WHITE PLAINS, United States (AFP) - Hillary Clinton sought to polish her image on Thursday (Sept 8) as a strong leader with a command of major global challenges – the ISIS militants group first among them – while discrediting Republican rival Donald Trump as unfit for the White House.
With just 61 days before America chooses a new commander in chief, the Democrat delivered a withering takedown of the brash billionaire at a rare impromptu press conference, assailing his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin as “scary” and insisting Trump has no real plan to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.
Seeking to strike a commanding tone, Clinton called for the United States to track down and kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, as it did Osama bin Laden.
“We should make it a top priority to hunt down the leader of ISIS,” Clinton told reporters on a tarmac in White Plains, New York.
“Getting al-Baghdadi will require efforts at the top levels, but it will send a resounding message that nobody directs or inspires attacks against the United States and gets away with it.”
Clinton, 68, and Trump, 70, have clashed repeatedly over foreign policy, but their battle rose to a new level Wednesday night when the two were separately grilled over their national security credentials at a New York forum.
“One thing you didn’t hear from Donald Trump last night is any plan to take on ISIS, one of the biggest threats facing our country,” Clinton said, using an acronym for the group.
When asked at the forum about how he would stop the spread of global terrorism, “Trump’s answer was simply, ‘take the oil,’” Clinton added.
“He says his plan is still a secret, but the truth is he simply doesn’t have one. And that’s not only dangerous, it should be disqualifying.”
Instead of laying out a Middle East strategy, Trump “bizarrely” praised Putin and suggested the strongman is a better leader than US President Barack Obama, she said.
“Even I was shocked by this,” Clinton said later at a rally in Charlotte, in the battleground state of North Carolina.
“That is not just unpatriotic, it’s not just insulting to the office and to the man who holds the office. It is scary, it is dangerous.”
With the campaign now in the final two-month stretch, Clinton was wasting no opportunity to harangue her rival over his missteps, particularly over how he has “trash-talked” America’s generals.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, highlighting Trump’s call to bring back interrogation techniques deemed to be torture, and to kill relatives of terrorists.
Clinton pointed to the US military code of honour, saying “that, Donald Trump... is what we’re going to stand up and defend in the face of your outrageous, disgraceful attacks on the men and women of our armed forces.”
The New York real estate mogul’s campaign swiftly shot back, with Trump spokesman Jason Miller calling Clinton’s remarks “the desperate attacks of a flailing campaign sinking in the polls.”
Trump has gained on Clinton over the past 10 days, but the former secretary of state still maintains an advantage of 2.8 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics poll average.
While she is also seen as holding leads in battleground states, a new poll by Suffolk University shows Trump leading Clinton in North Carolina by three points, 44 per cent to 41 per cent.
Among the swing states where the election is likely to be decided is Ohio, where Trump arrived Thursday for an education roundtable at a charter school in Cleveland.
He is also to attend a pair of fundraisers.
Clinton’s address to reporters marked the first podium press conference in nine months for Clinton, who broke a long media drought by speaking to journalists at length on her campaign plane this week.
She rebuked an “undisciplined” Trump for discussing elements of a recent classified intelligence briefing during Wednesday’s commander-in-chief forum, in which he said he learned that Obama and other US leaders “did not follow” the advice of US national security experts.
“I would never comment on any aspect of an intelligence briefing that I received,” Clinton said.