Bush invoked Ronald Reagan's description of communism to label ISIS "the focus of evil in the modern world"
Bush sharpened his attacks over the decision to withdrawal combat troops from Iraq
Jeb Bush, laying out his strategy to combat ISIS on Tuesday, called for establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, defeating President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and embedding U.S. troops with Iraqi forces, all the while expanding U.S. engagement across the globe.
In a foreign policy address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Bush invoked the former president’s description of communism to label ISIS “the focus of evil in the modern world.”
The Republican presidential candidate also sharpened his attacks on President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for supporting the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, a decision that he said was made out of “blind haste.”
“So eager to be the history-makers, they failed to be the peacemakers,” Bush said. “Rushing away from danger can be every bit as unwise as rushing into danger, and the costs have been grievous.”
Bush, a former two-term governor of Florida, vowed to be “unyielding” in the pursuit to stamp out the “barbarians of ISIS,” a strategy that will hinge on greater military strength.
“I assure you: the day that I become president will be the day that we turn this around, and begin rebuilding the armed forces of the United States,” he said.
Establishing a no-fly zone and other “safe zones” in Syria, Bush said, would not only aid in the fight against ISIS but would also help protect Syrians from Assad.
“Defeating ISIS requires defeating Assad, but we have to make sure that his regime is not replaced by something as bad or worse,” he said, adding that he would “draw the moderates together and back them up as one force.”
In Iraq, Bush said he would embed U.S. Marines and soldiers with Iraqi forces rather than simply training them, but he stressed there’s no need at this point for a “major commitment of American combat forces” on the ground.
He also called for stepping up support for the Kurdish Peshmerga, providing forward air controllers on the ground to help make air strikes more accurate, and make “serious diplomatic efforts” to ensure that the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq can build a stable government.
“Instead of simply reacting to each new move the terrorists choose to make, we will use every advantage we have to take the offensive, to keep it, and to prevail,” he said.
Like Obama has tried, Bush would also attempt to work with social media companies to address online recruitment efforts by ISIS on websites like Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s a time when mass murderers have Twitter handles, Facebook and Instagram pages, using these to add a veneer of glamor to their exploits,” he said.
Over the course of the year, Bush has been steadfast in blaming Obama for America’s foreign policy woes, attributing the rise of ISIS and other threats, like Russia and Iran, to what he calls the president’s policy of “pulling back.”
His brother, former President George W. Bush, signed the security agreement in 2008 that called for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities by 2009 and be out of the country entirely by 2011. However, he left it to Obama to determine the pace of the withdrawal and negotiate any residual force.
Jeb Bush has also said in the past he favors sending special forces and embedding them with the Syrian Free Army, though he did not reiterate that position Tuesday.
Another key part of his speech was a push to diminish Iran’s influence in the region and a biting critique of the Iran nuclear deal, calling it “a deal unwise in the extreme, with a regime that is untrustworthy in the extreme.”
“It should be rejected by the Congress of the United States of America,” he said forcefully, adding that if the deal isn’t rejected, he would “begin that process immediately” of undoing if elected president.
Like many other GOP presidential candidates, he’s called for the U.S. to join with other Arab nations to create an alliance that goes after ISIS. That group, he says, would be aided by U.S. air and military power.
Aside from embedding troops, Bush’s proposals so far don’t outline a significant departure from current operations. The U.S., for example, is already part of a coalition of allies that’s hitting ISIS with air strikes, and it has troops in Iraq training the army there.
Like other governors running for president, Bush has been studying up on foreign policy and trying to craft an approach that distances himself from his brother and father. At a foreign policy speech in Detroit this past February, when Bush was technically in the exploratory phase of running for president, he stressed that he was his “own man.”
Critics, however, were quick to point to the list of Bush’s foreign policy advisers that includes many of the same names that advised George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush.
The candidate had to play damage control a few months later after he struggled for days to answer whether he would have gone into Iraq, like his brother, knowing what we know now about the faulty intelligence that in part led to the war.
Ultimately Bush said he would not have gone in – and reiterated that sentiment last week in the debate, saying it was a “mistake” to invade Iraq – but the stumble resulted in weeklong coverage and raised questions about whether Bush could truly separate himself from his brother’s legacy.
In his speech, he acknowledged the faulty intelligence that led to the war in Iraq, saying “no leader or policymaker involved will claim to have gotten everything right in the region, Iraq especially” but he hailed the 2007 surge as a hallmark moment and “the turning point we had all been waiting for.”
Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s top foreign policy adviser, labeled Bush’s speech “a pretty bold attempt to rewrite history and reassign responsibility.”
In a call with reporters, Sullivan tied the roots of ISIS back to the Bush administration and said the group did not grow “out of a vacuum” but rather out of al Qaeda in Iraq, which sprung up because of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and subsequent mistakes, like disbanding the Iraqi army and banishing Sunnis who later became insurgents, he said.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.