Democrat Candidates: Wide Differences on Islamist Terror by Ryan Mauro

The remaining three Democratic presidential candidates participated in a forum with MSNBC last Friday and it exposed very important divisions within the party about the sources of Islamist terrorism. One side sees it as an ideological battle and the other sees it as a repercussion of Muslim grievances against American policy.

Senator Bernie Sanders described the war with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as a battle for the “soul of Islam” whose primary participants must be Muslim. Because he sees it as a Muslim-on-Muslim conflict where the West is caught in the crossfire, Sanders thinks it is counterproductive for the U.S. to take the lead in fighting the Islamic State.

Sanders said he disagrees with President Obama’s decision to send ground troops to Iraq to aid the Iraqi security forces. The U.S. should play a supporting role, he argued, but the surrounding Muslim countries should be the only ones to send in ground forces to fight it out with the Islamic State.

The viewpoint of Sanders about the nature of the war puts him more in line with Clinton than with Martin O’Malley.

“Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories,” Clinton said in an interview withThe Atlantic in August 2014.

She also said the U.S. needs to have an ideological strategy like it had during the Cold War, when we had “a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism.”

The difference between her and Sanders is in how to respond to the ideological threat. Clinton is far more interventionist and believes in pro-actively promoting democratic values, whereas Sanders sees the threat as something that is mostly in the hands of the Muslim world to solve.

O’Malley separated himself from the two at the Democratic forum by claiming that military experts have informed him that the two biggest recruiters for Al-Qaeda and ISIS are the presences of U.S. military forces on the ground in the Muslim world and the failure to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terrorists.

The statement means that O’Malley sees Islamist terrorism as a byproduct of perceived mistreatment of Muslims by U.S. policymakers. This puts him more in the camp of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (whose son, Rand Paul, is currently running) and President Obama. This viewpoint is contradicted by the words of Islamist terrorists like Osama Bin Laden and basic logic.

The three candidates represent three different camps within the Democratic Party: An interventionist view that sees the Islamist threat as ideological (Clinton); a more non-interventionist view that sees the Islamist threat as ideological (Sanders) and a non-interventionist view that blames “blowback” from U.S. policy for sparking the Islamist threat (O’Malley).

Click here to read the Clarion Project’s fact sheets on each presidential candidate’s positions related to Islamism.


Ryan Mauro is’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.


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EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of Democratic Candidate (L to R): Marin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders

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