Governor Bush joined Hugh to start off the program today.
HH: Pleased to begin this Friday with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Governor Bush, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JB: Thank you, Hugh, always an honor to be with you.
HH: You gave a big speech at the Reagan Library this week. Is it a fair summary that a central theme of that address is that the Islamic State exists and has established a caliphate because President Obama and Hillary Clinton walked away from Iraq in December, 2011, when they pulled out 40,000 troops?
JB: Absolutely. That’s exactly what happened. President Obama himself said that al Qaeda in Iraq was defeated. He has stated that the surge was successful. And had he kept the forces agreement, negotiated it to extend it, we wouldn’t have had this problem. American troops would have created stability, and instead of that, we allowed Maliki to resort back to his sectarian tendencies. He gutted the military. He allowed the Shiia influence to exist. And the chaos that ensued created ISIS.
HH: The agreement that your brother signed in 2008 said all of our troops would be gone by January 1, 2012 unless a new agreement was negotiated. And some blame former Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqis for that failure. You’re saying it’s President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s failure. Why is Maliki off the hook here?
JB: Well, he’s not off the hook, but because the United States disengaged completely, we had what we had. I mean, had they, the understanding was that this deal would have been extended. Everybody that was involved in it agrees with that. You can’t rewrite history, but immediately, politically and diplomatically, and certainly militarily, we disengaged. And as such, Maliki’s bad tendencies came to the forefront. The President still had the ability to negotiate a deal, and he didn’t do it. And the net result is then that we pulled back too fast against the advice of the military. Ray Odierno is leaving, I think, today. And one of his parting comments as he departed was that it was a mistake to leave too early.
HH: In your remarks on the 11th at the Reagan Library, you said President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton were “so eager to be history makers, they failed to be peacemakers.” Jeb Bush, did President Obama and Hillary Clinton lose the peace?
JB: I think if you look at the record, this is all about legacy. The Iranian agreement, I think, fits into this category. Today, John Kerry is, with great fanfare, opening up diplomatic relations in Havana. And the departure of American troops and American presence in Iraq, all of this is for fulfilling political agendas, and it’s legacy building. But history’s not going to be too kind, because we’ve created a less peaceful world rather than a more peaceful world by these actions.
HH: Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Islamic state militants likely used mustard agent against Kurdish forces in Iraq this week. Is that laid at the feet as well of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that the Islamic State is now using WMD?
JB: Well, and I think the implication was that they got this, they got this from Assad. So the irony, of course, is that not only is Iraq unstable, but Syria’s just completely collapsing. And the tragedy is that with great fanfare, we announced an agreement to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria, and the net result was that it didn’t happen. ISIS apparently has gotten their hands on it, and we see what happens when we use grandiose language and don’t back it up. And the danger now is that the President doesn’t have a strategy to deal with ISIS. He admits it. It’s the one thing that he has admitted, or twice in the last year. And the net result is that every day that ISIS remains in the form of a caliphate, it gets its energy to be able to recruit more people. So even if our sortees have some success in killing their soldiers, which has happened, they are larger today. They’re actually stronger today than a year ago when the caliphate was formed.
HH: Now Governor bush, Muammar Qaddafi said on March 17th, 2011, to his opposition in Benghazi, “We are coming tonight. We will find you in your closets.” Hillary Clinton said the same week, “We want to support the opposition who are standing against the dictator. This is a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.” She added that he’ll do terrible things, and “this is a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.” Was it a mistake to topple Qaddafi?
JB: It wasn’t necessarily a mistake to topple Qaddafi, but there should have been a plan for security and stability afterwards. And that’s the lesson of the last 20 years, is that if we’re going to engage for our own national security purposes, then we’d better have a plan to create a stable situation for those voids that are filled. In the case of Libya now, you have an ungovernable state where you see the mass execution of Christians on the shores of the Mediterranean, and you see bloodshed being the norm. And you see Americans losing their lives in Benghazi.
HH: Now is that critique also applicable to your brother’s decision to invade Iraq, that there wasn’t a plan for the successful toppling of Hussein afterwards?
JB: I think it is. I think that’s the lesson learned, is that you have to have great intelligence, and I think that the decision not, you know, to disband the Iraqi military rather than to coopt it to create a secure Iraq first for its citizens was a mistake. And that’s the lesson. The lesson is you can, American power, military power is still the greatest in the world. And we can have the desired effect militarily, but we need to think through how we create security and peace afterwards, or we have chaos, and that’s exactly what happened in Libya.
HH: Now this is an important argument for 2016, obviously, Jeb Bush. Is it easier for you, with the last name Bush, to make it? Or is it harder for you with the last name Bush to make it?
