Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush will step up his criticism of Hillary Rodham Clinton and her tenure as secretary of state on Tuesday, arguing in a speech on foreign policy the Democratic front-runner shares in the mistakes that he says led to the rise of the Islamic State.
The former Florida governor will also call for a renewed sense of U.S. leadership in the Middle East, which he says is needed to defeat the militant group and an ideology that “is, to borrow a phrase, the focus of evil in the modern world.”
“The threat of global jihad, and of the Islamic State in particular, requires all the strength, unity and confidence that only American leadership can provide,” Bush will say, according to excerpts of his remarks as prepared for delivery.
In a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Bush plans to tie the rise of the militant Sunni group, which now occupies a large swath of Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, to the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011.
“ISIS grew while the United States disengaged from the Middle East and ignored the threat,” Bush will say. “And where was Secretary of State Clinton in all of this?
Clinton, he says, “stood by as that hard-won victory by American and allied forces was thrown away. In all her record-setting travels, she stopped by Iraq exactly once.”
American troops left Iraq in December 2011 as required under a 2008 security agreement worked out by former President George W. Bush. Both countries tried to negotiate plans to keep at least several thousand U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the deadline to help keep a lid on simmering tensions among Islamic sects.
The Iraqi government refused to let U.S. forces remain in their country with the legal immunity President Barack Obama’s administration insisted was necessary to protect them. Obama, who campaigned for president on ending the war in Iraq, took the opportunity to remove U.S. forces from the country.
“It was a case of blind haste to get out and to call the tragic consequences somebody else’s problem,” Bush will say. “Rushing away from danger can be every bit as unwise as rushing into danger, and the costs have been grievous.”
Since last year, after the Islamic State gained a foothold in Iraq and Syria, Obama has ordered the deployment of about 3,500 American military trainers and advisers who are helping Iraqi forces fight the Islamic State.
But despite 6,000 airstrikes flown by U.S. and allied forces on Islamic State positions over the past year, American intelligence agencies recently concluded that the group remains a well-funded extremist army able to replenish its ranks with foreign fighters as quickly as the U.S.-led coalition can eliminate them. Meanwhile, the group has expanded to other countries including Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Bush has yet, either on the campaign trail or in the preview of his Tuesday speech released by his campaign, to say exactly what a U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State would look like if he is elected president.
That includes saying how many U.S. forces he would potentially seek to return to Iraq, although he has said he supports allowing U.S. military personnel to join Iraqi fighters in guiding airstrikes, which they are barred from doing now. Bush has said he supports a no-fly zone in Syria, but has not suggested U.S. advisers or fighters deploy to Syria.
Bush is addressing what polls show to be Republicans’ top concern, national security and terrorism. But while 60 percent of Americans said the effort to stop the Islamic State was going badly in a CBS News poll taken the first week in August, they were split on whether U.S. ground troops were the answer: 46 percent for, 45 percent against.
“American voters are worried about getting back in,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush who is now advising Jeb Bush, among other Republicans. “But Gov. Bush is certainly making no effort to avoid the issue. And he doesn’t seem to think he ought to shy away from it because his name is Bush.”
Several other GOP candidates have criticized Obama’s actions and call generally for a more aggressive U.S. posture. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has been the most specific, calling for up to 20,000 U.S. ground troops in Iraq and Syria and a U.S.-led force to maintain stability afterward.
“If you don’t do what I’m talking about, you’re not serious about destroying ISIL,” Graham told The Associated Press Saturday, using one of the Islamic State’s several acronyms.
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