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Rush Transcript: Jeb Bush’s Interview on ‘With All Due Respect’

The Complete Jeb Bush Interview

MARK HALPERIN, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Governor, thanks for joining us.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be here. What a beautiful place.

HALPERIN: Beautiful place to talk about some serious stuff, any president, commander in chief (INAUDIBLE) biggest part of the job in many ways. And right now the country is dealing with the world is dealing with a lot of hot spots.

So we're going to talk about a bunch of stuff. I want to start, though, with one of the most basic questions for any commander in chief.

Cases where the United States is not directly hit but where American interests are implicated, what is the Jeb Bush doctrine for when and how you commit American troops on the ground overseas?

BUSH: I think you have to have a compelling national security interest. And in the case of Islamic terrorism, we have it. This is a unique circumstance, not seen before in history, where you have a caliphate that has been formed whose energy is maintained and strengthened by its existence and its ability to provoke acts of terror around the world is real.

And so I think this is a direct threat to our national security interest.

HALPERIN: So you've said you want to declare war against ISIS.

BUSH: Well, because they're declared war on us.

HALPERIN: And yet you've not answered directly when asked about the amount of American ground troops, down special forces.  

So if this is the case where we should declare war, if there's a vital American interest at stake, why aren't you for it, substantial ground troops?

BUSH: Because I can't give you a number without the commander in chief, the President of the United States would tell his military advisers give me options for a strategy to take out ISIS. And I don't know what the answer would be to those options. I can't tell you that --

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN: -- it doesn’t necessarily involve substantial ground troops?

BUSH: It could --

HALPERIN: -- but not necessarily.

BUSH: -- not necessarily. I think that if we could mobilize the support of the neighborhood, which has got to be essential, we can't do this alone, support from Europe, support from Turkey, from Egypt, from Jordan, all of these countries directly impacted by this grave threat, certainly the Persian Gulf countries, we could have an international force led by Americans for sure and certainly with our airpower, where we could destroy ISIS.

And I think that's the goal. It isn't to contain. That's a joke. Containing only gives them energy and makes them an even greater threat.

JOHN HEILEMANN, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: You talk about declaring war. There are people out there, some members of your party who want right now to invoke Article V.

Do you want to do that?

BUSH: I think if France calls for it, there should be a serious conversation about that. I think this requires American leadership, whether it's through NATO or directly. The net result is we need to lead. We need to be the leader of this effort. There should be a clear stated objective. And we should use awesome force, not incremental force, which is what we're doing today.

HEILEMANN: So when you talk about declaring war, I think there's a broad view that America is a war-weary country. Afghanistan, after Iraq.

Do you agree that the country is war-weary?

BUSH: It is war-weary for sure. And the use of the declaration of war was not a formal statement. But to recognize that Islamic terrorism and the terrorists that head it up are declared war on us, we should take them seriously. Sometimes when people say things, we should actually believe what they say. 

So how do you deal -- how do you deal with that war-weariness to -- how do you muster the kind of public support that bode necessary for an aggressive action against ISIS?

How do you get over that war-weariness in America?

I think you have to give people a sense that there's a clear strategy, that we're not doing this incrementally, that we're not going to be stuck in a quagmire, that we, if we do it, we're doing it with all the resources that we can bring to bear and the international community with us and that we are -- we're quick and decisive and then we move on. 

I think the fear of weariness is legitimate, that if we get into extended wars and there's no clear strategy and we get stuck, that the costs are high and Americans lose their life.

HALPERIN: Is that the condition that exists and the conflict in Afghanistan now?

BUSH: There's better stability today. We're moving towards a stable Afghanistan for sure. But it's the longest war in American history.

HALPERIN: But are we stuck there?

Are Americans --

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN: -- are Americans right to say look what happened in Afghanistan? We're weary of sowing in other places?

BUSH: If we can in the case of Afghanistan similar to Korea, similar to Japan, provide a force that allows for security to exist, similar to Iraq with 3,500 troops now, that is not necessarily prolonging the war. That's creating a secure country that will allow us not to have to come back in. I think that's appropriate.

But the reason -- I'm answering honestly your question -- it's a good one. People are weary of war. And so a commander in chief, the president, has to make -- create a clear strategy for people to know that this is something that's not going to go on forever. This president in twice in the last year and a half now has said we don't have a strategy. It's pretty breathtaking if you think about it. We have 3,500 troops in Iraq and no strategy. We have what 50 special operators in Syria with no strategy. We have warfighters that are risking their lives over in their fighting in the air with no strategy.

