George W. Bush Wants To Send Combat Troops To Iraq Again

Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.

George W Bush
Former President George W. Bush told an Israeli newspaper that he believes that the United States needs to put “boots on the ground” if it is going to succeed in the fight against ISIS:

The United States will need combat troops on the ground to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), former President George W. Bush suggested in a new interview.

“The president will have to make that determination,” Bush said in an interview published Friday with the Israel Hayom newspaper when asked if ISIS could be defeated without ground troops.

“My position was that you need to have boots on the ground,” he said.

Bush made the comments days after President Obama said he was sending more troops to Iraq. Obama has authorized sending up to 450 additional U.S. troops “to train, advise, and assist” local Iraqi forces battling ISIS, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. They will not serve in combat.

There are currently 3,100 U.S. military members in Iraq, with all serving in an advisory role. The Obama administration has also opted for airstrikes to combat the terrorist group in Syria, where it has taken over large areas of land.

Bush said he faced the “very difficult decision” as president to double-down and send additional U.S. troops to Iraq amid mounting casualties and eroding public support for the war.

“I think history will show that al-Qaida in Iraq was defeated,” said Bush, who in the interview described al Qaeda as “ISIS as far as I am concerned.”

“I chose the path of boots on the ground. We will see whether or not our government adjusts to the realities on the ground.”

Here’s the relevant part of the interview:

Q: Is the war on terror currently being waged in the proper way?

“I made a decision, as you know, not to criticize my successors, with an s. I am going to be around a little bit longer — there is going to be more than one successor. The temptation is to try to rewrite history or to make yourself look good by criticizing someone else. I think that is a mistake. I don’t think that is what leadership is all about. I know how hard the job is. I didn’t like it when former leaders criticized me when I was president. Some did, so I decided not to do the same.”

Q: You mentioned ISIS, you spoke about defeating terror. Is it possible to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq without boots on the ground?

“The president will have to make that determination. My position was that you need to have boots on the ground. As you know, I made a very difficult decision. A fair number of people in our country were saying that it was impossible to defeat al-Qaida — which is ISIS as far as I am concerned. They said I must get out of Iraq. But I chose the opposite — I sent 30,000 more troops as opposed to 30,000 fewer. I think history will show that al-Qaida in Iraq was defeated. And so I chose the path of boots on the ground. We will see whether or not our government adjusts to the realities on the ground.”

Before getting to the substance of Bush’s comments, it’s worth addressing the point he makes in response to his first question. In that response, Bush repeats a position he has taken since leaving office in 2009 in saying that he didn’t think it was appropriate for him to criticize his successor and, for the most part, he has adhered to that position over the past five years. His response to the second question, though, makes it clear that he is indeed attacking the President’s policy toward ISIS at least by implication since he is clearly saying that the Administration is not adjusting to “the realities on the ground.” Of course, this isn’t the first time that the former President has criticized his predecessor. Back in April, it was reported that Bush criticized the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran in a closed door meeting with Jewish donors. This is interesting largely because of the fact that Bush’s brother is running for President, and the eight years of Bush Presidency are something that Jeb Bush is going to have hanging over his head throughout the campaign. I’m not sure how much it helps him to have his brother out there reminding people of the bad old days.

Leaving aside the political angle, though, it’s fascinating to see just how little former President Bush has learned since leaving office. Even in his own response, Bush acknowledges the link between al Qaida in Iraq, an organization that did not exist prior to the American invasion and which was energized by American military action, and ISIS and then claims that al Qaida in Iraq was defeated when he left office. The fact that the organization revitalized itself and now controls a vast swath of territory in both Iraq and Syria would seem to suggest that Bush’s claims to have defeated them are little more than wishful thinking and that, at best, the surge to which Bush refers only succeeded temporarily by pushing al Qaida in Iraq and other extremists into hiding. Once they found others areas in which to expand their power, such as Syria, that temporary truce came to a quick end. As I’ve said before, while you can’t say that the Iraq War bears the sole blame for the world we are dealing with today in Iraq and Syria, it certainly bears the majority of the responsibility. Bush, quite obviously, still does not recognize that fact.

