The three Democratic candidates for president squared off Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa, in the second primary debate dominated by foreign policy issues.
The debate was restructured in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which left at least 129 dead and scores more wounded, to focus more on how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley would address threats from radical Islamic terrorist groups.
Clinton, the frontrunner in the race, broke with President Barack Obama’s statement that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group which has claimed credit for Friday’s attacks, is “contained” but said that she did agree with the notion that the U.S. alone cannot shoulder the fight against extremist groups.
“I think what the president has consistently said–which I agree with–is that we will support those who take the fight to [the Islamic State],” Clinton said. “But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.”
Sanders responded by arguing that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is partly to blame for the rise of extremism there and criticized Clinton for supporting the Iraq War when she served in the U.S. Senate.
“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,” Sanders said.
As the debate moved into the second hour, shifting to domestic concerns, Clinton found herself under attack from the other two candidates on her purported ties to Wall Street interests.
O’Malley called her plan to reign in Wall Street “weak tea,” and Sanders blasted Wall Street business interests, calling its business model “fraud.”
Clinton hit back, saying she had the most effective strategies of anyone in the race and that she was not beholden to any special interests.
One of the final topics of the evening was college affordability, and Sanders used the opportunity to tout his plan to institute free higher education. Clinton and O’Malley responded by calling that strategy impractical and said the focus should be on alleviating student debt.
“The federal government needs to do more on Pell Grants and…we should lower these outrageous interest rates kids and parents are being charged to go to college,” O’Malley said.
The Democratic candidates will square off next in Manchester, N.H., Dec. 19.