HEILEMANN: Do you let me ask you about refugees. President Obama yesterday said that we should have no religious test for compassion when it comes to Syrian refugees coming in. And he went on to say that it was sort of shameful and not American to suggest that there should be a difference -- first of all, looked to me is to ask you whether you've said that we should focus on Christian refugees from Syria.

Did you take President Obama's comments personally?

Did you take that as a direct shot at you?

BUSH: Well, he didn't mention my name but, yes, I mean, I've had this view for along while that religious minorities in the Middle East and around the world are deserving of our support because but for us, who. So I believe that we should take a stand to help people in Mosul, mass is no longer given, no longer said after 1,400-1,500 years. The Yazidis are being exterminated. You have enslavement, beheadings, the brutality of Islamic terrorism is such that I think we do have a duty to act.

HEILEMANN: But you don't disagree with the fact that Muslims are the primary are suffering in that the vast majority of sufferers in the refugees are Muslims.

So why --

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: -- people are Muslims for sure.

HEILEMANN: -- so why discriminate against Syrian refugees?

BUSH: There's no discrimination to simply say that you want to protect religious minorities that are being exterminated. The solution as it relates to the innocents in Syria, in Iraq, is to create a strategy to destroy ISIS and to bring about change as it relates to the Assad regime. That's where American leadership needs to be played.

If we're just responding to a crisis by our inaction of creating an overflow of refugees, I mean, that's not an answer. That's just once again reacting to events that you didn't help try to deter. 

HEILEMANN: So 26 or 27 I believe now, governors, have said no Syrian refugees. They want no Syrian refugees in their states. Senator Cruz has introduced a bill saying no Syrian refugees at all in the United States. 

Muslim Syrian refugees -- 

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: -- you agree, you support that bill and how do you feel about --

BUSH: I haven't seen the bill and I think people are legitimately concerned about the efficiency, the competency of the Obama administration as it relates to screening processes. But we have systems in place, we should if there's any kind of concern, we shouldn't allow people in.

But I don't think we should eliminate our support for refugees. It's been a noble tradition in our country -- 

HEILEMANN: Including Muslim refugees? You're not -- you don't want to ban Muslim refugees from coming -- 

BUSH: I don't --

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: -- the answer to this, though, is not to ban people from coming. The answer is to lead, to resolve the problem in Syria. That's the ultimate answer. And that's my focus. 

Jeb Bush on Syrian Refugees

HALPERIN: You mentioned airpower before. Some are saying now even that ISIS is not showing respect for human life, to say the least. That we, the West needs to lower the concern that it's had about casualties, civilian casualties, in bombing. 

How do you grapple with that?

BUSH: Well, in my briefings about this, I've -- there's some frustration by military commanders that the lawyers are on top of every sortie. And I think we're if we view this as a fight for our time, that this is a threat to Western civilization, then we need to be aggressively pursuing a strategy to take out ISIS. And the warfighters need to have their hands untied. 

You can balance this perhaps recognizing still recognizing that there is a -- there's a lot of innocent people in these, they're embedded inside of Mosul, for example, Trump's idea of bombing Mosul, I mean, whatever he's saying, that's just not -- you don't do that. You're going to have to have ground troops. There's going to have to an international fighting force in the case of Iraq it would be the Iraqi military along with Sunni tribal leaders and the Kurds. 

And we would be partners in that.  

HALPERIN: But at this point, would you say civilian casualties, targets will have to be hit even if they're more at risk of civilian casualties and would have been acceptable before?

BUSH: I don't -- my position on this hasn’t changed. This is war. And we need to treat it as war.

HALPERIN: So even if there's civilian casualties --

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: This is war. This is war. You don't go out of your way to kill innocents. We have a noble tradition doing that. But I think this administration has not viewed it. They view it as a law enforcement exercise. They have lawyers on top of it. That's not the attitude that you need to be successful -- 

HALPERIN: -- one more time. So civilian casualties are just part of war? And so --

BUSH: Of course they are, Mark. I mean, look at history. Has there ever been a time where we don’t have -- you have to. It's not a video game. This is why it's a serious endeavor to when you're aspiring to be President of the United States to send men and women in harm's way, it's a serious undertaking. And you have to do it, recognizing that we want to win and do so in a way that allows for a more secure world. 

