Jeb Bush: U.S. may need more troops in Iraq

Jeb Bush accused his Democratic White House rival Clinton, of allowing the brutal emergence

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Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Tuesday that the U.S. may need to send more ground troops into Iraq to defeat ISIS militants, 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 Rodham Clinton's tenure as secretary of state and accused the Democratic front-runner and President Barack Obama of allowing the militant group to take hold in the Middle East.

"Who can seriously argue that America and our friends are safer today than in 2009, when the president and Secretary Clinton - the storied 'team of rivals' - took office?" Bush said. "So eager to be the history-makers, they failed to be the peacemakers."

Bush's speech comes at a time when he finds his campaign struggling despite his status as the son and brother of former presidents. He entered the race several months ago as a favorite of the party establishment and outstripped his rivals in campaign donations, but he failed to gain traction with the party's base and establish himself as the front-runner.

Instead, real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump has dominated the spotlight and remained at the top of polls nationwide and in early voting states despite stirring more controversy in last week's first Republican presidential debate when questions were raised about his treatment of women. Trump attacked the Bush family in a video released on Instagram on Monday and tweeted in a link to the video: "Enough Is Enough - No more Bushes!"

Trump is still seen as a longshot for winning the Republican nomination let alone the presidency in 2016, but Bush is now stuck in the middle of the pack of 17 Republican presidential candidates.

In his speech Tuesday, 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 ISIS, 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 ISIS 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 ISIS 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."

Bush has previously touched on aspects of his strategy for Iraq, such as allowing the training and advisory troops already in the country to join Iraqi forces on the battlefield and help in better guiding airstrikes. He again expressed support for a no-fly zone in Syria.

In his speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Bush tied the rise of IS, a militant Sunni group that occupies a large swath of Iraq and Syria and has a presence elsewhere in the region, 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."

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.

By blaming Clinton for the rise of ISIS, Bush is trying to divert attention from the actions of his brother, who pushed for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Clinton campaign senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said.

"This is a pretty bold attempt to rewrite history and reassign responsibility," Sullivan said. "President Bush signed an agreement that required us to be out by 2011."

The alternative would have been for the U.S. to maintain troops in Iraq who were subject to the Iraqi legal system and there against the will of the host country. Obama, who campaigned for president on ending the Iraq war, took the opportunity to remove all U.S. forces.

"It was a case of blind haste to get out and to call the tragic consequences somebody else's problem," Jeb Bush told a group of about 1,000 supporters at the Reagan library.

Bush addressed what polls show to be Republicans' top concern, national security and terrorism. But while 60 percent of Americans said the effort to stop ISIS was going badly in a CBS News poll taken the first week in August, they were basically tied on whether U.S. ground troops were the answer: 46 percent for, 45 percent against.

Several other Republican candidates have criticized Obama's actions and called generally for a more aggressive U.S. posture against ISIS.

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