Joining many of his fellow candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Jeb Bush on Wednesday used the recent terrorist attacks in Paris as a springboard to launch a call for intensified U.S. efforts against the terror group ISIS and to propose overhauling U.S. defense policy and funding.
Unlike the others, he has now explicitly called for an increased deployment of U.S. ground troops, in comments delivered at the Citadel, a military college in South Carolina. However, Bush was unclear about what an increased effort against ISIS would mean in terms of the number of U.S. troops, punting that decision to “military generals.”
He said, “Militarily, we need to intensify our efforts in the air – and on the ground. While air power is essential, it alone cannot bring the results we seek. The United States – in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners – will need to increase our presence on the ground. The scope of which should be in line with what our military generals recommend will be necessary to achieve our objective.”
He added, “But the bulk of these ground troops will need to come from local forces that we have built workable relationships with.”
But in comments directed to his audience of military college cadets, he left no doubt that he was proposing to send young Americans into the fight.
“Let there be no doubt, this will not be easy. Some of you in this room will serve on the front lines of that fight against ISIS and against radical Islamic terrorism. You will sign up for an uncertain fate, on foreign fields of battle, because your country, and the cause of freedom, are calling you.”
There has been an element of opportunism in many of the campaigns’ responses to the Paris attacks – most have been quick to pin blame on the Obama White House and former secretary of state and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. And while Bush has done his share of finger-pointing, the former governor’s remarks today coincide with the release of a substantive policy proposal to restructure the military and reorient U.S. national security policy.
Bush previewed some of the speech in an appearance on Fox News Wednesday morning, saying that it will require “fierce force” to root out ISIS.
“It doesn't mean a law enforcement exercise,” he said. “It means using the military to destroy ISIS and we have the capability of doing this and we should take it seriously and do it, as a leader in the world, not by ourselves.”
In South Carolina, his prepared remarks were heavy on emotional imagery when he discussed the Paris attacks, decrying the “brutal savagery” of ISIS he said, “As we gather today, in the aftermath of the bloodshed in Paris, let it be said that this generation knew the cost of war, but also knew the even greater cost of acquiescence to an enemy with which there is no co-existence.”
He went on to advocate a sharp increase in spending on the U.S. military, funded in part by reforming a Pentagon bureaucracy that he described as unaccountable and spendthrift.
He echoed the claim voiced by many in the GOP that President Obama has been insufficiently aggressive in his foreign policy, and warned that a Clinton presidency would translate into more of the same.
“I reject their diminished view of America’s role in the world,” he said.