Two U.S. presidents named Bush have legacies dominated by wars in Iraq. That leaves a potential third, Jeb Bush, facing a uniquely sharp dilemma over how to tackle the current crisis in that region, having to explain how he would step up the fight against Islamic State militants without getting bogged down in another war.
With Bush expected to be a front-runner among Republican candidates jockeying for the 2016 presidential nomination, strategists say he will need to set his own course on U.S. policy toward the region without getting entangled in a debate about the legacy of his father and older brother.
The former Florida governor, who has limited foreign policy experience, is expected to begin fleshing out his views on U.S. policy in the region in a speech in Chicago on Wednesday.
There are early indications that Bush will argue for a more robust response to Islamic State than President Barack Obama, seeking greater use of air power and more diplomatic engagement, without sending more American ground troops.
"We have to be engaged," he said in a speech earlier this month in Detroit. "And that doesn't necessarily mean boots on the ground in every case."
The rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, known as ISIS or ISIL, has become the top foreign policy issue in the early days of the 2016 race. There's a deep divide between Republicans and Democrats over the root cause, and how to respond.
Democrats accuse Jeb's brother, former President George W. Bush, of giving rise to the current turmoil in the region with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that were never found. The prolonged conflict damaged George W. Bush's second term and his popularity.
Twelve years earlier, Jeb's father, former President George H.W. Bush, assembled a global coalition to push Iraq out of Kuwait, a swift war that was far more popular at home.
Republicans say the extremist Islamic State would never have gained its footing if Obama had reached an agreement with the Iraqi government to leave a U.S. military force in the country.
Bush aides declined to discuss what Jeb Bush would say on Wednesday in his speech, but Jeb told reporters in Florida on Friday, when asked how he would handle Iraq and Afghanistan differently than his brother, that he would focus on the future. "It's not about re-litigating anything in the past," he said.
He has said in the past that he supports his brother's decision to go to war in Iraq, which could leave him open to attack from Democrats should he win the nomination.
"A lot of things in history change over time," Jeb told CNN's State of the Union in 2013. "I think a lot of people will respect the resolve that my brother showed both in defending the country and the war in Iraq." His complaint about the recent past in Iraq is that Obama has let American influence wane in the region.
Don't Look Back
Jeb Bush has been relying on foreign policy advice from a wide range of experts, a group that sources said includes Meghan O'Sullivan, a former national security aide to George W. Bush who was an early advocate for the 2007 troop surge that helped stabilize Iraq at the time.
Her presence is seen positively by those Republican foreign policy veterans who support a pragmatic approach, while more hawkish Republicans view her with suspicion.
Republican foreign policy veterans say Jeb Bush should not dwell on the past but offer his own ideas.
"He needs to lay out his specific views on our current and future national security concerns. I would argue there’s no need to look back to the problems with entering Iraq but to give us his views on ISIS in Iraq and Syria right now," said Richard Grenell, who was the U.S. spokesman at the United Nations for much of George W. Bush's administration.
Democrats say Jeb Bush inevitably will be asked to explain to war-weary Americans how he would handle Iraq differently than his brother.
"It's a hard problem for him because he's obviously going to say that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do," said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who was campaign manager for the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who lost to George W. Bush. "He's going to try to shift the question to what should be done about ISIS."
While Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates need to be wary of Americans' war fatigue, the party's national security veterans say there are ways to intensify the air campaign against militants who have seized large parts of Iraq and Syria.
The former Bush presidents are expected to recognize that Jeb will lay out his own plan on Iraq, rather than be influenced by the family's policy legacy. "They support him because they think he'd be a good president," said a former Bush administration official.
"That doesn't mean he has to subscribe to the same policy prescriptions that came before him. In fact, because of changed circumstances in the world, he'll have to chart his own course."