JB: It doesn’t matter. I’m the first candidate to have a view on this with enough detail for people to see what the world would look like if I’m president. It doesn’t change my views. I’ve sought the advice of the best people that I can find, that have served in the executive and in Congress, and in think tanks and all sorts of other places that have given me this view that this is a grave threat for our country, and that the threat of homegrown terrorism has brought to mind even greater when the FBI director several weeks ago said that this was the thing that kept him up at night the most, was that homegrown terrorism, inspired by the ISIS caliphate and other radical Muslim terrorists, is his biggest concern. And he has investigations in almost every, if not every FBI office, all around the country right now. We’re under attack, and this lackadaisical effort as it relates to cybersecurity and certainly Islamic terrorism is something that I would reverse if I was president.
HH: General Soleimani flew to Russia on the day of the first debate. It was brought up in the debate. Is there a new axis of evil between the mullahs and Putin?
JB: Well, yeah, I mean, they’re selling their most sophisticated missile defense capability several days after the big announcement. Now that took place, some $900 million, at least I read in the paper, $900 million dollar weapon and missile defense capability. We’re getting rid of the sanctions, so all the leverage points that we have with Iran are soon to go. And Russia, as we pull back, and we’re weak, Russia has been extraordinarily aggressive. In fact, we’re relying on Russia more and more to be able to have some leverage and conversation in Syria and other places. This would never have happened had we recognized America’s leadership role in the Middle East and in the world.
HH: You mentioned in your August 11th speech Egypt, Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah specifically in Joran, the United Arab Emirates, even Tunisia. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton totally screwed up Egyptian policy, and it still seems as though President Obama resents President al-Sisi. Do you agree with my assessment of that? And do you think we need to strengthen ties with President al-Sisi?
JB: We need to, if we believe in a secure Middle East, then we have to support the traditional Arab states, because the option is a caliphate, and very little in between. We’re not going to have any influence over Egypt or Saudi Arabia if we lecture them, and if we turn to Iran as the peacemaker in the region. I mean, this is the, this is kind of Alice in Wonderland logic here. So yes, it is important. If we’re going to defeat ISIS in Syria, and which requires Assad to go as well, we have to rely on a united Arab Sunni force that would be trained by the United States, where we use our air power, but Syrians on the ground along with an international force that would be comprised of the Turks, the Emirates, the Saudis, the Jordanians and the Egyptians in some way or another, all have to play a role. We can’t do this ourselves. And as we have created worse relations with each of these countries, and certainly Israel is in this category as well, we’ve lost our, people have lost confidence in us. We’ve lost our credibility.
HH: Jeb Bush, you just mentioned Israel. If you’re the president, would you sell the F-22 and B-2 technology, not from our inventory, but the technology to Israel? And if asked, would you forward base, as they were talking about at CSIS this week, forward base American nuclear deterrent forces like B-2’s in Israel?
JB: I would certainly consider it. I think given the existential threat that Israel faces as it relates to Iran, there needs to be more than just symbolic efforts to show that we have Israel’s back, that we are, that there’s no light between us, we’re shoulder to shoulder in this effort to fight Islamic terrorism and the threats of Shiia radical terrorism sponsored by Iran, both of which are direct threats. And the military threat, of course, is huge as it relates to Israel. So I think everything needs to be on the table.
HH: Let me turn now to Mrs. Clinton. Does she own the Iranian agreement as well as the debacle in Iraq and ISIS?
JB: Well, she was not there to negotiate it. That was Secretary Kerry’s doing. But she supports it. She was one of the first supporters of this agreement. And it’s just hard to imagine how based on the merits that this deal is going to bring about peace and security. It has nothing to do with their sponsorship of terrorism in the region. They have three American hostages in Iran, nothing to do with that. The sanctions would be lifted to allow for expansion of conventional weapons capability. They continue to work on ballistic missile capability. All of that is not even part of the agreement. And then you have the verification issue, which is extraordinarily wrong to go from anytime, anywhere inspections to now this convoluted, complicated system with a country that has violated most of the agreements that have been in place over the last decade. She supports it. Whether she was there or not is not particularly relevant.
HH: So she does own the agreement, in your view. She definitely owned her own server. Now General Petraeus, Sandy Berger and John Deutsch all violated 18 USC 1924. Is Hillary guilty of the same offense, in your opinion, Jeb Bush?
JB: Well, we’re going to find out, and there should not be a double standard. This is, if in fact it’s true that classified information was transmitted over a private server, and Secretary Clinton knew about it, which she had to have done, it certainly is in violation of the President’s own policies, but it may also fit, as you describe, into a violation of law.
HH: If that is the case…
JB: That’s why the investigation’s important. And I think she should come clean. This is, this, this leaking, you know, drip, drip, drip of new information, it’s not helping her. But frankly, it’s very typical, I think, of how Mrs. Clinton operates in the public sphere. She should be a lot more transparent about this.
HH: Do you have confidence in the FBI and the Department of Justice that she’ll be prosecuted, if indeed she has done the same thing that General Petraeus and Sandy Berger and John Deutsch did?
