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George W. Bush's advice to Obama on ISIS: "You kill 'em"

"So I'm supposed to kill 'em, right?"
"So I'm supposed to kill 'em, right?"
Alex Wong/Getty Images

George W. Bush hasn't had much to say about Barack Obama's approach to the Middle East. But in comments at a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, first reported by the New York Times, Bush slammed Obama's approach to ISIS — in a way that suggests the bitter fruits of the former president's policies in the region haven't changed his mind one whit.

When asked about how to handle terrorists, Bush said, simply enough, "You kill ‘em." To deal with ISIS, he said, "You call in the military and say, ‘Here's my goal. What's your plan to help me achieve that goal?'"

This is a pretty bizarre criticism of Obama's approach to terrorism on at least two levels. First, Obama has been pretty aggressive about trying to kill people he thinks might end up threatening the US. Think about the targeted killing/drone campaign in Pakistan and Yemen, or the ongoing aerial war against ISIS.

Second, "You kill 'em" worked out terribly for the Bush administration in Iraq specifically. The invasion itself, in hindsight, was a disaster. For years, a massive American ground force trying to kill terrorists only ended breeding more of them. Bush called ISIS the "second act" of al-Qaeda — but the Iraqi franchise of the group, which would eventually grow into ISIS, was created by Bush's invasion.

Though Bush touted the 2007 troop surge and shift to counterinsurgency tactics as evidence that his approach helped save Iraq — "when the plan wasn't working in Iraq, we changed" — that's a bit misleading. The shift in US strategy helped reduce the violence in Iraq, but it was the growth of an Iraqi Sunni anti-al-Qaeda movement that really broke the Sunni insurgency's back. And even those gains were temporary: unresolved tension between Sunnis and Shias was one of the key reasons al-Qaeda in Iraq was able to reconstitute itself as ISIS at all.

The Obama administration isn't blameless in all of this: its support for authoritarian former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki certainly didn't help matters in Iraq. But Bush's comments, at least as reported, aren't nearly so nuanced. He still sounds about as cowboy-esque as he did in 2003.

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