WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Tuesday will launch an attack on Democrat Hillary Clinton’s handling of Iraq when she was secretary of state, saying she must bear some of the blame for the rise of Islamic State militants.
Bush is to deliver a 9 p.m. EDT foreign policy speech at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California, site of the next debate, on Sept. 16, between candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Bush will say President Barack Obama’s failure to obtain an agreement with the Iraqi government to leave a U.S. contingency force behind in Iraq created a security vacuum that left the region open to the growth of Islamic State, which now occupies big swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
According to excerpts of the speech released by his campaign, Bush will say Clinton, who was Obama’s first-term secretary of state, deserves some of the blame. It is an attempt to question Clinton’s foreign policy experience as a major selling point for her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
It is tricky territory for Bush because his brother, former President George W. Bush, launched the Iraq war in 2003 over faulty intelligence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. A President Bush-ordered U.S. troop surge in 2007 brought stability that Republicans argue would have been extended if Obama had negotiated a U.S. residual force for Iraq.
“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,” Bush will say.
“In all her record-setting travels, she stopped by Iraq exactly once,” he will say.
In response, the Clinton campaign held a conference call for reporters with her foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan defended Clinton, saying she had accomplished a successful transition from a U.S. military footprint in Iraq to a civilian one.
“The key issue is not how many times does the plane touch down at the airport. It’s how intensive and effective is the engagement that leads to progress,” Sullivan said.
He said Jeb Bush was attempting to “rewrite history,” and that George W. Bush had set the 2011 date for a U.S. withdrawal.
In his speech, Bush will call Islamic State “the focus of evil in the world today” and say that, if elected in November 2016, he will embark on an “unyielding” effort to overcome the threat.
He will argue that Obama’s policy, which relies heavily on air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq, is failing to turn the tide.
Editing by Paul Tait and Steve Orlofsky