None of this is to say that President Obama’s war on Isis is going well, or that the policy he’s following is the correct one. In the year since American and allied airstrikes against ISIS targets began, we’ve seen some push back against the Islamic State on the ground, but we’ve also seen ISIS consolidate its hold over the territory it has gained while the Iraqi Army continues to retreat even when it vastly outnumbers its opponent, something that recently lead Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to say that the Iraqis have lost the will to fight. In reaction to these most recent developments, President Obama has announced that he is sending another 450 American military advisers to Iraq to assist the Iraqi Army and there are reports that he is “open” to expanding the troop presence and opening bases in Iraq.

Neither one of these approaches seem likely to address the real problems that are helping ISIS consolidate its power, because all of those are related to internal political matters in Iraq and Syria. The only the thing the President’s strategy for the past year has seemed to accomplish is to drag us deeper and deeper into a conflict that we still don’t seem to clearly understand, with goals that we probably can’t achieve on their own, and in an manner that will make getting out when we realize the error quite difficult to say the least. In other words, it’s a kind of escalation similar to what we saw in the build up to the Vietnam War, and we know how that ended. The war against ISIS may not get that bad, but it’s unlikely to get any better any time soon and its hard to see how getting the United States more involved in it will be to our benefit.

As for former President Bush, though, to be completely frank about it he is the last person who should be giving advice about how to deal with a military situation in Iraq. We tried his approach once, it failed spectacularly, and we’re still dealing with the consequences.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Iraq War, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    First, if Mr. Bush were capable of shame he’d be hiding in a root cellar somewhere refusing to show his face, let alone to open his idiot mouth on the subject of Iraq. He was a criminally incompetent clown, possibly the second worst president in American history after Buchanan.

    Second, if the Shiite regime in Baghdad won’t fight for Sykes-Picot I’ll be damned if I see why we should. If the “Iraqis” won’t fight for Iraq just how in hell are we supposed to make it happen? The only way to have any (faint) expectation of success is to re-invade and to impose the occupation regime that ass-clown failed to impose when he carried out his own invasion.

    Is that going to happen? No. No, it’s not going to happen because the American people are not going to fight in a Shiite-Sunni civil war, which is what we now have. So the one all-American neocon “solution” is simply off the table, not going to happen, period.

    Which leaves hoping the Baghdad regime (or its Teheran overlords) decides to take real steps toward power sharing with the sect which hates them, and which they in turn hate. ISIS is not a difficult military problem to solve. We can do it in six months, or we can dick around hoping the “Iraqis” do it, but none of it will stick unless there is a political solution and that is nowhere to be seen.

  2. stonetools says:

    GWB can say whatever he wants. I’m much more concerned that Jeb Bush, who is running for a position where he axctually can send the troops, also seems fine with the idea of sending troops back.
    This is where independents, for the good of the country, should consider voting for Jeb’s opponent, whover it is, rather than sitting out the election or voting third party. It’s just that important to keep Jeb from trying one more time to get Iraq right.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Neither one of these approaches seem likely to address the real problems that are helping ISIS consolidate its power, because all of those are related to internal political matters in Iraq and Syria.

    I think he is trying to buy some time for a feasible option to develop in Syria and for the very dim possibility of the Iraqis coming together to fight their “common” enemy, both of which I find are somewhat laughable prospects.

    The only the thing the President’s strategy for the past year has seemed to accomplish is to drag us deeper and deeper into a conflict that we still don’t seem to clearly understand, with goals that we probably can’t achieve on their own, and in an manner that will make getting out when we realize the error quite difficult to say the least. In other words, it’s a kind of escalation similar to what we saw in the build up to the Vietnam War,

    Please Doug, Obama isn’t taking us there and we know it. If we do go there it won’t be because of anything Obama does but what his successor does. The GOP has a hard on for another war and we all know Hillary’s hawkishness so the possibility of a deeper involvement exists, but that possibility is there regardless of anything Obama does.