HEILEMANN: Let me ask you one more thing and couple more things from comments yesterday, another thing about President Obama. He made a real point of phrasing your brother yesterday, for not using, not for saying avoiding saying that we were at war with Islam. People in your brother's administration have said that not only did the administration avoid saying we're not at war with Islam but we're but they avoided the phrase avoided we're at war with radical Islam. Eliot Abrams (ph) has said that, argued for why that was important. 

You now say we must say that we're at war with radical Islam. So what's the reason for the difference between your and your brother's postures now? 

BUSH: We may have a difference. But it's the avoidance of it that seems to be amazing. These Democratic candidates and President Obama get all twisted up like a pretzel to avoid the term "Islamic terrorism" in the same sentence. And this is an ideology. These are -- this is a political ideology. They've co-opted a religion. But they are Muslim extreme terrorists and they need to be taken out.

I think this is a question of semantics but the simple fact is to avoid this conversation creates a whole set of policies that is defeatist in its nature. 

HEILEMANN: Let me ask you about one other thing -- 

BUSH: No one, by the way, just I don't think anybody would have suggested my brother wasn’t focused on destroying radical Islam. Whether he didn't use the term or not, I don’t think anybody ever thought that he was a little weak on this. 

HEILEMANN: There was a reason, though, why he avoided using it. Again, a lot of people from this administration made the point that they went out of their way to avoid using that term because they did not want to have this cast as a religious war.

BUSH: But here, you know, the world changes. And so in 2017, the threat of ISIS is as it gains strength, the threat of the black flag of ISIS going up in Mecca, in Medina, in Cairo, in other countries. And so I think the rest of the Muslim world now sees this threat in a different way than they might have 15 years ago. 

HEILEMANN: We asked you about Donald Trump real quick. He said yesterday that we may need to surveil some mosques in the United States in a more intense way than we do now. And he's open to the idea of even shutting some of those mosques down.

How do you feel about that issue?

BUSH: I have confidence in the FBI doing their job, protecting civil liberties and doing their job. Donald Trump's been all over the map on the question of ISIS. He at one point said let Russia take ISIS out and then he said let ISIS take Assad out. Now he wants to bomb ISIS. He doesn’t want to send -- he doesn’t want to create a strategy and have the United States military lead an effort. It's a pretty good example of why he can't be trusted being President of the United States, in my mind.

HALPERIN: He said you trust the -- can you envision any circumstances where you would say, yes, mosques should be shut down?

BUSH: No. I can't, unless there is identified threats to the national security of our country. I think we've got to be cautious about the world we're moving towards. This is to protect our freedom, not to take freedom away.

Jeb Bush: Trump’s Been All Over the Map on Islamic State

HALPERIN: Assad, you mentioned a couple of times. He seems to be the cause of a lot of instability not just in the region but in the world now. 

Why -- why wouldn’t it be appropriate to do what a previous president did with Saddam Hussein and go into (INAUDIBLE) and take him out?

BUSH: I think it is appropriate. This is what I’ve been saying. I gave a speech at the Reagan Library saying that you can’t deal with ISIS without dealing with Assad. He has killed over 200,000 innocent people in his country. He is supported by radical Shia terrorists.

The notion that somehow we’re going to trade sides, if you will, in a very complicated way, I think we need to simplify this. There are -- there are terrorists, Shia and Sunni, that want to destroy the modern Arab world, they want to destroy Western civilization. And that -- that focus is where our focus needs to be, is to attack both sides of that.

HALPERIN: I know you think he should go, but should the American military remove him?

BUSH: I think we ought to create a no-fly zone to limit his power and I think -- 

HALPERIN: But that’s not going to get him out of office.

BUSH: Well, it could if we -- if we’re serious about building a force trained by the United States, an international fighting force, the third option if you will. It used to be called the Syrian Free Army, but --

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN: You supported removing Saddam Hussein by force. He -- this is a guy who’s used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, who’s a threat to Israel, who’s a threat to the region.

BUSH: I think Assad can be removed diplomatically when he has no other options and that requires American leadership, and that requires a presence that would create a third force between ISIS and Assad.

HALPERIN: You’re --

BUSH: And that’s what -- that’s what’s been lacking. That’s what the president promised and he backed away from.

HEILEMANN: You’re going to talk to tomorrow, Wednesday, at the Citadel about a lot of things including homeland security.

