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Jeb Bush Criticizes Obama, Clinton For Spread Of ISIS

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Jeb Bush has an opinion about why the Islamic State has become such a threat; President Obama is to blame and so is his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Bush, the former Florida governor and current GOP presidential candidate, delved into foreign policy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California yesterday. He said it is wishful thinking that ISIS is getting weaker. And he laid out a plan to defeat them. Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Jeb Bush chose this revered hilltop GOP institution northwest of Los Angeles to give one of the first major foreign-policy speeches of his campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

JEB BUSH: Thank you so much.

(APPLAUSE)

SIEGLER: In front of a friendly crowd, his choice of venue was ideal for a few political jabs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BUSH: When the president and Secretary Clinton, the storied team of rivals, took office, so eager to be the history makers they failed to be the peacemakers...

SIEGLER: Bush hit Obama and especially Clinton early and often.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BUSH: In all of her record-setting travels, she stopped by Iraq exactly once.

SIEGLER: But this was also an opportunity for Bush to answer his critics, who've argued that so far his plan to fight ISIS has been slim on details. So Bush laid out what he called a broad strategy to fight Islamic militants. In Syria, he's proposing to create a no-fly zone. Bush also wants more training of moderate Islamic fighters there. He also repeatedly blamed the president for downplaying the threat of ISIS. And if elected, he promised to increase U.S. military strength in the Middle East.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BUSH: Having lost our credibility on such an epic scale, it is hard to get it back. But we had better try because the longer we do nothing, the more dangerous the situation becomes and the more directly our friends and our interests are threatened.

SIEGLER: Any time Bush discusses Iraq, he's speaking in the shadow of his brother, President George W. Bush, who led the United States into war there. Last night, Jeb Bush called for more precision U.S. air strikes on ISIS targets in the country. And he also seemed to leave the door open to increasing U.S. troop presence there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BUSH: That premature withdrawal was the fatal error, creating a void that ISIS moved in to fill and that Iran has exploited to the full as well.

SIEGLER: He's talking about the 2011 troop withdrawal from Iraq, under President Obama's watch, that was negotiated by his brother in 2008. This issue may continue to be one of the trickier ones for all Republicans to navigate in this campaign, according to Joe Nye, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

JOE NYE: And that's probably because the American people have a certain Iraq fatigue or maybe even more Middle East fatigue.

SIEGLER: Nye, who served under President Bill Clinton, says it's probably a winning strategy for GOP candidates like Jeb Bush to paint Democrats as weak on ISIS, but only so far.

NYE: But when you start talking about a significant number of American forward observers or combat advisers rather than trainers, then you're crossing a line, I think, where the American public is still very gun shy.

SIEGLER: Indeed, last night Jeb Bush stressed that U.S. allies aren't asking for a major commitment of American combat forces in Iraq. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Simi Valley, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.