Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Tuesday the U.S. may need to send more ground troops into Iraq to defeat Islamic State terrorists, but he stopped short of saying how many as he outlined his strategy for combating a threat that’s “spreading like a pandemic.”
In the first major foreign policy speech of his White House bid, Bush sharply criticized Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state and accused the Democratic front-runner and President Barack Obama of allowing the terrorist group to take hold in the Middle East.
Along with saying he would potentially boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, where roughly 3,500 American military trainers and advisers are already helping Iraqi forces fight the Islamic State group, Bush offered a broad look at how he would take on the group in neighboring Syria — which Bush and Middle East experts agree is a far more complicated task.
Beating back IS there will require the removal of that country’s president, Bashar Assad, Bush said. To do so, he said he would aim to unite the moderate forces fighting IS in that country and for U.S. troops to “back them up as one force.”
“And we should back that force up all the way through — not just in taking the fight to the enemy, but in helping them to form a stable, moderate government,” he said. “It’s a tough, complicated diplomatic and military proposition, even more so than the current situation in Iraq. But it can be done.”
In his speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Bush tied the rise of IS 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,” he said. “And where was Secretary of State Clinton in all of this?” Answering his own question, he said Clinton “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.”
Clinton has said she supported keeping a residual force behind in Iraq, but a proposal to do so fell through after Baghdad refused to give the troops immunity from legal charges, as Washington demanded.