BUSH: Yes.

HEILEMANN: Is the homeland safe now? 

BUSH: I think it’s safe but it needs it be safer. I think one of the things that I found to be unfortunate was, in the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, eliminating the metadata program, which will end by this month. I think we need to relook at that. You can protect civil liberties in the homeland, inside the country, and also identify terrorist messages that are coming in to do us harm. And there’s no evidence that anybody’s civil -- civil liberties were violated with this program, and it’s part of a mosaic of efforts to keep us safe and I think it ought to be reinstated. 

HALPERIN: National security’s pretty serious stuff and you and other people running to be the nominee are pretty intensely critical of the president. But talk about your optimism about America winning this fight. Talk about what that looks out, what a victory looks like, and how Americans can be hopeful about what’s going on rather than just fear.

BUSH: Well, history is rife with examples of United States leadership creating a more secure world for ourselves and for the world. And it’s when we lead that gives people confidence that they will follow. What we see now are Arab nations going to consult with Putin. Never has that happened before. We see an aggressive China. We see nation-states that are taking advantage of our weakness, and we see -- 

HALPERIN: With all due respect, sir, this sounds pretty negative.

(LAUGHTER)

HALPERIN: With all due respect, that still sounds pretty negative.

BUSH: It is negative; we’re living in a really negative time. But I think we can fix that. We have -- we have military superiority to deal with this. This -- the caliphate can’t deal with an American technological force that is second to none. And if we garner the international support, which is my point -- right now we -- our friends, our potential friends, no longer trust us. They don’t think that we have their back. 

Look, in the Middle East, the first signal that we’re not serious is when we disrespect Israel, when we create a -- when there’s, you know, air between, space between Israel and the United States, the rest of the Arab world goes, well, how are we going to get a fair shake if Israel doesn’t?

This uncertainty needs to be resolved and that requires a president that is consistent, that is humble, who doesn’t use grandiose language, but when people know that he’s going to act, he’s going to do it. He’s going to have the back of the military and is going to create a force that will be successful.

HEILEMANN: I think any fair-minded person would say that we’re now, right now, still dealing with the legacies, the foreign policy legacies, of the past two administration, the Obama administration and your brother’s administration. So I want to ask you two two-part questions.

BUSH: Ooh.

HEILEMANN: They’ll be relatively simple (ph).

BUSH: This is a math program now.

HEILEMANN: The first now, you’ll be on this.

So when you think about President Obama, just think about discrete national security decisions, not broad things but discrete things -- 

BUSH: Yes.

HEILEMANN: What’s the biggest mistake he’s made and what’s the best thing that he’s done? Other than taking out bin Laden. We’ll --

BUSH: I was going to give him credit for that. 

HEILEMANN: We’ll take that off the table.

BUSH: I think -- I think using, continuing to use the drone efforts in Pakistan had a positive effect, and it was against what he said in the campaign. It’s the only place I think where he reversed himself from a political position to one, after being briefed, was the right thing to do.

The mistakes are -- were rife of mistakes. But I think it’s the grandiosity -- grandiosity of his language without following it up. It’s the red line, it’s the Russia’s a regional power, it’s ISIS is the JV team, ISIS is contained. All this stuff puts him in a really vulnerable position for the rest of the world. And the geography of this is the whole world, so anytime the president says something and doesn’t act on it, it has an impact 1,000 miles away from there. And that’s -- that’s the problem.

And I would say just from a foreign policy -- try to answer your second question before you ask it --

HEILEMANN: Yes.

BUSH: I think we have to stop being reactive in our foreign policy. The past is the past. Learn from it, move on, prepare for the future. And so whether it’s the president, the previous presidents, my dad, Clinton, my brother, Obama -- learn from all of the lessons, the good and the bad, to project America’s presence and leadership in the world. 

HEILEMANN: And let me ask --

BUSH: Did I get close to the question?

HEILEMANN: Well, you were in the general vicinity of it. But I do want to ask you the specific second part of my question, which is you just -- I just asked you about Obama, best and -- biggest mistake and best success. Think about your brother. What’s the -- again, the discrete policy decision that was the best thing and the biggest mistake. 

BUSH: I think both relate to Iraq. One was the surge, which was an incredibly courageous act against popular will, jeopardizing his legacy, huge threats to all the stuff that presidents are supposed to be thinking about in their sixth year, or fifth year. It was the right thing to do and it was a great success. 