    Personally I wish he would just say, “ISIS is no threat to the USA so I am pulling out our troops and letting the people there figure it all out. ISIS does pose a threat to American citizens and we will do whatever we can to protect Americans but I am not wasting any more time, money or lives on this quixotic quest of putting the Middle East back together. This is somebody else’s problem now.”

    But that will never happen.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: There will be no political solution and in fact I anticipate a region wide Shiite – Sunni war. I have no doubt that the Iranians can kick the Saudi’s ass and that Israel will come to the Saudis defense. Not a pretty picture and certainly not something we want to be in the middle of. Just sit back and watch them kill each other like they have been doing for over a thousand years and will probably continue to do for another thousand.

  5. michael reynolds says:


    I would certainly like to see a discussion of just what would happen if we hopped in our helicopters and went home. Because it’s starting to seem like a plan.

    Either we bigfoot this, re-invade and occupy for 20 years, or we rely on helping local forces. We are not going to re-invade or occupy. Which leaves relying on the locals whose main function seems to be handing our tanks and Humvees over to the first ISIS member they see.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I’m coming more and more to believe that I was right way back when my position was that if we were going to invade, the only possible way to reach a desirable end state was to forcibly transform Iraq through a long-running occupation. They needed long-term institution building. Instead we had the laissez-faire invasion with the consequences we all see.

    Better still, obviously, would have been not to invade, as Mr. Bush the Smarter realized at the end of Gulf War 1.

    You see the article proving that Turkey is giving safe passage to ISIS entering Syria? I keep hearing people say this isn’t as simple as Sunni vs. Shia, but that’s about as credible as the people who claim the civil war wasn’t about slavery.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds: Yeah, I’m not sure it is very realistic considering the inevitable sh!tstorm of mayhem and destruction, but I really don’t see what our continued presence accomplishes

  8. gVOR08 says:

    Let us remember PNAC and the Bush family’s ties to the Saudi royal family. They weren’t confined to HW and W.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    @gVOR08: Once the regional war gets started the Saudi Royal Family will scramble to fly to the US to buy condos in NYC and estates in the Hamptons.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    Why of course he wants to double down on his 2003 blunder.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Ron Beasley: There seem to be constant rumors that the Saudis are lying about their oil reserves. Leaves you wondering what their endgame is. One suspects most of them already have condos and bank accounts well away from the Arabian Peninsula. And a plane fueled.

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    @gVOR08: I know some geologists who work for a major US oil company who say the Saudi oil game is about over. The royal family has plenty of money in Swiss, British and US banks to live comfortably for a long time and they know that once the oil dries up and the entitlements it pays for they are toast.

  13. Ken_L says:

    Bush didn’t need to criticise Obama. Cheney’s been his usual vicious attack dog since 2008, spewing his vitriolic neo-con BS at every opportunity. And we all know Cheney had far more influence over foreign policy in the Bush Administration than ‘the decider’.

    Al Qaeda in Iraq was always something of a misnomer, reflecting the US determination to pretend that everyone they were fighting was a ‘terrorist’, AKA the 9/11 criminals. It’s clear now that it was a marriage of convenience between Islamic extremists and the remnants of the Saddam regime, that it was willing to co-operate with Bin Laden but not to take orders from him, and that its primary objective is to conquer and hold territory in the Middle East, not to strike at the West.

  14. M. Bouffant says:

    Disturbingly similar to Vietnam, except Bush apparently would have the United States play the roles of both France (beaten & left Vietnam in the ’50s) & the U.S. that decided it had to save Vietnam from itself in the ’60s.

    A real thespian tour de force there. Hope we can pull it off.

  15. Ron Beasley says:

    @M. Bouffant: The CIA was messing around in Vietnam long before the French left.

