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What Would Jeb Do On Iraq? He Won't Say

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush answers questions Wednesday after speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The likely 2016 presidential candidate says he will be guided by his own thinking and experiences when it comes to foreign policy questions.

The son and brother of the last two Republican presidents vowed to be his "own man" in a foreign policy speech Wednesday. But he failed to outline a plan to deal with a major focus of those previous two Bush foreign policies: Iraq.

Likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush spoke and took questions for more than an hour at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He addressed trade deals with Asia and Latin America, support for Ukraine, pushing democracy in Cuba, stopping nuclear proliferation, fighting the so-called Islamic State — even the revolution in Tunisia.

But on Iraq, the closest he came to a plan was conceding that George W. Bush's administration erred in its conduct of the war and accusing President Obama of encouraging the rise of ISIS by withdrawing U.S. troops from the country too soon.

"There were mistakes made in Iraq, for sure. Using the intelligence capability that everybody embraced about weapons of mass destruction turns out to not be accurate. Not creating an environment of security after the successful taking out of Hussein was a mistake," Bush said, then he praised his brother's "surge" of troops to stabilize Iraq in 2007 as an act of political courage.

That "fragile" stability could have been built on by Obama but was not, Bush said, which allowed for the rise of ISIS. "The void has been filled because we created the void."

Two points he did not address: Would he, had he been president in 2002, also have invaded Iraq? And, should he be elected president in 2016, how will he handle Iraq now?

Bush telegraphed his likely response to that line of questioning last week at a Florida fundraiser for his mother Barbara Bush's literacy foundation. He told reporters he was not interested in "re-litigating" the Iraq War decision. "It's about trying to create a set of principles and ideas that will help us move forward," he said.

George H.W. Bush deployed American troops in 1990 to force Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait, which Saddam had invaded that August. That first President Bush, however, did not use the occasion to invade Iraq and depose Hussein — a decision that earned the ire of many conservatives.

In 2003, based on claims that Saddam was building chemical and possibly nuclear weapons, George W. Bush did invade Iraq, resulting in a yearslong and progressively unpopular occupation by U.S. armed forces.

During his eight years as Florida governor, Jeb Bush backed his brother's foreign policy without any qualifiers and, given the circumstances, he was never questioned aggressively about that by the media. In the years since George W. Bush left the White House, Jeb Bush has continued to say that his brother kept America safe following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and that he was a good president. Bush repeated that praise in Chicago.

"Look, just for the record, one more time: I love my brother. I love my dad," he said. "And I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions that they had to make. But I'm my own man. And my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences."

Bush, who just turned 62, is traveling the country this year raising tens of millions of dollars for two political committees that could help his run for the presidency. One of the groups is a superPAC that can accept contributions of unlimited size.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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