Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in a major foreign policy address, looked to blame President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and said that the administration isn't doing enough to help local forces in the Syrian civil war.
Bush outlined his foreign policy proposals during the address Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California. He hailed the 2007 Iraq surge as a turning point in the Iraq war that was wasted when Obama and Clinton came into office, ultimately leading to a destabilization that allowed the formation of ISIS. During the speech, Bush did not mention his brother, former President George W. Bush, who was the commander in chief when the United States began the Iraq war in 2003.
"Who can seriously argue that American and our friends are safer today than in 2009, when the President and Secretary Clinton -- the storied 'team of rivals' -- took office?" Bush said, drawing attention to the woman who, if he wins the presidential nomination, would likely be his chief opponent. He later called Clinton's record as secretary of state a "failed record."
"But for us, who? Who will stand up for the persecuted?" Bush said in a question-and-answer segment later, responding to a question about persecuted Christians in Iraq at the hands of ISIS and whether it is the responsibility of the United States to defend persecuted people abroad.
Bush outlined his foreign policy proposals for combating ISIS and the Syrian civil war, ultimately describing policies that call for increased training and tactical support, but he stopped short of saying an all-out war in the region with boots on the ground is necessary. The policies seem to echo many policies that have been put forth by Republicans in the field.
When categorizing the Obama and Clinton foreign policy doctrine, Bush said that it was "grandiose talk" that leads to buzzwords like red lines and calling ISIS the "junior varsity" team before the terrorist group began taking large swaths of Syria and Iraq. Ultimately, Bush implied, misinterpreting international threats would lead to terrorists who are one day belittled, and the next putting "the flag of ISIS on the White House."
Bush's attacks on Clinton's Iraq foreign policy experience come after initial stumbles on the campaign trail when he was asked if "knowing what we know now," would he still invade Iraq?He initially answered that yes, he would, but then later changed his tune amid criticism. His brother notably authorized both of the wars that put American troops on the ground in the Middle East following the Sept. 11 attacks in New York. He has avoided making that connection on the campaign trail.
"What we are facing in ISIS and its ideology is, to borrow a phrase, the focus of evil on the modern world," Bush said. "So why was the success of the surge followed by a withdrawal from Iraq, leaving not even the residual force that commanders and the joint chiefs knew was necessary? That premature withdrawal was the fatal error, creating the void that ISIS moved in to fill -- and that Iran has exploited to the full as well."
The remarks come nearly a week after the first Republican debates in Cleveland, when Bush was largely overshadowed by GOP rivals more keen on throwing punches at one another. They also come weeks after Clinton attacked Bush on a shared stage in Florida, questioning Bush's commitment to civil rights issues that have led to protests at events for several presidential candidates. While doing so, Clinton also took aim at Bush's positions on Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and college tuition policy in Florida while he was governor.
"I don’t think you can credibly say that everyone has a right to rise and then say you’re for phasing out Medicare, or repealing Obamacare,” Clinton said, touching upon on Bush's campaign slogan. “People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care. They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on. They can’t rise if their governor makes it harder for them to get a college education. And you can’t seriously talk about the right to rise and support laws that deny the right to vote.”
When Bush took to the stage later, he was much less aggressive. He thanked the former secretary of state for making an appearance at the conference, then ignored her attacks and delivered his remarks. Afterward, some Republicans were concerned that Bush's reluctance to enter the political boxing ring with Clinton were an indicator of a reluctance to engage in tough politics on a campaign trail that frequently gets vicious.
Following the debates, Bush seemed to pick up a different tact. In a Twitter exchange, the two candidates looked to ridicule one another. It was an exchange that became a bit testy.
Bush, who was once heavily favored to receive the Republican nomination by pundits, has seen his national polling slip recently. The much-louder-mouthed Donald Trump eclipsed off of the Republican candidates since joining the race, managing to capitalize on controversial statements that pushed him into near-constant media coverage on major cable news networks. In an average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics (there have not been many polls taken and released since the debates, which could change this calculus), Bush is polling second, 10 percent behind Trump with 22 percent of the vote.