Jeb Bush on Foreign Policy: Peddling old Iraq Myths Again

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Jeb Bush gave a maiden foreign police speech in Chicago yesterday in which he mixed up Iran with Iraq and alleged with science fictional inaccuracy that Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) has 200,000 men under arms. The actual number of fighters is probably 20,000. His office later admitted that he ‘misspoke.’

But did he? A slip like that can reveal how a person views the world. Jeb Bush seems to think that menacing groups out there are 10 times larger than they are.

For comparison, France has an active duty army of 215,000. He made a small congeries of criminal gangs in the arid east of Syria and northwest of Iraq into a military power equivalent to France!

(Even the 20,000 figure for Daesh’s supposed strength is misleading because it is an all-volunteer guerrilla force, essentially doubling as neighborhood thugs and enforcers in Raqqah and Mosul; Daesh can’t possibly field a conventional infantry division of that size in the field.)

J. Bush also said at one point that in 2003 ISIL did not exist. But Daesh or ISIL goes back to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and before that to Tawhid. Ironically, Jeb’s brother hyped Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq as a reason the US had to invade! So ISIL did exist under a different name. And Zarqawi’s 2003 tiny al-Tawhid group only morphed into Daesh and took substantial territory because W. invaded Iraq, abolished the Iraqi army, put the Shiites in power and created a power vacuum.

Jeb Bush also praised the ‘surge’ or troop escalation of 2007 when W. put an extra 30,000 soldiers into Iraq. The Washington myth is that this campaign turned the war around. But actually the US forces under Gen. David Petraeus made a deal with then (Shiite) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to disarm the Sunni militants first. They did that, and the Mahdi Army and Badr Corps militias promptly ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from Baghdad, turning it into a largely Shiite city.

The displaced and desperate Sunnis, filled with rage and grievances against the US and its Shiite allies, gradually turned to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which renamed itself the Islamic State of Iraq, and then after 2011 became the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL. That is, rather than being the great success Jeb painted it, the ‘surge’ was the origins of the collapse of Iraq.

The allegation that President Obama could have kept 10,000 US troops in Iraq after December 2011 is untrue. The Bush administration was the one that failed to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi parliament that would allow US troops to remain. It failed because there was no majority in the Iraqi parliament for such an idea. The Iraqis never wanted US troops in their country, something Washington won’t admit. All Obama did was acquiesce in Bush’s deal. Vice President Joe Biden was tasked with seeing if an adjustment could be made whereby US troops might remain, but Biden also could not put together a majority in the Iraqi parliament. (It was felt that US troops and commanders would be at risk of prosecution, either in Iraqi courts or international ones, unless the Iraqi parliament itself passed the SOFA as a treaty commitment; it wasn’t something the prime minister could do by fiat).

The Iraqi parliament consisted of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (Shiite, pro-Iran), the Sadr II Bloc or Free Ones (Ahrar) (fundamentalist Shiite), the Islamic Call or Islamic Mission Party (Da’wa- fundamentalist lay Shiite), the Iraqiya Party (supported by Sunni Arabs with a grudge against the US); and the Kurdistan Alliance. Only the KA might have voted for US troops to remain. The rest of the members of parliament were dead set against or at least couldn’t show their faces in their districts if they didn’t oppose it. No one has ever been able to show me where a majority existed in parliament for US troops staying in Iraq. People who make this argument are robbing Iraqis of any agency in their own destiny and discounting them in Orientalist style as easily manipulable by the US. They aren’t.

Moreover, 10,000 US troops in Iraq after 2011 would have been constantly targeted by Sunni guerrillas and Shiite militias, and would have been too small to defend themselves very well. They certainly would not have been stationed in any numbers in Mosul! That an imperial presence of this sort, what Iraqis call an “Occupation,” would have calmed things down and kept Mosul in Iraq is just a fantastic idea. It is like saying that if only there had been a few more British troops billeted in American homes in the 13 colonies in 1775, the American Revolution could have been put down and averted. It was things like billeting British troops in people’s homes that provoked the revolution in the first place!

Jeb Bush’s maiden voyage into foreign policy was painful to watch, a hodgepodge of exaggerated bogeymen, vague ideals, inaccurate assertions, and bad history. Oh. Where have we seen this combination of tropes before? Let me think…

here is my appearance discussing the speech on MSNBC’s

‘All In’ with Christ Hayes: “Jeb Bush Staggers into Foreign Policy”

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25 Responses

  1. The sad fact is that sheer insistence and repetition of mythical assertions such as these can create a reality all their own. We have too obvious painful examples of this.

    The real news here, and one that people should recognize and try to address, is that we are looking at a guy who may very well be your next President. He is a smart, well-connected, and a relatively qualified guy, while the other putative contenders (e.g., Christie? Scott Walker) are complete empty suits. Frankly, I’m not that impressed with Hillary’s entitlement and it isn’t as though they’ve got any depth on their bench (Warren?). Objectively, as a politician, Bush showed far more true competence and success as Governor of Florida than his brother did in Texas, and in the world of the GOP he’s about as moderate as it gets.

