By MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT
August 17, 2015
Since leaving office, I have come to a détente with many of my Republican friends, agreeing not to keep rehashing mistakes of the past and to instead focus on the future of America’s foreign policy. However, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s brazen attempts to rewrite history in a series of campaign appearances last week cannot go unchallenged. By blaming President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the rise of ISIL, Governor Bush is clearly seeking to absolve his brother’s administration of responsibility for today’s problems in Iraq. This argument may serve Governor Bush’s political interests, but it does a disservice to the truth.
No honest discussion of the situation today in Iraq can brush aside the mistakes that were made by the Bush administration during the invasion and its aftermath, much of it based on faulty intelligence and flawed assumptions. They sent too few troops to secure the country. They replaced a government that was a sworn enemy of Iran with one that had close ties to the mullahs. They disbanded the Iraqi Army and dismissed thousands of Sunni officers, who soon launched a violent insurgency.
None of these facts were acknowledged by Governor Bush in his speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library or in his recent campaign appearances in Iowa, because they undermine his attempts at blame shifting.
According to Bush’s emerging narrative, the fatal U.S. error in Iraq was the withdrawal of our troops on December 31, 2011. If that is the case, then the error was made by President George W. Bush, who negotiated that withdrawal date in a binding agreement reached with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2008. The Obama administration sought to extend the mission for U.S. troops, and by all accounts Secretary Clinton strongly supported such a residual presence. But Prime Minister Maliki refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution—and the administration wisely decided not to put U.S. troops at risk to support a government that did not want them there any longer.
It is these circumstances that Governor Bush believes led to the rise of ISIL, but once again, he is only telling part of the story. ISIL, which emerged from al Qaeda in Iraq, was established in 2003 in the chaos that followed the invasion. AQI became a magnet for disaffected Sunnis and remnants of Saddam Hussein’s army, who still help lead ISIL.
No one, Democrat or Republican, would claim that all is going well in the Middle East today. The Obama administration has certainly made mistakes, and the Bush administration did not do everything wrong. We should also not fall into the trap of assuming everything is America’s fault. Sectarian Iraqi leaders, the Assad regime in Syria and malign Iranian influence also bear responsibility for the tremendous problems facing the region.
Still, the United States has been and will be an important force in the Middle East. Our country does not need a backward-looking partisan fight over our policy in the region. Instead, we should be having a substantive, forward-looking discussion about the kind of role we can play in bringing stability to a critical part of the world.
To his credit, Governor Bush did present some ideas for how his administration would deal with Iraq. While his rhetoric has been lofty, and his criticism of President Obama and former Secretary Clinton has been sharp, the policies he proposes look remarkably similar to what the administration is already doing—supporting the Iraqi military in their fight against ISIL. The areas where he appears to differ are his willingness to put more U.S. lives at risk by sending troops into combat, and his unwillingness to rule out water boarding in interrogations.
Governor Bush also spoke of the importance of alliances, but his rhetoric and proposed actions would jeopardize these important sources of strength. Nothing would infuriate our European allies more than Governor Bush’s plan to break away from the nuclear agreement with Iran that they spent years negotiating alongside us. Similarly, Governor Bush made a point of using the term “Islamic terrorists,” a phrase that our allies in the Arab world have pressed us not to use because it feeds the false narrative that we are at war with a religion.
Words matter in the world of diplomacy, and so does leadership. The reputation of the United States was severely damaged during President’ Bush’s administration. Today, America’s place in the world is far stronger than it was in 2009 thanks to the leadership of President Obama and former Secretary Clinton. They renewed alliances, relentlessly pursued our terrorist enemies, and forged international coalitions on Iran sanctions and on the fight against climate change. That’s a laudable record of achievement—one that needs no re-writes.
In the months ahead, I would encourage Mr. Bush to be a true student of foreign policy rather than a hurler of political pot-shots. The United States cannot afford another President Bush who blinds himself to global reality and who forges ahead into chaos. Americans deserve a president who will acknowledge the past and will forge a better future.
Madeleine K. Albright, who was secretary of state from 1997 to 2001, is chairwoman of the Albright Stonebridge Group.