Clinton hits Trump, Cruz for Brussels response: 'Slogans aren't a strategy'

Hillary Clinton on Wednesday attacked the leading Republican presidential contenders for their responses to the terror attacks in Brussels, warning that their proposals would weaken American security and diminish the nation's status as a world leader.

Speaking the day after a series of explosions killed at least 34 people in the Belgian capital and rocked the Western world’s sense of security, Clinton singled out Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) for comments that she claimed would undermine global security organizations such as NATO and increase scrutiny on American Muslims. 

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“Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire,” Clinton said in remarks at Stanford University. “What America needs is smart, strong, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle. 

“In our fight against radical jihadism, we have to do what actually works,” the former secretary of State added. “One thing we know that does not work is offensive, inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes all Muslims." 

Clinton lobbed multiple attacks at a proposal from Cruz, which Trump has also endorsed, to give police departments license to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."    

“When Republican candidates like Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTexas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' Moore endorsements disappear from campaign website MORE call for treating American Muslims like criminals and for racially profiling predominantly Muslim neighborhoods, it’s wrong, it’s counterproductive, and it’s dangerous,” Clinton said.

The comments echoed a sentiment delivered by President Obama earlier in the day, when he called Cruz’s proposal “wrong and un-American.” 

Cruz’s proposal set off a firestorm of debate on Tuesday and was widely condemned by Democrats and prominent civil rights organizations. In defense of the comments, he has pointed to a controversial police program in New York City that was abandoned in 2014.  

Clinton also took fire at Trump’s repeated policy position to reinstate waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques that are “a hell of a lot worse.” Trump himself has described the practices, which are currently illegal, as torture, but said they would be critical to gaining information quickly — and justified in response to the brutality of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  

Torture “does not work,” Clinton insisted on Wednesday. It also “puts our own troops and increasingly our own civilians at greater risk.” 

“If I’m president, the United States will not condone or practice torture anywhere in the world, even when we’re up against opponents who don’t respect human life or human rights.” 

This week’s deadly violence in Brussels is likely to inject new focus into national security issues in the presidential race, which had slowly drifted away from terrorism concerns in the weeks since last year’s attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. 

Like last year’s attacks in Paris, ISIS claimed credit for Tuesday’s violence in Brussels, which took place at the city’s main airport and a downtown metro station close to European Union offices. 

Trump’s presidential campaign benefited the most from the change in tone late last year. Despite his own personal lack of foreign policy experience, many Republican primary voters responded favorably to his extreme rhetoric and proposals, including a temporary ban on foreign Muslims from entering the country.

He is likely to benefit again from a new pivot, analysts have suggested.  

However, Trump has been repeatedly questioned about his unconventional approach to foreign policy issues. Just a day before blasts ripped through Brussels on Tuesday, Trump wondered whether the U.S. had over-extended itself with its contributions to NATO. 

“NATO is costing us a fortune, and, yes, we’re protecting Europe, but we’re spending a lot of money,” Trump said in an interview with the Washington Post’s editorial board. “I’m not even knocking it, I’m just saying I don’t think it’s fair. We’re not treated fair.” 

Clinton referred specifically to Trump’s comments in her speech on Wednesday, warning that they threatened to reshape global geopolitics to exclude the U.S.   

“NATO in particular is one of the best strategic investments America has made,” Clinton declared. 

“Putin already hopes to divide Europe,” she added, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If Mr. Trump gets his way, it will be like Christmas in the Kremlin. 

“It will make America less safe and the world more dangerous.” 

Clinton, who is considered to have a more aggressive foreign policy posture than Obama, has previously offered subtle breaks with the White House’s efforts to combat ISIS, and she repeated those on Wednesday.  

The U.S. should “intensify the air campaign” against ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq, she said, as well as beef up support for Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground and do more to combat the extremist group’s ability to spread propaganda on the Internet. 

On Wednesday, she also suggested that the U.S. should reconsider security protocols at airports, potentially clamping down on public zones within terminals, before security checkpoints.   

“Brussels demonstrates, clearly, we need to take a harder look at our security protocols at airports and other so-called soft sites,” she said. “Especially areas outside our guarded perimeters.”