    The thing to do here, thinking of the venn diagram of advisors shown in the clip, is to get him some better advisors: these are the people who shape the options, and it was these guys who managed the Shrub into the Iraq debacle.

    • Your post seems to illustrate your first sentence. That Jeb Bush is smart and relatively qualified is truly a mythical vision. Of course, it’s important to never underestimate one’s opponent, but you’re ready to “get him some better advisors” and throw him in the game. No, thank you.

      • It is fair to say JB is smart, but the problem is that he is like all of the other candidates for president who are or were part of the oligarchy, a person without a moral compass. The other part of the story is that the majority of American voters are not all that smart and not endowed with moral compasses.

  2. As the French say,”on prend les mêmes et on recommence!” Is this guy related to George W. Bush? Never mind…

  3. Hmm, yes, well. All of this rather reminds me of Roman involvement in the East – which ultimately led to its conquest and colonization. Take out Philip V of Macedon in 197/6 BC and you end up with a power vacuum and need to drive out Antiochus the Great, King of Syria, in 189-7 BC. Drive out Antiochus and you end up with Perseus, Philip’s son, filling the vacuum and having to fight him in 169-8. Perseus gone? Not a problem – Andriscus will fill the vacuum in 149-8 BC and you will get a fourth visit by the Romans – only this time they won’t leave (well, not until 1453 AD! But hey, what’s 1600 years of occupation more or less). Plus ca change . . . But FerGawdsSake, I mean, is there no one in the State Department, no one in our political community, who reads Livy or Polybius anymore?

    Worst of all, what should be clear at this late date is that the results of US involvement confer, exclusively, generous donatives of misery, tears, and unintended consequences. We should mandate it that the self-assured ignoramuses who freely bestow the fruits of our toil to their friends in war industries and anyone else remotely enmeshed in their sociopathic fever dreams of a vast pax Americana, first read the simple remarks of King Archidamas, spoken nearly 2500 years ago and related by Thucydides, who, at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, noted that military action requires careful and calm consideration (the very antithesis of the U.S.’s collective Monty-Pythonesque, “MUSLIMS!!!!! RUNNNN AWAAAAAAY!!!!!”) and the recollection that in war you control neither events nor outcomes.

    On a less relevant matter: As an academic it has been my privilege to know individuals of deep intelligence and compassion. Do you mean to tell us that in 2016, out of a vast talent pool of 300 million souls in this country, we are having hefted upon us yet another Clinton or Bush? This truly is the death of the Republic!

    There is nothing left for it but to “Let each man go to his own country!” (as Agamemnon says in Homer’s Iliad).

    • … is there no one in the State Department, no one in our political community, who reads Livy or Polybius anymore?

      Reading those authors could encourage state department employees to think and contradict conventional policy – a sure way to end chances of promotion.

      • .
        I think it is a serious error to consider the “State Department” as one big homogenous entity.
        There are several Bureaus, each with its own character and culture.

        Within the Bureau of Management
        (IT and mailroom, for example)
        you can find people who read history.

        But in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
        (the bureau with the biggest role on the ground in Iraq and in Afghanistan)
        you’d be lucky to find one person who has read an entire comic book in the last year.
        They are almost all DEA retreads.
        Xenophobic, ethnocentric bullies.
        These are the real ambassadors of America to those foreign lands.
        If a local Afghan or Iraqi has an encounter with an actual State Dept employee, it’s probably someone from INL.
        Even the Mercenaries they hire to train the police and military are a step up from the Direct Hire department employees.

    • These guys are deliberately ignorant – “we make history”, “we make reality” they say. That Bush III would think Paul Wolfowitz is qualified to do ANYTHING relating to foreign policy is about as complete an indictment of his lack of leadership qualification as any.

  4. Poor Jeb, he just can’t help him self, it’s in his genes! If any of you believe in prayer, now would be a good time to start praying. Another Bush in the White House…wow, doesn’t the 21st century really suck, so far?

    • Sure does! The US ruled by a cabal of corrupt corporatists and a woefully inept and crooked dynasty as their stooges. Or dynasties, if you want to include the possible Clinton dynasty in the wings, a shadow dynasty as it were. Makes you wonder what the American Revolutiuon was all for, if two centuries later we go back to the rule by kings, and very bad excuses for kings at that. Remember when many people were scared and agitated at the notion of a “Kennedy dynasty?” That never really came to pass but it was a favorite Republican boogeyman for decades. What hypocrites they are, now that their preferred dynasty is taking the reins.

  5. In his October, 2002 speech in Cincinnati, George Bush was vague about the Sr. al-Qaeda leader getting medical treatment in Baghdad. Four months later, Colin Powell speaking at the UN filled in all the details about Zarqawi. That was the last nail in Saddam’s coffin. America was going to war.