  16. Slugger says:

    Everyone who has a plan for the Middle East should be required to state how many American KIA their plan is worth. We could not hold Vietnam with 55,000, but that is a good point from which to start the thinking process. If we could turn Iraq into Switzerland, would you be willing to spent fifty thousand KIA? Some lesser plan like turning Iraq into Somalia could probably be done for five thousand…any takers? If you can not be clear eyed about taking casualties, then you have no business playing let’s transform Iraq. These things take money and blood.
    My personal view is there ain’t much to be won there, and I would pack it in. However, for those who think that we should be in this game, please tell us a realistic assessment of the costs.

  17. Ron Beasley says:

    @Slugger: I think the invasion and occupation of Texas makes more sense and if things don’t go well we could give it back to Mexico. There is a precedent, we effectively gave most of Iraq to Iran.

  18. DrDaveT says:

    His response to the second question, though, makes it clear that he is indeed attacking the President’s policy toward ISIS at least by implication

    Without looking at the by-line, I can tell this was written by Doug. Hint: not every criticism or disagreement is an “attack”.

    That said, @michael reynolds and @Slugger have it right. It is certainly true that lots of boots on the ground would be necessary to defeat ISIS — but perhaps not sufficient, and the result (depending on HOW we defeat ISIS) might not be substantially better, in the long run.

    ISIS is vastly more vulnerable than al-Qaeda because they have declared the Caliphate and are now required to not merely occupy the territory they capture, but administer it under fundamentalist islamic law. They can’t flee, and they can’t capitulate, without surrendering their legitimacy in the eyes of their supporters. That means it’s only a matter of time (and bloodshed) before they go down. The world is not going to tolerate the nation they are trying to carve out and hold.

    How they go down will have long-reaching repercussions, though. I think it’s too late for the US to take them down and turn that corner of the middle east into the Philippines for a few decades. That might have worked for the original Iraq invasion, or Afghanistan, but then again it might not have. At this point, forget it.

  19. C. Clavin says:


  20. Rob Prather says:

    Even the military brass is now questioning the extent of our commitment against ISIS. Good.

  21. Grewgills says:

    I’m really hoping Bush keeps talking like this for he next year and a half.

  22. Tom says:

    Under what lies I wonder?

  23. Albert says:

    WHO is REALLY “TERRIFYING” You? WHO PROFITS from terrifying you?
    There are literally 100s of thousands of Domestic-Terrorists in such groups as the Bloods& Crips. The Obama AND the Repuke politicians ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to seal our borders to keep out Narco-Terrorists who STARTED the beheading “fad” and flood our streets with poison and gunfire. Now the SAME poiticians who REFUSE to stop the continuous Street-Terrorism are terrifying You with vague threats of “invisible, unstoppable, bloodthirsty, insane” mooslim terrorists. WHY? To steal your remaining shreds of freedom. As your standard of living sinks ever lower …… they divert the blame from those responsible,THEM, and shift it to those mooslims. You LIVE with Domestic Terrorists all around you every day.
    In 2001 there were a FEW thousand terrorists, mostly just barefoot illiterates with small bases in Afghanistan and Somalia with NO presence in Iraq. Now, thanks to the superior war fighting skills and knowledge of the Military Geniuses in the Pentagon there are tens of thousands with strongholds in Libya, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Syria/Iraq, Afghanistan,Pakistan, etc.
    Thanks to Abu Graihb,Guantanamo, Secret Dungeons out of the Feudal Dark Ages …. Hillary Clinton bringing chaos to Lybia which spread weapons everywhere ….. ISIS is putting hostages in orange jumpsuits because the U.S. put tortured Guantanamo detainees in orange jumpsuits. And because the U.S. waterboarded Arab detainees, ISIS is waterboarding Western hostages.
    Nobody gets up one day and decides to be a terrorist for no reason. They don’t hate us for our freedoms. They hate us and commit acts of terror because one day, as they are going about their normal lives, there is a horrendous blast and people they have known all their lives are lying in bloody shreds at their feet, mixed in with shrapnel stamped “Made in the USA.”
    Thanks to mental defectives that these “military geniuses” HIRE . such as “Prince” and his mercenaries of Blackwater/XI/Ademi….he has to change his name every few months to HIDE from his own actions. These Child murdering MERCENARIES are CREATING terrorists.By the way ……. the rate of HOMOSEXUALITY among “mercenaries” is very high …. they like being in a “MANLY” environment………
    Asof January 2015 America has $18TRILLION acknowledged debt.
    Now, after 5,000 dead,50,000(acknowledged) massively injured and 50% of the Vets applying for “disability” The largest category of veterans on the compensation scale is at 10 percent disability ($123per month), with 782,000 veterans at this rate at the beginning of fiscal year 2009 among the total 2.9 million veterans receiving disability compensation. There were 884,500 new and reopened claims requiring a disability rating received from veterans in fiscal year 2008, an average of nearly 74,000 claims filed per month.
    America finds it has created a far worse organization than AlQueda/Taliban. ISIS ismore motivated, dedicated,and focused. America has burned an estimated $5TRILLION in Iraq/Afghanistan ……. burnt out many of it’sTroops and equipment ….and now finds that the fight is JUST BEGINNING.