I think the beginning of the Iraq war, not bringing security to the country, focusing on other things, was a -- was an error that created the need for the surge, to be honest with you.

HALPERIN: You’ve been pretty clear today and previously about Donald Trump and what you think of his capacity to be Commander-in-Chief. And you’ve been somewhat clear also on Ben Carson and your view of some of the things he’s said.

I want to ask you, not to pit you against them but just to get a sense of your view, on Senator Cruz, Senator Rubio. In terms of their experience and their policy decisions on national security, how would you tell voters of South Carolina and elsewhere, you’re better than them to be Commander-in-Chief?

BUSH: Well, I’m probably more consistent. I’m probably less bellicose. I try not to use language that --

HALPERIN: You’re talking about both Cruz and Rubio now?

BUSH: Yes, yes. I mean, look, on Syria, both of them voted against the authorization of force when -- when they -- well, one didn’t vote because it never got to the floor, and one in Foreign Relations Committee voted against the president’s authorization of force. And now Marco has got a different reason why he did it, but back then it was he didn’t think that we had an interest there. I think we do.

And Ted Cruz said something to the effect, the great spin of the phrases, I recall something that we shouldn’t be Assad’s Air Force.

Well, there’s a broader issue at stake here, and it is the fact that there’s a group of people that have declared war on Western civilization and on our country. And I think we need to be resolute as it relates to that. I’ve been consistent about it. 

HALPERIN: So that’s one vote, which I take your point on, for both of them. But more broadly, how would you say you’re better than Senator Cruz, Senator Rubio, to be in the next Commander-in-Chief?

BUSH: I just think I could be a good Commander-in-Chief. I’m not saying that they’d be bad ones. I’m -- it’s hard for me --

HALPERIN: So you wouldn’t put them in the same category as Trump or Carson? Or would you?

BUSH: I’m not putting anybody in any category. I just think --

HALPERIN: Well, you’ve raised --

BUSH: -- of all the people running, of all the people running, I think I have the skills, the leadership skills, the ability to make tough decisions, the ability to draw with a little humility enough information before you feel like you’re compelled to act. Some of this just relates to life experience. Look, I’ve lived -- 62 years old. I’ve gone through good time and bad. I’ve seen -- I’ve had to make difficult decisions across the board and this is a tough job. And it requires a -- it requires a principle, it requires, you know, a set of guiding principles to act and then to stick with it. 

HALPERIN: So those 20 additional years you have on those two young senators, you think that’s a big difference in terms of experience --

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: I think it’s helpful. I think it’s helpful as it relates to foreign policy, for sure. I’ve lived overseas, I’ve traveled overseas extensively, done business overseas. I’m a student of foreign policy. I got -- I think I got what it takes. That’s not to say others don’t; I think that probably any candidate running has a better foreign policy than Hillary Clinton, who effectively in South Carolina two weeks ago -- not effectively -- said she would not be any more aggressive than President Obama as it relates to foreign policy.

HEILEMANN: if supporters of Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson were to say, you know, with all due respect, being governor of a state --

BUSH: They probably wouldn’t say with all due respect, but your show -- you have to --

HEILEMANN: Yes, it’s just for branding. With all due respect, being governor a state gives -- gives Jeb Bush or any other governor no more relevant experience of commanding of the American -- of being Commander-in-Chief than what we -- what our guys have done, running a business empire, being a neurosurgeon.

What would you say about your -- about your gubernatorial -- what is it particularly about your experience in office that makes you more qualified to be Commander-in-Chief than those two guys are?

BUSH: Well, I was Commander-in-Chief of the second or third largest National Guard that was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over -- during the life of my tenure, probably 5,000 Guardsmen and women were serving in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. I’ve done three or four trade missions a year as a governor. I’d lived overseas, I’ve done business overseas. As I’ve said, I’m -- I have intellectual curiosity. I haven’t gotten it all figured out. I love talking to people that are really smart about things that relate to foreign policy and be able to convert their ideas into a practical plan.

When you’re a governor, you take ideas and you turn them into reality. You develop strategies and you fight to make sure that those strategies achieve the desire result. I’m not sure in the world of Mr. -- Dr. Carson and Mr. Trump that they’ve -- they had the breadth of experience that I’ve had.

HALPERIN: Governor, thank you.

BUSH: Thank you guys.

HALPERIN: Appreciate it.

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