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Clinton: Defeating ISIS, Ousting Assad Both Top Priorities

Hillary Clinton says U.S. should defeat both ISIS and Assad, calls lack of trained rebels a "failure" of policy.
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As world leaders convene in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton told NBC News’ Chuck Todd she would pursue a fight against ISIS while at the same time working to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In an interview on MSNBC’s MTP Daily, Clinton said fighting ISIS would be “very difficult” with Assad still in place and she would “prioritize both” because “you can’t really do one without the other.” She added that “ousting Assad has to be a political process.”

“I think that we're going to have to, as they say, walk and chew gum at the same time. And that will be to, you know, do the best we can with our friends in the region to go after ISIS and try to, you know, push them out of Iraq and then try to, you know, deal with them and the territory they control in Syria,” Clinton said.

Clinton has advocated for more American involvement in arming the moderate Syrian rebels to fight both Assad and ISIS--in contrast with the Obama administration. Asked if reports that only a handful of rebels trained by the U.S. remain engaged in the fight represents a “failure in policy,” Clinton replied, “well, it is.”

“I can't sit here and tell you that if we had done what I and General Petraeus and Secretary Panetta and others had recommended, we would have made more progress on the ground. I obviously thought so at the time,” Clinton added.

“If we had been able to move in, to help organize and support those people on the ground, maybe we could've made a difference. Well, we've got to deal with where we are right now. It's obviously now a different set of circumstances. And what the Pentagon has been doing hasn't worked.”

On the fight against ISIS, Clinton said, “I think part of the challenge that President Obama's been facing is to build up the Iraqi forces again after Maliki decimated them. And to get them in a fighting position and to get the Kurds, particularly the Peshmerga able to be fully equipped then to try to go after ISIS in Iraq and Ramadi and Mosul, pushing them out if possible.”

Clinton notably said in an interview with “The Atlantic” last year that, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” She has said in the past that she was not alluding to Syria specifically but explained her own “organizing principle” Sunday.

“My organizing principle is that we defend our security, our interests, and our values. And we do so in concert with partners, friends, and allies around the world,” she said. “You have to bring people together, you have to find common ground.”

The former secretary of state admitted Russia is playing a “bigger role” in the Syrian crisis and said figuring out the right balance with the Russians would be key in her administration.

“We have an additional challenge in trying to figure out how we work with them or how we try to prevent them from making a bad situation worse,” Clinton said.

On the trail, one of Clinton’s favorite new lines is that she’s not running for her husband or President Obama’s third term—she’s running for her first term, something she reiterated in the interview. “I want to build on what works from both my husband's term and President Obama's. But I want to go further. And I will face different challenges,” she said. The MTP Daily interview was taped on Sunday.