CHICAGO — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday there can be no diplomacy with Islamic State militants, but only a U.S.-led coalition of Middle Eastern countries committed to “tightening the noose and taking them out.”
In a wide-ranging speech outlining his vision of America’s place in the world, part of the Republican’s run-up toward a likely campaign for president in 2016, Bush laid the rise of the Islamic State group at the feet of President Barack Obama. He also made his most overt criticisms to date of his brother’s administration, telling the audience of several hundred people, “I am my own man.”
“My views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences,” Bush said at an event hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Each president learns from those who came before — their principles, their adjustments.”
“There were mistakes made in Iraq, for sure,” during President George W. Bush’s administration, Bush said during a question-and-answer session that followed his 20-minute speech. He said intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was not accurate and the U.S. initially failed to create an environment of security in the country after removing the Iraqi leader from power.
But Bush praised his older brother’s decision to “surge” troops into Iraq in 2007, which added roughly 20,000 troops to the American forces in the country in an effort to improve security. He called it “one of the most heroic acts of courage politically” of any president, given the weak support for that strategy in Congress.
Bush raised the criticisms of his brother without prompting, and used them was a way to critique Obama’s handling of the Middle East. He said Obama failed to maintain what he called a fragile but stable security situation that his brother left behind in Iraq upon leaving office in 2009.
Had he done so, Obama “would not have allowed the void to be filled” by Islamic State militants who now control large parts of Iraq and Syria. He said there can be no discussions with the group, which has drawn condemnation across the region and the world for carrying out regular acts of violence, often on video, that includes beheadings.
“We have to develop a strategy that’s local, that takes them out,” Bush said. “There’s no talking about this. That’s just not going to work for terrorism.”
Obama hasn’t proposed engaging diplomatically with the Islamic State group, and on Wednesday said those fighting for the group, as well as al-Qaida, are not religious leaders, but terrorists. He has blamed the rise of the Islamic State group on the failings of the Iraqi government, specifically its alienation of minority sects.
A few thousand American troops returned to Iraq last year to help fight the Islamic State group, and the U.S. and several Arab partners — including Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — began airstrikes against IS militants in September.
During his speech, Bush offered harsh words for Obama’s foreign policy, calling his administration “inconsistent and indecisive” and saying it has led the U.S. to lose “the trust and the confidence of our friends.”
“The great irony of the Obama presidency is this: Someone who came to office promising greater engagement with the world has left America less influential in the world,” Bush said.
Bush acknowledged during the speech that his views will often be compared with those of his brother and father, former President George H.W. Bush, adding he is “lucky” to have had family members who have “shaped America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office.”
The older Bush brother finished his second term amid an unpopular war in Iraq, with the economy in freefall and with a majority of Americans disapproving of his job performance.
Among donors, Jeb Bush has noted a strong family and religious bond with his older brother, but has also said they are not clones and have differences common among siblings.
Bush promised a resurgent America if a handful of key changes are made by the next president — including new approaches to education, entitlement programs and the U.S.-based energy economy.
“The United States has this potential of being young and dynamic again,” he said.
Ahead of the speech, Bush aides released a list of what they called a preliminary group of experts who will provide him with foreign policy advice. They included familiar names, such as James Baker III and George Shultz, both secretaries of state under President Ronald Reagan; and former Homeland Security secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, all three of whom served under George W. Bush.
The list also included some lesser-known names, such as Meghan O’Sullivan, a former national security adviser to George W. Bush, who now teaches at Harvard and is seen as key to Jeb Bush’s idea of lessening U.S. dependence on Middle East energy.
THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press