Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to a small room — 135 attendees, not counting journalists — at Stanford University on Wednesday about the need for the United States' "nimble and far-reaching" response to the Islamic State group, "an adversary that is constantly adapting and operating across multiple theaters." Candidate Clinton was nimble and far-reaching herself, and what a campaign spokesman billed as "a pure policy speech" set her up to enter the general election with an aura of authority.
Her speech came after GOP front-runner Donald Trump told CNN on Monday that Europe should "put up more money" to fund NATO and that the United States should pony up less. On Tuesday, the Islamic State unleashed two terrorist attacks in Brussels, one just blocks from NATO headquarters. Trump responded by saying that as president, he would reinstate waterboarding — and more. His opponent Sen. Ted Cruz responded with a call for local authorities to "patrol and secure" Muslim neighborhoods. And Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders said ... something no one remembers and his opponent, Clinton, found no reason to rebut.
I found myself in unfamiliar territory — agreeing with the likely Democratic nominee, not top Republicans. Another terrorist attack has devastated an ally. The Islamic State wants to bring its deadly pursuits to the United States. America needs to work with our NATO allies — and with moderate Muslim nations — to put an end to the madness.
"NATO," Clinton asserted in her address, "is one of the best investments America has ever made." She added: "Turning our back on our alliances or turning our alliance into a protection racket would reverse decades of bipartisan American leadership and send a dangerous signal to friend and foe alike. (Russian President Vladimir) Putin already hopes to divide Europe. If Mr. Trump gets his way, it'll be like Christmas in the Kremlin."
Clinton did not address waterboarding, but she did assert that torture is on her list of things that don't work when fighting terrorism.
Clinton also took aim at Cruz: "So when Republican candidates like Ted Cruz call for treating American Muslims like criminals and for racially profiling predominantly Muslim neighborhoods, it's wrong, it's counterproductive, it's dangerous."
Commissioner Bill Bratton of the New York Police Department was even more blunt Tuesday night. He said Cruz "doesn't know what the hell he's talking about."
Before the speech, student Yvonne Lee said she would vote for Clinton. After the address, she said that it confirmed her belief that Clinton has the right bearing for a president. Freshmen David S. Lim and Ben Gardner-Gill held fast to their decision to vote for Sanders in California's primary but would go for Clinton in the general election.
I don't think Clinton was a particularly successful secretary of state. Her prescriptions didn't seem particularly insightful or likely to beat radical Islam. But at least they won't leave this country isolated in a war against fanaticism.
The Republican candidates seem to think that all they need is to talk tough and hitch up their belts. They have no sense of strategy. They don't understand that there is no glory in being the last man standing at the end of a barroom brawl. Especially if the barroom is all blown up.