Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) just waded in to what could be one of the most contentious issues of his campaign: War in the Middle East.
At a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Tuesday evening, Bush laid out his vision for confronting the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh) in Iraq and Syria.
For Bush, it’s a complicated topic, given family ties. He has acknowledged that the decision of his brother, former President George W. Bush, to invade Iraq in 2003 was a mistake.
Bush’s speech, though, attempted to shift blame for the current situation in Iraq, the rise of ISIS, and the prolonged conflict in Syria on the Obama administration — and, specifically, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He unleashed a blistering attack on Clinton, in a preview of a potential general-election matchup.
“Who can seriously argue that America and our friends are safer today than in 2009, when the President and Secretary Clinton — the storied ‘team of rivals’ — took office?” Bush said. He added that Clinton had “stood by” as the situation in Iraq began deteriorating.
“So eager to be the history-makers, they failed to be the peacemakers. It was a case of blind haste to get out, and to call the tragic consequences somebody else’s problem. Rushing away from danger can be every bit as unwise as rushing into danger, and the costs have been grievous,” Bush said.
In laying out a broader foreign-policy vision, Bush also acknowledged parallels between his policy and his brother’s doctrine. He spoke wistfully about the “the global war on terror,” and cited the 2007 troop surge in Iraq as the one meaningful success in the region.
“Rushing away from danger can be every bit as unwise as rushing into danger, and the costs have been grievous,” Bush said.
Here are the main proposals from Bush’s Middle East plan:
- Support Iraqi forces and moderate Syrian rebels. According to Bush, Iraqis “have the will to win, but not the means.” Bush said he would do more to support Iraqi security forces, train moderate Syrian forces, and engage with the Sunni tribes. Though he didn’t specify how, Bush said he’d go further than the Obama administration’s current policy on all three areas.
- Potentially embedding US troops in Iraqi units. Bush proposed adopting Canada’s model, sending some of the 3,500 American troops to help direct Iraqi units on the front lines. The former governor specifically endorsed putting more forward air controllers on the ground to “improve the ability of fighter aircraft and Apache attack helicopters to provide necessary close air support to local ground forces.” This idea has been floated by Gen. Mark Milley, the nominee for the next US Army Chief of Staff.
- Potentially deploy more American troops. Bush left the door open for more ground troops in Iraq. “We have around 3,500 soldiers and Marines in Iraq, and more may well be needed.”
- Mend ties between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Bush said that he would work to find diplomatic solutions that reduce tensions among various religious and ethnic groups in Iraq, though he didn’t offer specifics.
- Establish safe zones in Syria. Bush praised the “ISIS-free zone” in Syria agreed to the US and Turkey, but he said the US needs to establish more of those so-called safe zones. The “ISIS-free zone” faces a host of logistical challenges before it can be officially established.
- Declare a no-fly zone in Syria. Bush said his plan will stop the Bashar al-Assad regime’s bombing raids and “keep Iranian flights from resupplying the regime, Hezbollah, and other bad actors.” The US has so far resisted establishing an official no-fly zone in Syria.
- Reverse troop cuts. The Obama administration is in the process of slimming down the US Army to its lowest troop level in decades, partially in response to congressionally mandated budget cuts, which Bush opposes.
- Work with Facebook and Twitter to eliminate ISIS’s online presence. There’s not much distance between Clinton and Bush on this issue — last month, Clinton said that online radicalism was a more “principal threat” to the US than ISIS’ physical presence.
- Reject the Iran deal. Bush, like every other Republican in the 2016 field, said the multi-national nuclear agreement spearheaded by the United States is a mistake that undermines Israel’s security.
- Restore relationships with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Bush said ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been “badly mishandled by this administration.” He also advocated building closer relationships with the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Tunisia.
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