Jeb Bush delivered a thoughtful and clear-eyed speech on Tuesday about the threat posed by ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism. It was a forward-looking speech that offered a compelling strategy to deal with this growing threat (something we haven’t heard from Hillary Clinton).
Bush’s speech also looked back at the history of the violence in Syria and Iraq that brought us to this point, as well as at the role Iran has played in fueling terrible conflicts that have given rise to ISIS.
As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush had no more role in the decision to go to war in Iraq than did Barack Obama–and far less of a role than then-Senator Hillary Clinton, who voted for it–he deserves credit for acknowledging the flawed intelligence that led us into war, and the military and strategic missteps that kept us at war for longer than any of us expected or wanted.
As a former Army intelligence officer and Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who spent multiple tours in Iraq, I experienced firsthand America’s challenging history in Iraq. A critical lesson of this history is not whether we should have gone in at all, but rather the failure to stabilize the country and apply the right strategy in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. That’s a lesson military officers who served in Iraq have learned, and it’s one Jeb Bush understands.
By contrast, the Clinton/Obama intervention in Libya without a plan to stabilize that country after Qaddafi’s fall stands as an enduring testament to an all too frequent failure to learn from history. For that matter, so does their disengagement and ultimate withdrawal from Iraq, which left a vacuum Iran and ISIS were only too happy to fill.
When we aren’t ignoring history, we are often busy re-writing it, as Clinton and her defenders have done.
I was there. I saw the worst of our Iraq strategy and the best. During the surge, which undoubtedly saved Iraq from chaos, I came to know the Iraqis who fought side-by-side with our soldiers to take their country back from AQI and from the Iranian-backed militias. I am convinced that had senators Clinton and Obama been successful in blocking the surge in 2007 that we would have seen a victory for AQI in Anbar and a victory for Iran in Baghdad.
After President Obama and Secretary Clinton took their respective offices in 2009, I watched the hard-won gains of the surge erode as America disengaged politically and militarily from Iraq.
Even after I moved to the Afghanistan fight in late 2009 to help General Petraeus implement a strategy to stabilize Afghanistan, I heard frequently from Iraqi friends who felt increasingly abandoned by America. They begged for more attention from Washington. They wanted to extend the American presence. They warned of increasing Iranian influence. These Iraqis came to believe the administration did not want to stay, and American military commanders came to the same conclusion as the White House continually whittled down the size of the residual force they believed necessary to preserve the gains of the surge.
The Obama/Clinton defense rests on a thin reed of claiming President George W. Bush agreed to an end date for America’s presence in Iraq. This is misleading. The plan was to renegotiate an extension based on the conditions on the ground. U.S. military advisors believed a continued presence was necessary, and our Iraqi partners desired such a presence even if their own politics complicated negotiations to secure it. Our senior military leaders said that Iraqi security forces were not prepared to succeed without continued U.S. forces as the ISF needed continued enabling support and U.S. higher-end intelligence for counter-terrorism targeting. Importantly, in October 2011 all but 40 members of Iraqi parliament voted in favor of a continued U.S. military presence, but only the Kurds would openly support the immunity requirements as framed by the administration. Clearly this was a failure to engage early enough and with a commitment to achieving a longer-term presence secure the hard fought gains made by our military. Unfortunately, the Obama strategic team saw this only through a domestic political lens, thinking that if Iraq spun out of control they were immune politically and would just blame George Bush.
Securing this agreement was a task for diplomacy, but the fact that Secretary Clinton visited Iraq exactly once during her tenure suggests securing this agreement was not terribly high on her agenda.