    Terrorism is CRIMINAL not “warfare” and must be handled as criminal in order or it will matastise. This is proven by the complete and total failure of America’s “war on terror”
    The entire purpose of terrorism is to provoke an OVER reaction by the target … order to create sympathy and allies for your cause. As we have seen since 9/11 ….. they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. We have created terrorist recruits everywhere thanks to Abu Graihb, Guantanamo,torture.
    (1) Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”. So terrorists exaggerate their destructive abilities in order to increase intimidation and push their aims (2) The more damage people believe that a terrorist group has inflicted, the more donations and funding they will receive from radical extremists. Specifically, radicals are more likely to fund terrorists who are “effective” in inflicting damage than those who can’t pull off murder and mayhem
    Terrorism works especially well when we have so many people with a vested interest in it’s success. Politicians, intelligence agencies and law enforcement reap far greater rewards than a meagre 72 virgins and apparently it is also for eternity. I promise you there are some very rich people now that have plenty to show for it. Every “War on (whatever)” builds profits for somebody, and that’s why those wars never end.
    The true Terrorist’s are the governments that use this shit to justify the sacrifice of YOUR rights at the alter of Politics.

  24. Albert says:

    Strip the Bush clan of all their material wealth and distribute it among the VETERANS of the LIE-war that BABYBush & the neocons invented. Same for every neocon WAR PROFITEER, politician and pundit that CHEERED for that war. Rove, Cheney, Krauthammer,Kristol, etc.
    Ever since 9/11 the Military/BANKER/Industrial Complex has done everything it could to provoke and create MORE terrorists —- WAR PROFITEERS have to have a war going for SELF-ENRICHMENT. Iraq quieted down and NEW threats -ISIS- HAD to emerge.

    “Don’t forget what I discovered—that over ninety percent of all national deficits from 1921 to 1939 were caused by payments for past, present, and future wars.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

    YOUR schools, electric grid, healthcare, national infrastructure, are being blown up in the form of $250,000 bombs dropped on $10 MUD HUTS, so the WAR PROFITEERS can eat lobster and lounge on yachts.

  25. hp says:

    Thus sprach the cross addicted Shrub.

  26. dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Either we bigfoot this, re-invade and occupy for 20 years,…

    I seriously doubt that would be anywhere near long enough. To get the Shia and Sunni intermarrying and really getting Shia and others (Tariq Aziz, his #2, was a Christian) integrated it took Saddam close to 30 and it was still quite tenuous, as demonstrated just as soon as we took the place apart.

    The only successful experiment we’ve got is the Philippines -100 years.

  27. Johnson Dickson says:

    I agree, starting with him on the ground first!

  28. Barry says:

    “In that response, Bush repeats a position he has taken since leaving office in 2009 in saying that he didn’t think it was appropriate for him to criticize his successor and, for the most part, he has adhered to that position over the past five years. ”

    No, he was letting things cool down a bit, like a celebrity taking a long summer vacation to let a scandal die down (and be replaced by the next scandal).