The three Democrats vying to be the next commander in chief delivered tough talk Saturday night on how to deal with the Islamic State group, but held back on plans that would put significant numbers of U.S. troops in harm's way.
As a result, the second Democratic debate again gave a national audience a better idea of the presidential hopefuls' foreign policy philosophies, but not much ground-level detail on what those philosophies could mean for troops and their families.
The candidates took the stage just hours after the latest round of terrorist attacks allegedly conducted by Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS, a wave of strikes in Paris that left scores dead.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the tragedy shows that the extremist network "cannot be contained, it must be defeated," and added there is no question that the U.S. is "at war with violent extremism."
But she also advocated diplomacy first and military force "as a last resort" moving ahead, and repeatedly emphasized that "this cannot be an American fight."
"We will support those who take the fight to ISIS," she said. "That is why we have troops in Iraq that are helping to train and build back up the Iraqi military, why we have special operators in Syria working with the Kurds and Arabs, so that we can be supportive," she said.
That put Clinton in line with President Obama's strategy for the region, a plan that Republican opponents have blasted as too naive and passive to provide lasting security.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley also criticized Clinton for the stance, although his own response offered similar themes. He called the threat posed by ISIS "America's fight" and advocated stronger leadership in efforts to root out the fighters, but "collaboratively with other nations."
"We took out (terrorists') safe haven in Afghanistan," he said. "But now there is a larger safe haven, and we must rise to this occasion in collaboration and with alliances to confront it, and invest in the future much better human intelligence so we know what the next steps are."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, said international terrorism demands immediate attention from U.S. leaders, but he repeated his assertion that climate change is the greatest threat to American national security.
"If we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you're going to see countries all over the world … struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops," he said. "You're going to see all kinds of international conflict."
He also called for "an international coalition which includes very significantly the Muslim nations in that region who are going to have to fight and defend their way of life" in the fight against ISIS.
Sanders also noted that future military conflicts require more discussion of the "long-term consequences of war … the men and women who came home from war."
That was one of only a few passing references to veterans at the event, and the second national political debate during the week of Veterans Day that included no questions on veterans issues.