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Jeb Bush’s Iraq Fantasies

Jeb Bush is reduced to peddling fantasies about Iraq:

“ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president,” he said, using a different acronym to refer to the group. “Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president. There were mistakes made in Iraq for sure, but the surge created a fragile but stable Iraq that the president could have built on and it would not have allowed ISIS, or ISIL, depending on your view.”

Almost none of what Bush says here is true. The group currently calling itself ISIS or the Islamic State didn’t use that exact name when Bush was still in office, but it traces its origins back to the jihadists that came to Iraq to exploit the chaos caused by the invasion and occupation. There is direct continuity between the jihadists that terrorized Iraq during the Bush presidency and ISIS today, and those jihadists would not have been in Iraq at all had it not been for Bush’s decision to invade. It did suffer setbacks in the final years of the Bush administration, which had more to do with the local backlash and opposition to its brutal methods than anything else, but it was not “wiped out.”

The notion that a small residual U.S. force would not have “allowed” the group to make the gains that it has made in recent years is risible. The group was able to hang on even at the height of the U.S. occupation, so it is fanciful to say that its advances could have been prevented if only a few thousand American soldiers had remained in Iraq. Jeb Bush is so wedded to the mythology surrounding the “surge” that he can’t admit that it plainly failed on the Bush administration’s own terms, and so he pretends that there was something there for the next administration to “build on.” The U.S. was scheduled to withdraw during the term of the president after Bush under an agreement that the Bush administration negotiated. Unless the U.S. was prepared to fight against new insurgencies and keep its soldiers in Iraq over the objections of most Iraqis, there was never any question of staying. The idea that U.S. forces could have stayed without sparking more violent opposition and losing even more soldiers in a fruitless “stabilizing” role is every bit as much a delusion as the pre-war belief that Iraqis would welcome the invasion of their country by a foreign army.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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