Jeb Bush defended key aspects of President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq on Thursday, doubling down on accusations that President Barack Obama squandered the "fragile, but secure" gains he said his brother left behind in the country.
Speaking for the second time this week on a topic that has tripped him up along the campaign trail, the Republican presidential contender sought to pin the blame for continuing chaos and the emergence of Islamic State terrorists on the Obama administration, which withdrew U.S. troops from the country in 2011.
“We just washed our hands of the effort," Bush said at a security forum in Iowa. "We declared success and then chaos occurred afterward."
He noted the war had resulted in the toppling of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, saying it "turned out to be a pretty good deal."
The remarks follow a speech Tuesday in which Bush called for a more muscular approach to eradicating Islamic State terrorists from Iraq and Syria. But fact checkers cited omissions in that speech, including his failure to note that President Bush had reached an agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011.
Bush argued Thursday that at the end of his brother’s term there was recognition that the agreement would need to be renegotiated.
"I mean, to rewrite history now I think is completely improper," he said, adding that "The Iraqis wanted it to happen."
But Democrats shot off a link to an article in which Gen. Ray Odierno said that the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was the Bush administration’s plan all along and that he didn’t know if the U.S. could have convinced the Iraqis to leave behind any U.S. troops.
Bush did put a little space between himself and his brother, endorsing the continued use of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which the former president had once said he wanted to close. Obama pledged to close the detention center, but has failed to do so.
Bush also declined to rule out resuming the use of torture of terrorist suspects under some circumstances when he was asked about Obama's executive order that bans the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques once used by the CIA.
"I don't want to make a definitive, blanket kind of statement," said Bush, who answered questions posed to him by an Associated Press reporter.