CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) – Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Wednesday called for the U.S. to send more troops to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State.
“This is the war of our time,” Bush said at the Citadel five days after Islamic State militants attacked Paris and killed 129 people.
“The United States, in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners, will need to increase our presence on the ground,” he added. He offered no specifics, but said the number of Americans sent to the region should be, “in line with what our military generals recommend – not politicians – will be necessary to achieve our objective.”
The speech came as European nations hunted for conspirators in the attack and amid a fierce political debate within the U.S. over whether to limit or halt the resettlement of refugees surging fleeing war-ravaged Syria.
Bush, the brother and son of presidents, projecting himself as a potential commander in chief able to handle such challenges, as his own presidential bid tries to gain traction in a primary campaign likely to be shaken up after the Paris attacks.
“The brutal savagery is a reminder of what is at stake in this election,” Bush said. “We are choosing the leader of the free world. And if these attacks remind us of anything, it’s that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership.”
The speech, which had been scheduled before Friday’s deadly attacks, initially was to be more focused on Pentagon policy and equipment procurement reform. But the attacks prompted a quick shift in focus.
Bush hinted at the themes while campaigning Tuesday in South Carolina, where many Republican primary voters are retired and active-duty military, and where support runs high for the U.S. armed forces.
Bush has long faulted President Barack Obama’s administration, and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – the leading Democratic presidential candidate – for allowing wholesale federal spending cuts prompted by the 2013 budget reconciliation after Congress and the president were unable to craft more strategic cuts.
The cuts affected military and non-military spending alike, at a time when conflicts in Syria and Iraq “spiraled out of control as President Obama and Hillary Clinton failed to act,” Bush said.
Bush’s campaign released a broad outline of his proposal, to restore the cuts and set goals to build up the military in several areas.
New points included Bush’s desire to update the United States’ nuclear weapons capacity. Bush also calls for increasing production of next-generation stealth bombers.
He also called for doubling the U.S. Marine Corps’ battle-ready strength to 186,000.
“I believe in the principle that the greater our superiority in military power, the less likely it is that we will have to assert that power, or be provoked into using it,” Bush said in the excerpts.
Bush, a year ago viewed as the likely front-runner, has failed to move to the top tier of GOP White House hopefuls in a field where political outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson and charismatic young lawmakers Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have eclipsed him.
But Bush hinted Tuesday, campaigning in Columbia, that the Paris attacks could change the focus for choosing the next commander in chief.
Bush also appears to be anticipating criticism that he would wage war in Iraq, as his father and brother did when they were president.
“I think it’s important for the next president, whoever he or she may be, to learn from the lessons of the past and use those lessons to focus on the future,” Bush told an audience at Coastal Carolina University in Conway Tuesday.
On Thursday in New York, Clinton will deliver an address outlining her strategy for defeating ISIS as well as her overall plan for fighting radical jihadism.