CHARLESTON, S.C. — As the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks continued to dominate politics Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called for a U.S.-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State with “overwhelming force,” including a deployment of ground troops.
“America has had enough of empty words, of declarations detached from reality of an administration with no strategy or no intention of victory,” Bush said in an afternoon speech to several hundred cadets and guests at The Citadel, the military college of South Carolina.
“Here is the truth you will not hear from our president: We are at war with radical Islamic terrorism,” Bush said. “It is the war of our time and a struggle that will determine the fate of the free world.”
The former Florida governor did not provide details but made it clear that the struggle would involve sending more U.S. troops. Bush said the scope and size of the effort would be based on recommendations from the nation’s military commanders and added that the “bulk” of additional ground forces should come from local sources.
“While air power is essential, it alone cannot bring the results we seek,” Bush said. ” The United States — in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners — will need to increase our presence on the ground.”
The policy could result in a third president named Bush — if Jeb is elected — sending U.S. forces into the Middle East. Many Democrats have attributed the rise of ISIS, in part, to the 2003 invasion of Iraq ordered by former President George W. Bush. The terrorist group controls territory in Syria and Iraq and claimed responsibility for Friday’s coordinated attacks in Paris.
Some GOP candidates were calling for a harder line against the Islamic State even before the attacks, but the tough talk has only intensified since. Donald J. Trump, for instance, promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” in radio ads that began running Wednesday in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. (He used an earthier term in a recent speech.)
The presidential aspirants and some Democratic governors have said the United States should not take in refugees from the conflict in Syria because of the risk that terrorists could slip in among them. Bush, in a pair of appearances in this state Tuesday, said that there should be a “pause” until the Obama administration is clear about how it will vet the migrants and also said the focus should be on relocating persecuted Christians from the region.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is set to speak about Islamic State and national security Thursday in New York.
Politically, Bush’s speech, on his second day of a swing through South Carolina, came at a critical time for the candidate, who is mired in the single digits in early-state and national polls and seeking to rejuvenate his candidacy.
His advisers hope that the turn toward serious matters of war and peace might help encourage GOP voters to rethink their infatuation with Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and turn to a more experienced hand. Bush has no explicit foreign policy experience, though he commanded Florida’s National Guard and led several emergency responses to serious hurricanes.
In general, Bush’s proposals amount to a more strident form of the strategy President Obama is following, with its reliance on local ground forces. They also are in line with what his Republican opponents and Clinton are advocating. U.S. military commanders have been reluctant to commit troops to fighting alongside the local forces, and it is unclear how far Bush would push.
“Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that would make a difference,” Obama told reporters this week in Turkey. “Because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough.”
Bush’s national-security speech here was long scheduled and was to focus on his plans to rebuild U.S. military forces, depleted by several years of automatic budget cuts, but the address was retooled after the attacks to present a broader strategy on terrorism. In his repeated emphasis on the use of “overwhelming force,” Bush echoed a doctrine that guided his father, former President George H.W. Bush, in the first Gulf war.
“We don’t need to be the world’s policemen, but we must restore our place as the leader and indispensable power of the free world,” he said.
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