    Thank you, Gen. Powell.

      • The entire buildup to the war was a masterpiece of deception, IMO. After Brent Scowcroft wrote his “Don’t Attack Saddam” op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (August 15, 2002), Judith Miller’s aluminum tube story hit the NY Times in early September. In early October, Bush gave his war speech and they just waited until after the holidays to sent in the closer–Colin Powell. It was brilliant deception that worked to perfection.

        I would have loved to have seen Gilda Radner as Barbara Wa Wa interviewing Colin Powell. Rosanne Rosanna Dana would have been even better.

  6. If Jeb Bush wants to be president, he can’t afford to tell the truth. Given that the majority of eligible voters stick with one or the other of the corrupt duopoly, character defects are of little consequence. Voters who go for the lesser evil are going to have a tough time in 2016 deciding the winner. Regardless, the United States will be the loser.

  7. After the invasion of Iraq and all hell broke loose a befuddled GW Bush was schooled on Kurds, Shiite and Sunni Iraqis. His reply was…”I thought they were all Muslims!”

    No more Bush family members in the White House.

  8. When we point out the negative return-on-investment of GW Bush’s Mideast fiasco, we might well mention that the US imprisoned al Baghdadi with several others who also became radical and extreme Islamist leaders:

    “But the narrative solidifies in 2005, when he [al Baghdadi] was captured by American forces and spent the next four years a prisoner in the Bucca Camp in southern Iraq. It was from his time there that the first known picture of Baghdadi emerged. And it’s also there, reports Al-Monitor, that he possibly met and trained with key al-Qaeda fighters.”
    (Source: link to

  9. I recall his brother George made similar gaffes, including confusing Iraq with Iran. It does not matter how wrong they are, there is a truly enormous pressure of extremist media and moral thematic societies that continually reinforces these messages or variations thereof. The moral thematic societies in particular create a degree of enthusiasm and voter participation that can not be counteracted by reasonable political commentary or even news. While articles such as this one are excellent they will never be read by anybody that avidly listens to the other extreme. Political discourse has ended. If you think Jeb Bush is not telling the truth as he thinks it is, I believe you are not correct. Even when arguments and facts change from moment to moment, you are not correct. They are true to him. I still visit places where they display photographs of the Iraqi nuclear weapons we “captured”.

  10. The internal right-wing mechanics of this are:

    No antiwar candidate will ever get more than a few % of Republican convention delegates, and any candidate who is wishy-washy about war has no chance at all.

    The theocratic/neo-Confederate movement within the GOP (part of which is called the Tea Party) only hates the parts of government which do anything but punish non-whites at home and abroad. So talk of an apocalyptic war with Russia, China and Iran will make them very happy because they will see it as their chance to purge and purify America, by basically transferring all our tax dollars to the war machine.

    On the other hand, most of these people really, really hate the Bushes. Why? Because the Bushes represent the truth about where white Christian capitalist patriarchy leads. They live in a fantasy land where true free enterprise would never lead to corporate monopolies or banksters or unnecessary wars or climate change.

    Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush could spout exactly the same speeches for the next year and yet Cruz will always get the support of those who want revolutionary change and Bush will always get the support of those who love being corporate bitches. Cruz’s father is a Christian fanatic preacher. That’s become the Right’s idea of a self-made entrepreneur, as if such men could miraculously (!) replace the Bush cabal and its peers in keeping America rich.

    But if the anti-Bush vote is split between the handful of genuine antiwar people sticking with Paul and the warrior maniacs sticking with Cruz, then neither can win.

    Meanwhile, all the other right-wing monsters like Walker are stymied by their inability to convert their much-loved viciousness and sadism in harming “bad” Americans in their home states into a convincing case of being able to do the same to the rest of the world. They can mouth the fearmongering lies, but they stumble when they have to talk specifics about where we will get a million troops to fight Putin.

    Unfortunately, Bush scores again here, because his family is known (and hated) for being well-connected with the real powers in the world. No matter how stupid W was, he could sound just convincing enough as someone who could ring up a “coalition of the willing” for Iraq or buffalo NATO into doing our dirty work in Afghanistan. Just enough to convince our land of bellicose cowards that we could get away with it.

    Paired with this is the need to manipulate the global financial system to pay for the war (or bribe someone else to fight). Greenspan was willing to warp space and time to help a Bush wage war. Would ANY Fed chair do it for Scott Walker?

    And that’s what the complete militarization of the 2016 election does. Because if fear motivates us to war, then we’re probably cowards, and we want someone else to do our fighting. Bush and Clinton can make it sound like they’re well-connected enough to commit that crime for us. The irony is, the very fact that we believe that about them means we know (and accept) that none of what we say about how America and capitalism works is true. Only banksters could wage war the way we want it waged.

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