both at home and abroad in the fight against the Islamic State.
“Waging and winning this fight will require serious leadership. But unfortunately, our political debate has been anything but serious,” she said. “We can’t afford another major ground war in the Middle East. That’s exactly what ISIS wants from us. Shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy.”
“This is not a clash of civilizations,” she continued. “This is a clash between civilization and barbarism, and that’s how it must be seen and fought.”