RENO, Nev. -- In his most confrontational exchange to date with voters, presumed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush faced sharp questions about his support for the Iraq war.
Ivy Ziedrich, who said she was a member of the local Young Democrats chapter, forcefully asked Bush about his belief that the Islamic State terror group has been an outgrowth of the Obama administration's decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from Iraq.
Ziedrich: The threat of ISIS was created by the Iraqi Coalition Authority which ousted the entire government of Iraq. It was when 30,000 individuals who were part of the Iraqi military, they were forced out, they had no employment, they had no income. Yet they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons. Your brother created ISIS.Bush: Is that a question?Ziedrich: You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir.Bush: Pedantic? Wow.Ziedrich: You could just answer my question.Bush: So what is the question?Ziedrich: My question is why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars, when we sent young men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? It’s this idea – like, why are you spouting nationalistic rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?Bush: We respectfully disagree... Al Qaeda had been taken out, there was a fraudulent system that could have been brought up to create, to eliminate the sectarian violence and we had an agreement that the president could have signed, it would have kept 10,000 troops, which is less than what we have in Korea. It could have created the stability that would have allow for Iraq to progress. The net result was, the opposite occurred because immediately that void was filled. And so, look, you can rewrite history all you want but the simple fact is that we’re in a much more unstable place because America pulled back.
Bush then walked away and greeted other supporters.
The exchange came at the conclusion of a rowdy town hall meeting, where Bush began as he usually does by embracing his family history.
"First of all, I’m proud to be George W’s brother. … It’s just the way it is, I can’t deny the fact that I love my family, I love everything about them," he said.
He was later asked about comments aired by Fox News on Monday that he would have ordered the Iraq invasion even knowing how the war unfolded and that intelligence used to justify the war was faulty. On Tuesday, Bush clarified his comments, saying he had misunderstood the question.
But a man in Reno asked Bush, "You said I think it was yesterday that I don’t want to answer hypotheticals. Don’t you think running for president is hypothetical when you say, if I run for president dot-dot-dot?"
“Rewriting history is hypothetical," Bush replied.
He said that he had misinterpreted the question from Fox's Megyn Kelly to mean "Knowing what you knew then, what would you do?"
"And I answered it honestly and I answered it the way I answer it all the time, which is that there were mistakes made, but based on the information we had, it was the right decision," he said.
"What we ought to be focused on is what are the lessons learned?" he added. "There are two lessons. One is, if you’re going to go to war, make sure that you have the best intelligence possible and the intelligence broke down. That’s clear, clearly one of the mistakes of this. And secondly, if you’re going to do this have a strategy of security and a strategy and have a strategy to get out. And both of those things didn’t work the way they did, although I give my brother credit. Once the mess was created, he solved that mess with the surge and created when he left a much more stable Iraq that now, that was squandered in some ways when President Obama did not keep any small amount of troop level."
Bush also dismissed "hypothetical" questions about the origins of the Iraq war as a "disservice" to U.S. troops who died or were injured in the war, and to their families.
Bush is making his second trip to Nevada this year as he continues preparing to run for president. He met with Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval -- long seen as a potential GOP vice presidential candidate or Cabinet member -- and will speak at a fundraising dinner for Las Vegas-area Republicans on Wednesday night.
He was asked by reporters how he is different from his brother, George W. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush.
"I’m much better looking than my brother. I’m much younger," he said.
"Of course I have differences with every previous president," he added later -- but declined to cite a specific policy difference with his brother.
Throughout his appearance, Bush reminded people that he has taken hundreds of questions from voters and reporters so far this year. He appeared frustrated, but not flustered and took it in stride.
"You can't script your way to the presidency," he told reporters.