Trump scoring points over Jeb Bush’s stands on Iraq
Washington - Businessman Donald Trump, seeing former Florida governor Jeb Bush as his main rival for the Republican Party nomination for president, has seized on the Iraq war of 2003 as one way to weaken his opponent and this strategy is succeeding.
Bush is the favourite of the Republican establishment and has raised the most money ($120 million) of the Republican candidates but Trump continues to outpoll him.
The problem for Bush is how to show he is his “own man” while not disowning the legacy of his brother, George W. Bush, in the process. He has had trouble answering a question on whether he would have attacked Iraq in 2003, giving at least three different answers to the question.
During the August 6th Republican presidential debate, he seemed to have settled the question by answering, “Knowing what we know now, with faulty intelligence, and not having security be the first priority when — when we invaded, it was a mistake.”
Yet, in a foreign policy speech at the Reagan Library in California on August 11th, Jeb Bush appeared to express the sentiment that, at a certain point, the Iraq war was won. He stated: “Yet in a long experience that includes failures of intelligence and military setbacks, one moment stands out in memory as the turning point we had all been waiting for. And that was the surge of military and diplomatic operations that turned events towards victory. It was a success, brilliant, heroic and costly.”
In a speech in New Hampshire on August 14th, Trump hit back hard at Bush’s qualified support for the Iraq war. Trump said Bush “thought the Iraq war was a good thing” and made fun of his changing positions. Trump reminded his audience that he had opposed the war from the beginning and “I was right”.
The war, Trump said, cost the United States “$2 trillion” and “thousands of lives of great young people” and the United States got “nothing” from it. Trump added that he was not a fan of Saddam Hussein but Saddam “ran the place and didn’t have [weapons of mass destruction]”.
Now “we have ISIS [the Islamic State], which is far more brutal than Saddam Hussein” and “Iran is taking over Iraq”. Moreover, he claimed, ISIS “has the oil” along with thousands of pieces of expensive US military equipment abandoned by the new Iraqi army.
Trump reminded the audience that former president George W. Bush said the “war is over” — probably a reference to his “Mission Accomplished” speech — and “two days later it [the war] was a disaster”.
Trump clearly wants to link Jeb Bush to the failures of his brother and the negative feelings many Americans have toward professional politicians. In the midst of his criticism of the Iraq war, Trump threw in the line that “we have stupid leadership”.
Trump’s bombastic language irks the Republican establishment but Trump is successfully tapping into a sentiment — not just with Democrats and independents but also among a significant segment of Republicans – that the Iraq war of 2003 was a very costly misadventure that destabilised the Middle East.
In his August 14th speech, Trump not only implied that having another Bush as president would be bad for the country but that he (Trump) would only use force in a smart way. Trump was applauded when he said the United States “shouldn’t have gone in” to Iraq, and, in reference to military force, said, “You have to know when to use it.”
Jeb Bush has dismissed Trump as having no coherent policies. He claims that, unlike Trump, he has outlined a strategy to deal with the threat from ISIS. But the shadow of his brother’s decision to invade Iraq has made many Republican voters skittish about supporting him.
And Bush remains heavily dependent on his family’s connections for campaign donations, while billionaire Trump can easily finance his own campaign. The Washington Post reported on August 21st that Bush was planning a major campaign donor retreat in late October that would include his parents and his brother.
Polls in New Hampshire (which hosts the first primary elections) indicate that, among Republicans, Trump leads with 18%, followed by Bush with 13% and Ohio Governor John Kasich is third with 12%.
Given Trump’s pounding of Bush on the Iraq war, it is not a coincidence that Kasich said in a recent interview: “I would have never committed ourselves to Iraq.” In fact, at the time Kasich strongly supported the war.