Jeb Bush will seek to recapture the Republican presidential primary race from Donald Trump on Tuesday with a hawkish speech echoing his brother’s foreign policy and attacking the Obama administration for leaving Iraq too soon.
“So eager to be the history-makers, they failed to be the peacemakers,” Bush is expected to tell the audience at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, in a twin swipe at the president and his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, that focuses heavily on the continued threat from radical Islamist terrorism.
In contrast to his first big foreign policy address in February, where the former Florida governor insisted “I am my own man”, he now appears to embrace the family legacy – even adapting the language of George W Bush to warn that Islamist extremism is a “focus of evil”.
“What we are facing in Isis and its ideology is, to borrow a phrase, the focus of evil in the modern world,” Jeb Bush will say, according to lengthy extracts released in advance by his campaign. “And civilized nations everywhere, especially those with power, have a duty to oppose and defeat this enemy.”
In a 2002 State of the Union address, his older brother warned that Iraq, Iran and North Korea “constitute an axis of evil”, seeking weapons of mass destruction to “threaten the peace of the world”.
Yet despite the much-publicised flaws in that assessment that led to the invasion of Iraq on a false pretext, many Republican leaders are once again warning that the risk of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism justifies a much more aggressive American foreign policy.
“The terrorists are possessed by the same violent ideology that gave us 9/11, and they are on the offensive and gaining ground,” Jeb Bush will say.
“It is not true, and was wishful thinking by the Administration to claim, that ‘the tide of war is receding’,” he adds. “The reality is that radical Islam has been spreading like a pandemic – across the Middle East, throughout Africa and to parts of Asia, even in the nations of the West, finding recruits in Europe and the United States.”
Only this May, the Bush 2016 campaign was struggling with how to approach the close association with the foreign policy of his brother and father’s administrations, both of which led invasions of Iraq.
Asked by Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003?” Bush stumbled, first replying that he would have done so, then claiming he had “interpreted the question wrong” and “clearly there were mistakes”. Eventually, he conceded he would not have invaded, but he blasted the hypothetical question as doing a disservice to US troops.
But since then, Bush’s position as the dominant frontrunner has been eclipsed in the Republican primary race by the much less equivocal Donald Trump, who has surged ahead in opinion polls.
Though criticising Trump, reportedly calling him an “asshole” and “buffoon” in private comments denied by the campaign, Bush has kept a low profile during his controversial rise and risks losing the advantage bestowed on him by a record-breaking fundraising spree.
With Trump himself struggling to deal with tough questioning by Kelly, Bush’s period on the sidelines now appears to be over, however, judging by the language of Tuesday’s highly charged foreign policy address.
“Radical Islam is a threat we are entirely capable of overcoming, and I will be unyielding in that cause should I be elected President of the United States,” says Bush. “We should pursue the clear and unequivocal objective of throwing back the barbarians of Isis, and helping the millions in the region who want to live in peace.”
In particular, he questions the tactic of withdrawing US troops from the region, only to have to return them once Isis took hold.
“Why was the success of the surge followed by a withdrawal from Iraq, leaving not even the residual force that commanders and the joint chiefs knew was necessary?” says Bush. “That premature withdrawal was the fatal error, creating the void that Isis moved in to fill – and that Iran has exploited to the full as well.”
Though horrifying to liberals, the approach may prove a way of unifying Republican opposition to Obama’s peace overtures in Iraq, Iran and Cuba with a fresh line of attack on Hillary Clinton, whom Bush is most likely to face in 2016 if he wins his party’s presidential nomination.
“Where was Secretary of State Clinton in all of this? Like the president himself, she had opposed the surge … then joined in claiming credit for its success … then stood by as that hard-won victory by American and allied forces was thrown away,” he is due to say, claiming there was a “blind haste to get out and to call the tragic consequences somebody else’s problem”.
“In all her record-setting travels, she stopped by Iraq exactly once ... 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?” adds Bush.
He also promises that if he becomes president he will reverse seven years of “dismantling our own military”.
Jeb Bush shares many of the same foreign advisers as both his brother and father – including key architects of the original Iraq strategy such as Paul Wolfowitz – but many Washington neo-cons have drifted toward the more hawkish campaign of Florida rival Marco Rubio in recent weeks.
With Tuesday’s speech, Bush will be seeking to recapture the family mantle and put its mistakes behind him.
“We can protect our people, put adversaries back in retreat, get things moving our way again, and win back the momentum for freedom’s cause,” he is due to conclude. “Rushing away from danger can be every bit as unwise as rushing into danger, and the costs have been grievous.”
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