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Dem candidates debate size of US role in global terror fight

Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (R) looks on as Bernie Sanders speaks during the second Democratic presidential primary debate in the Sheslow Auditorium of Drake University on November 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (R) looks on as Bernie Sanders speaks during the second Democratic presidential primary debate in the Sheslow Auditorium of Drake University on November 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Democratic presidential contenders spent much of Saturday's debate addressing the terror attacks that rocked Paris, and offering their prescriptions for how the United States can address global radical jihadists.

The candidates — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley — largely expressed agreement on the need to safeguard the country and work with allies to combat the Islamic State, but they disagreed on just how much responsibility the U.S. has in the global fight.

While calling for American leadership in the battle against the extremist proto-state (also known as ISIS or ISIL), Clinton twice said at the Des Moines event, hosted by CBS, that it "cannot be an American fight."

"I think what the president has consistently said, which I agree with, is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS," Clinton said near the beginning of the debate. "But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential."

O'Malley quickly jumped in, saying he disagreed with the Democratic front-runner, and that it "actually is America's fight." Yet despite the difference in language, the former governor did little to distinguish how his approach would differ from Clinton's.

"America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies. America is best when we are actually standing up to evil in this world,"" O'Malley said. "And ISIS, make no mistake about it, is an evil in this world."

While making the same calls as his Democratic peers to work with other countries on the fight against ISIS, Sanders also used a question about ISIS to lay some of the international blame (and therefore responsibility) on the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"I think (Clinton) said something like the bulk of the responsibility is not ours," Sanders said. "Well, in fact, 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.

Clinton, who voted for the invasion as a U.S. senator, was quick to note that the Western world — and the U.S. in particular — suffered attacks from radical jihadists well before the Iraq invasion.

Benoit Tessier | Reuters

"I think there are many other reasons why (Jihadi radicalism has emerged) in addition to what happened in the region, but I don't think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility," Clinton said. "I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself."

Still, for her part, Clinton reiterated her prior admission that she now believed her vote on Iraq had been a mistake.

Republican candidates and conservative commentators jumped on Clinton's appraisal of ISIS, and her idea of the role America can play in the fight.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the shootings and bombings that killed 129 people on Friday night in Paris.

French President François Hollande called the attacks "an act of war," and vowed a "merciless" response.