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Hillary Clinton broadly denounces Cruz and Trump on national security: ‘Loose cannons tend to misfire’

"We can't let fear ... push us into reckless actions that end up making us less safe," Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton warns (Video: Reuters)

In the wake of the deadly terror attacks in Brussels, Hillary Clinton laid out a stark contrast between her approach for dealing with the Islamic State threat and that of the two leading Republican presidential candidates, businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, in a wide-ranging speech at Stanford University on Wednesday.

The Democratic presidential candidate's remarks were both a repudiation of Cruz (R-Tex.) and Trump, and an effort to further stake out a forceful foreign policy stance that addresses heightened American anxiety about security.

"America does not cower in fear or hide behind walls. We lead and we succeed," Clinton said. "Throughout our history we have stared into the face of evil and we have refused to blink."

Clinton's focus on the two candidates in the number 1 and number 2 spots in the Republican race reflects a broader pivot to the general election that could pit her against either man. She has long focused much of her attention on Trump, whose rhetoric about Muslim refugees and talk about building walls on the United States' southern border have prompted widespread condemnation from Democrats. On Wednesday, Clinton sought to direct a similar scrutiny to Cruz, whose rhetoric she described in terms that she has in the past typically reserved for Trump.

“Slogans aren’t a strategy,” Clinton said in comments aimed at both leading GOP candidates. “Loose cannons tend to misfire."

The attacks in Brussels’s targeted so-called “soft targets” — an airport and train station — killing at least 31. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, raising fears that plots to execute similar attacks in the United States could be on the horizon. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday that officials have “no specific, credible intelligence of any plot to conduct similar attacks here in the United States.”

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The attacks prompted hard-line responses from Cruz and Trump, who have both been critical of the Obama administration's response to the Islamic State and have called for restrictions on refugees entering the United States from predominantly Muslim nations.

Point for point, Clinton denounced Cruz and Trump, who have called for — among other things — bans on the entry of Muslims into the United States, patrols of Muslim neighborhoods, and a reevaluation of the United States’ participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

On Tuesday, Cruz proposed increased surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, citing a defunct New York City counterintelligence program as a model for the type of surveillance that he believes is necessary.

“We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al-Qaeda or ISIS presence,” Cruz said in a statement on Tuesday. “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

Clinton said Cruz's proposal would treat "American Muslims like criminals," and she called the suggestion "wrong," "counterproductive" and "dangerous."

Clinton said the Islamic State threat requires a multifaceted approach against an enemy that has proven its ability to mobilize and spread propaganda online. And she argued that rather than withdrawing from existing alliances, the United States must bolster them — particularly to aid Europe in stemming the flow of jihadist fighters to and from the Middle East.

“When other candidates talk about walls around America, I want to ask them, how high does the wall have to be to keep the Internet out?” Clinton said.

In an interview this week with The Washington Post’s editorial board, Trump suggested that the United States should reevaluate its investment in NATO. Trump has in the past said the United States should pull back its engagement in foreign conflicts to reinvest in the domestic economy.

Clinton savaged the suggestion, saying that Trump was proposing to turn the United States' alliance with NATO countries into a "protection racket" that would "send a dangerous signal to friend and foe alike."

Ted Cruz calls for law enforcement to ‘patrol and secure’ Muslim neighborhoods

"If Mr. Trump gets his way, it will be like Christmas in the Kremlin," Clinton said. "It will make America less safe."

"NATO in particular is one of the best investments the United States has ever made," Clinton said.

Looking beyond the Brussels attacks, Clinton used her remarks to denounce the foreign policy views that have been espoused by Republican presidential candidates for months. She addressed Trump's support for torture and Cruz's suggestion that the United States could defeat the Islamic State by carpet-bombing areas that might include civilians.

Cruz's suggestion "doesn’t make you sound tough, it makes you sound like you’re in over your head,” she said.

On foreign policy, Clinton has cultivated a hawkish reputation that puts her to the right of some Republican candidates on policy, including Trump. But Republicans have accused her of being the architect of a "leading from behind" strategy as secretary of state that they say has characterized the Obama administration's approach to the world.

As a presidential candidate, Clinton has expressed support for a more aggressive role for the United States in foreign affairs — particularly in combating terrorism in the Middle East.

"America is a great nation and this is a time for American leadership: smart, strong, steady leadership," Clinton said. "No other country can rally allies and partners to defeat ISIS. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale."