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Jeb Bush tries to ace the commander-in-chief test

<p>With Republican presidential candidates racing to condemn President Barack Obama as a reluctant warrior inept to take on Islamic State, Jeb Bush is pouncing on an opportunity to offer up what other critics aren’t — a plan. </p><p>It’s not without risk. A call to aggressively marshal resources to take on a diffuse network of fighters in the Middle East could bring back echoes of his brother’s prolonged engagements in Iraq and elsewhere. And Bush has proven himself at times inept at articulating the daylight between his foreign policy vision and that of the 43rd president. </p><p>But the Bush campaign and its allies have made a calculation that in this Republican race driven by emotion and dominated by more compelling personalities, the former Florida governor has an opportunity to stand head and shoulders above his rivals as he speaks to Americans shaken by last week’s deadly attacks in Paris. </p><p>“As the problems get bigger and bigger, people are going to start looking at people who are competent and capable,” said Ron Kaufman, a longtime GOP adviser to presidential campaigns who is backing Bush. “In the end, that’s going to matter and it’s going to be good for Jeb.” </p><p>Bush plans to expand on his vision on Wednesday at the Citadel in South Carolina. His team has been working to reframe a speech initially focused on the need to restore cuts to the Pentagon’s budget in the more immediate context of the Paris attacks and how to fight ISIL in the Middle East. </p><p>“We should declare war, and harness all of the power that the United States can bring to bear, both diplomatic and military, of course, to be able to take out ISIS,” Bush said on NBC’s “Meet the Press&quot; on Sunday, offering up his initial take on how the U.S. should respond to the carnage that took more than 130 lives and wounded scores more.</p><br><p>He didn’t stop there, ticking off specific strategic points. “Declare a no-fly zone over Syria,” he said. “Directly arm the (Kurdish) Peshmerga forces in Iraq. Reengage with the Sunni tribal leaders. Embed with the Iraqi military. Be able to create safe zones in Syria. Garner the support of our European allies and the traditional Arab states.” </p><p>Many of those are ideas Bush first outlined in a speech last summer where he laid out his strategy for combating ISIL. But now people are actually focused on that subject. </p><p>“This window is going to be fleeting. In a very populist election cycle, his campaign is based on being a calm, judicious, thoughtful guy,” said Kori Schake, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who advised John McCain on foreign policy during his 2008 campaign. “It’s not that often that circumstances align like three lemons on a slot machine and allow a candidate like Jeb Bush an opportunity to sell substance.” </p><p>In the broader Republican field, Bush is hoping to find the sweet spot as by playing the experienced, steady hand in this commander-in-chief test—positioning himself somewhere between the ardor of Donald Trump, who said he would consider shuttering mosques in the U.S., and the uncertainty of Ben Carson, who stated in last week’s GOP debate that getting ISIL out of Iraq would be “pretty easy” and on Sunday couldn’t identify an ally he would call first to work on addressing this crisis. </p><p>“At this point, campaigns are looking for moments to meet, to demonstrate why their candidate’s a leader and why they should be trusted not just to handle an issue but to lead a nation,” said Bruce Haynes, a Republican strategist in Washington who’s not backing a specific candidate. “This is an opportunity for Jeb Bush to distinguish himself not just with a strategy but as someone who understands what it means for America to lead in the current global environment.” </p><br><p>While some candidates are trying to push buttons on specific issues, from bombing campaigns to blocking Syrian refugees, Bush, in framing this as a governing issue, is trying to stand out by thinking and talking big and looking like a president. “While it may seem counter-intuitive, it’s not counter-intuitive for him to say what he believes is right,” said Haynes. “In spite of how people might feel about the past and his brother, he’s going to stand up and say, I’m Jeb Bush, this is what I believe and what I think we should do and the chips will fall where they may—and that’s leadership.” </p><p>Bush is hardly alone in calling for a no-fly zone in Syria; six other GOP rivals including Marco Rubio and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton all agree with him. President Obama, however, dismissed that idea during a press conference at the G-20 in Turkey on Monday. &quot;It is determined that it would be counterproductive to take those steps,&quot; the president said. </p><p>He also has joined rival Ted Cruz in calling for special protection for the Christian Syrian refugees, while Obama condemned any sort of &quot;religious test&quot; that would unfairly leave Muslim refugees in peril. </p><p>But some of Bush’s rhetoric appears to be merely that: He criticized the White House for failing to declare war—even though national security Ben Rhodes has referred to the U.S. actions against ISIL as part of a war; and his assertion that Clinton believes “that it’s not our fight” based on her statement in Saturday night’s debate that combating ISIL must also involve other allies and “cannot be an American fight” is somewhat of a stretch. </p><p>“Of course there’s a rhetorical element to this. I think the American people want a president who’s going to stand up and deliver a forceful rebuke of the terrorists who committed such atrocities,” said Tim Miller, Bush’s campaign spokesman. “An event like that requires a serious response. I think what you saw from the president and Hillary Clinton was a pretty tepid response given the gravity of the event.” </p><p>Bush expressed openness to a ground assault to root out ISIL from Iraq and Syria during his appearance on &quot;Meet The Press&quot; Sunday, laying out an idealistic scenario reminiscent of what his brother’s team foresaw heading into Iraq 12 years ago. “Well, you take it to them in Syria and Iraq,” Bush said. “You destroy ISIS. And then you build a coalition to replace this radical Islamic terrorist threat to our country and to Europe and to the region with something that is more peace loving.” </p><p>Obama on Monday rebutted that argument, saying that a ground war doesn’t make sense “unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation.” Without &quot;local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes,&quot; Obama argued, Islamists would eventually resurface. &quot;We would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before,” he said. </p><br><p>While Democrats blame George W. Bush for destabilizing the Middle East to the point that ISIL could take hold, Bush and Republicans blame Obama and Clinton for withdrawing U.S. troops, which, they argue, created the void. The debate over how to proceed in the Middle East will continue to be a debate about how we got to this point—and that’s what makes the politics exceedingly complicated for the candidate named Bush. </p><p>“If he looks like his brother, that’s probably not going to be an electoral advantage for him,” Schake said. “That’s why he’s coming up with a fully fledged strategy—because he’s going to be held to a different standard than everyone else.” </p><p>And as fraught as the politics are for Bush, the policy questions are exceedingly more complex in the view of most foreign policy experts. “I firmly understand when you’re running for president, it’s very attractive to wrap yourself in the flag. But the notion that we’re suddenly going to get this fixed by sending troops to fight ISIS, we’re kidding ourselves,” said Ian Bremmer, the president of The Eurasia Group. “The long-term support in the U.S. for what would be a long war of attrition that would put even more of a bulls eye on Americans just isn’t there.&quot;</p><p>“We do not do well with wars where we are nowhere near as committed to the outcome as those we’re fighting,” he continued. “If there’s any lesson out there that Jeb Bush should have taken, you’d think that would be the one.” <br /></p><br>

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