JB: I want to. I want to have confidence. I certainly have confidence in the FBI.
HH: I want to go back, then, to if she drops out, how do you match up with Joe Biden or Bernard Sanders, or perhaps John Kerry entering the race clutching the Iranian agreement?
JB: Well, I’ve got enough challenges on our side with 17 people running. I’m, I think a Republican can win because of the failed economic policies of this president. And all of those candidates will double down on a progressive liberal set of regulations and taxes that’s stifling economic growth, and income growth for the middle class. And I believe that foreign policy will be an increasingly important part of this campaign. And all of the candidates you mentioned are either in sync with President Obama or to the left of him. And I think a Republican can win by being hopeful and optimistic about the economy, and strong and advocating peace through strength in foreign policy.
HH: Jeb Bush, you mentioned General Odierno retiring today, along with General Mattis, McChrystal, General Peter Pace, General Petraeus, yes. These are all the war fighters who won. Would Jeb Bush ask any of them to come back from retirement on to active duty to help in the war against Islamist extremism?
JB: I don’t know. I don’t know whether they would serve or not, but every person you mentioned, given their extraordinary service to this country would be an honor to work with them. And I’ve sought their advice, obviously not General Odierno. He’s leaving today at 5:00, but others that you mentioned, I’ve had conversations. They’re not supporting me, but they’re eager to provide advice to someone that wants to have the best foreign policy. And so they’re patriots, in my mind.
HH: Does this country have a plan for dealing with Islamist radicalism? You mentioned in your speech it is spreading like a wildfire, and I don’t think we have a plan. Do you think we do?
JB: No, we don’t. We don’t have a plan. It’s this policy of, in effect, it’s like running out the clock. There is no plan. In fact, the President has admitted that there’s no strategy. And so it’s a series of tactics, and there’s significant restraints on the military as it relates to sortees, as it relates to a prohibition to have our fighting forces embedded with the Iraqi army, the effort to recruit Syrian fighters to create a renewed Free Syrian Army has been a disaster, because they require that they only can fight ISIS rather than deal with the dual danger of Assad’s brutality as well as ISIS. We’ve managed this with constraints from up above. I do not believe the military left to create a strategy for success would have created a series of tactics like this. So no, we don’t have a strategy, and we need one. This president can’t even call it for what it is, which is Islamic radical terrorism. Now, in the form of a state, a pseudo-state, a caliphate, that gains its energy by its existence. They’re not in any caves. They’re openly running countries where they extort people’s money. The largest amount of revenue that ISIS receives is in the form of brutal taxation of anybody that, in Mosul or Fallujah or Ramadi, or any of the Syrian cities.
HH: At the same time that this is happening, the Defense Appropriations bill is stuck in the Senate because of the filibuster. Harry Reid broke the filibuster in order to confirm President Obama’s judges. Should Mitch McConnell break the filibuster rules in order to get the Defense Department bill to the President’s desk?
JB: I think first and foremost, there ought to be seven Democrats that believe that the gutting of our military has gone too far. Every military leader that has recently left would concur with this, that there’s a level under which the Army can’t go. Today, for the first time, I do not believe we’ll have an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, that we’re, and I believe, it’s either the Reagan or one of the others, is leaving the Persian Gulf. So we have diminished our capabilities to project force in the world, which makes it hard for a president’s words to be taken seriously. And so this is a national security issue that goes beyond partisan politics. And my belief is that there’s seven Democrats at least that would support this. There’s a stop-gap measure to fund this through existing funds, and when I’m elected president, if I am, we will, I will submit a budget to fight, that will restore our military cuts, and we’ll fight for it and get it done.
HH: But this’ll…
JB: The idea that this country, this extraordinary country can’t pass a budget in six years? I mean, come on. We’ve got to get beyond this and start prioritizing the things that really matter. And national security and keeping the homeland safe has got to be first.
HH: Those seven votes aren’t there. And so this will probably come up at the Reagan Library debate if I’m participating and I have a chance to ask it. Will, would you support breaking the filibuster if those seven votes aren’t there in order to get it to the President’s desk?
JB: Well, I want to see, I’d like to see what pressure is brought to bear if you have a Senate, the Senate is going to have a chance to vote yes or no on an Iranian deal, and yes or no on whether or not we should fund our Defense capabilities. And while they may not be there, yet, but I’m pretty certain that given the broad popular support for both, against the deal and for Defense spending, I’m relatively confident that it’s not out of the question that you could do it regular order way.
HH: You can expect that, that it’s coming back at the Reagan Library.
JB: You’re giving me a hint on those questions, huh?
HH: Jeb Bush, I’m looking forward to it. I really am. Governor Bush, thanks for the time today, safe travels, we’ll talk again soon, if not before the debate.
JB: Thank, God bless.
End of interview.