CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Wednesday called for "overwhelming force" to be used against the Islamic State terror group, including the deployment of ground troops.
"The United States should not delay in leading a global coalition to take out ISIS with overwhelming force," Bush said in a speech at The Citadel, the famous military college. "As the words of French President Hollande have made clear, the United States will not be alone in galvanizing this global effort. Militarily, we need to intensify our efforts in the air – and on the ground."
"While air power is essential, it alone cannot bring the results we seek," Bush said. "The United States – in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners – will need to increase our presence on the ground."
He said that the ultimate scope of a military response to the Islamic State "should be in line" with what military commanders recommend. He added that "the bulk of these ground troops will need to come from local forces that we have built workable relationships with."
The speech laid bare a policy that could ultimately result in a third president named Bush deploying U.S. military forces in the Middle East. Overall, his proposals amount to a more muscular version of the approach President Obama is pursuing and is largely in line with what other GOP presidential candidates and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton have outlined.
Bush's emphasis on local ground forces is the essence of the Obama strategy. Left unclear on Wednesday is whether Bush would push more Americans troops forward into combat to bolster and speed the development of local forces. So far, the Pentagon's top brass has been reluctant to push U.S. combat advisers into front-line roles alongside Iraqi and Syrian forces, arguing that doing so cannot happen until capable local forces can secure liberated areas.
The United States is already part of a global coalition of more than 60 countries involved in the operation to take out Islamic State targets. But the group tilts heavily toward American forces and firepower, with only a few other countries willing to drop bombs, including France. Arab nations are also dropping bombs but have been unwilling to commit ground forces.
Bush also called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and for "a political solution that allows for a stable Syria," but he stopped short of explaining how Assad should be removed. Obama has also called for the ouster of Assad and has been similarly vague about how to accomplish that.
Bush declared the rise of the Islamic State an immediate danger to the United States that Obama is failing to properly address.
"America has had enough of empty words, of declarations detached from reality of an administration with no strategy or no intention of victory," he said. "Here is the truth you will not hear from our president: We are at war with radical Islamic terrorism. It is the war of our time, and a struggle that will determine the fate of the free world."
"This brutal savagery is a reminder of what is at stake in this election. We are choosing the leader of the free world. And if these attacks remind us of anything, it is that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership," he added.
Bush's remarks came in a speech that had been scheduled prior to last Friday's deadly attacks in Paris. It was to serve as a way to draw more attention to national security plans he first presented in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library in California over the summer.
The speech came at a critical time for Bush, who is seeking to revive his candidacy as early-state and national polls show him stuck in the single digits. A poll of New Hampshire Republicans released Wednesday by WBUR radio placed Bush in a tie for fifth, at 7 percent.
Aides believe that the sudden focus on terrorism could benefit Bush because it will beget a broader debate about the experiences and preparedness of the eventual Republican presidential nominee. For months, Bush has cast himself as a sober-minded leader with executive experience. While he has no military or foreign policy experience, he cites his eight years as Florida governor and his command of the state national guard -- especially in the wake of deadly hurricanes -- as evidence of his ability to manage crises.
Bush's address also outlined a broader four-point plan to rebuild the U.S. military. He would reverse aggressive spending cuts, known as sequestration, that cut $1 trillion in military spending, saying that "There is no security rationale for these cuts, or any kind of strategic vision."
"They are completely arbitrary -- imposed by a process that everyone in Washington claims to dislike, but no one in Washington has the courage to stop," he said, a line that earned loud applause from the pro-military crowd.
To counter the growing threat from Russia, Bush would redeploy a Special Forces unit to European Command and order American forces to conduct more training exercises with NATO members in the Black and Baltic seas. In the Middle East, he would deploy Special Forces to fight along side Iraqi security forces and Kurdish fighters, while also implementing a no-fly zone in Syria.
He would reverse planned cuts in troop levels by increasing the size of the Army by 40,000 troops, back to 490,000 uniformed personnel, and the Marine Corps by an additional 4,000, back to 186,000. He calls for boosting Naval submarine production and revamping the Air Force inventory by applying a simple rule: Replace any aircraft older than the pilots.
Beyond increased troop levels, a policy paper provided by his campaign provided few specifics. Regarding the deployment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Bush would "maintain a sufficient military force in Afghanistan" until "the Taliban is defeated." He would keep the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and urges Obama to "end his political obsession" with closing the facility. The camp would remain open "unless and until a suitable alternative is found," but he lists no potential solution.
Across the Defense Department, Bush calls for slashing the size of the civilian workforce by offering early retirements or buyouts to workers. The moves would free up billions of dollars to be spent on uniformed personnel, according to Bush.
Bush regularly criticizes the rapid growth of the defense industry and on the campaign trail he often uses anecdote about the breakneck pace of economic development that he's seen along the Dulles Corridor in Northern Virginia. In his policy paper, he calls for greater competition in awarding defense contracts and believes that the next defense secretary should "establish a small task force of experienced business people and retired senior military officers" to come up with ways to trim back "bloated headquarters."
The Citadel often hosts presidential candidates seeking to outline their national security plans when campaigning in this early primary state. George W. Bush gave a similar speech here in 1999 before winning the Republican nomination. Already in the past year, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas governor Rick Perry have delivered similar speeches. Walker, Jindal and Perry have since left the GOP presidential race.
Bush told the hundreds of cadets gathered to hear him that he had joined classmates on an early-morning jog around the bucolic campus.
"So the next time a presidential candidate comes by here, tell them that Jeb has set a new precedent," he said. "From now on, you can’t give a speech to cadets without first doing some PT," or personal training.
Bush has two foreign policy advisers on his campaign staff who used to work for House Republican leaders and aides said Wednesday that they helped craft the bulk of the candidate's remarks.
But shortly after launching his campaign in February, Bush unveiled a team of foreign policy advisers, a who's who of past GOP administrations led by his father and brother. The group includes former secretary of state James Baker and former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, plus others with expertise in the Middle East and Latin America.
Given the disparate nature of the politics and views of the group, its creation caused early headaches for him and raised questions about whether he would serve much differently than George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush.
Jeb Bush insists that he would. He told NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday that "The world is going to be dramatically different in 2017 than it was in 2000. We need to be focused on the future."
Greg Jaffe and Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.