On Foreign Policy, Jeb Bush Would Be Another George W. Bush
Like nearly all of his fellow Republicans, Jeb Bush has adopted the disastrous foreign policy views that typified his brother's Presidency.
Jeb Bush has spent the last several months of his exploration of a potential bid for the White House putting forward an image of himself of his own man separate from the Presidencies of his father and his brother, but when it comes to foreign policy, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between Jeb and his older brother:
If Jeb Bush is elected president, the United States won’t be on speaking terms with Cuba and will partner more closely with Israel. He’ll tighten sanctions on Iran and urge NATO to deploy more troops in Eastern Europe to counter Vladimir Putin. And he’ll order the U.S. military to root out “barbarians” and “evildoers” around the globe.
Far from running from or playing down the views once expressed by his brother George W. Bush, Jeb Bush is embracing them — and emphasizing them.
It is clear when he calls for closer engagement with Arab leaders to combat the growing threat of the Islamic State. Or when he criticizes President Obama for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. It is most apparent when he refers to “evildoers” — a formulation used widely by his brother — and argues that the United States needs to engage but doesn’t have to be “the world’s policeman,” a view voiced by his brother that was also embraced by their father, George H.W. Bush.
“We now have a president — the first one, I believe, in the post-World War II era — that believes that America’s power is not appropriate and America’s presence is not a force for good,” Jeb Bush told a crowd of business leaders in Columbus, Ohio, this week. “He’s wrong. With all due respect, he is just plain wrong.
Bush also openly embraces what is clearly the most controversial aspect of his brother’s foreign policy:
When it comes to Iraq, Bush is mostly supportive of his brother’s legacy there.
“There were mistakes in Iraq for sure,” he said during a speech in Chicago in February. “Using the intelligence capability that everybody embraced about weapons of mass destruction, it turns out to not be accurate.”
But in that appearance, he also called the 2007 Iraq troop “surge” “one of the most heroic acts of courage politically that any president’s done.”
“It was hugely successful and created a stability that when the new president came in, he could build on to create a fragile but more stable situation,” he said.
Bush has said repeatedly that Obama’s decision to withdraw forces from the region further destabilized Iraq and neighboring Syria and led to the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group.
The situation in Syria has “been made worse by actually not having a . . .small contingency force in Iraq, where we’ve had similar to Korea and other places where having a small contingency force would have allowed some degree of stability to take place,” he said in Columbus, adding, “Now those voids are being filled by this Islamic terrorist threat. . . . So our pulling back, it precipitated part of this problem.”
Left unstated by Governor Bush, of course, is the fact that, in withdrawing American troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, President Obama was simply following through on a plan that had been adopted by President Bush, as well as abiding by the terms of the Status Of Forces Agreement that had been negotiated between the Bush Administration and the Iraqi Government. His comments, though, are largely identical to what passes for the standard Republican talking points when it comes to Iraq and the rise of ISIS, that the Iraq War was an unqualified success and that everything that has gone wrong in that country over the past four years is solely due to the action or inaction of the Obama Administration. Ignored in that analysis, of course, is the fact that what is now ISIS used to be called Al Qaeda In Iraq, a group that came into existence in the aftermath of the collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein and as a direct response to the American occupation. As I’ve said before, while Obama has certainly not handled foreign policy very well on his own, largely because he has followed policies that are largely indistinguishable from those of his predecessor, Republican orthodoxy on this issue, which white washes the disastrous foreign policy legacy of George W. Bush will continue to be an albatross around the party’s neck going forward unless they are willing to move beyond what was obviously a mistake. By his own remarks, Governor Bush certainly doesn’t seem to be willing to do so.
At least initially, there seemed to be some indicating that Jeb Bush’s foreign policy views would be more in line with those of his father rather than those of his brother. Even before he formed his exploratory committee, he named two of the elder Bush’s closest advisers, James A. Baker III and George Schultz, to his foreign policy advisory team. In short order, though, that team also came to be populated by Bush 43 era figured such as Paul Wolfowitz and Porter Goss, among others. Additionally, as he’s talked more about foreign policy issues over the past several months, it’s become clear that the younger Bush has not exactly inherited his father’s foreign policy restraint and has instead, as Daniel Larison notes, adopted the same aggressive interventionist views on foreign policy typified by his brother’s Presidency, and which now dominate the mainstream inside the Republican Party:
The article goes on to say that Jeb Bush isn’t repudiating his brother’s views. On the contrary, he is “embracing them — and emphasizing them.” Of course he is. There was never any reason to expect him to do anything else. Granted, it is politically foolish for any Republican candidate to endorse Bush-era foreign policy, but that doesn’t stop almost all of them from doing it. Being identified with George W. Bush remains a political liability whether any of these candidates wants to admit it. Being identified with one of the most costly and disastrous parts of the last administration’s record is even worse.
As an objective matter, of course, Larison is right. As I stated, though, and as I think he recognizes, continuing to support the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration isn’t a political liability inside the Republican Party. Instead, it’s essentially a political requirement to the point where those Republicans who have criticized Bush’s foreign policy record have generally been ostracized. Even Rand Paul, who is really the only candidate in the 2016 race that has foreign policy views that stray from Republican orthodoxy in interesting and important ways, doesn’t go so far as to openly criticize the Bush Administration, nor does he stray very far from the party line that everything that has happened in Iraq and Syria in recent years is due to nothing other than errors or omissions by the Obama Administration. What that says about the Republican Party I’ll leave for readers to judge for themselves, but nobody should be all that surprised that Jeb Bush is embracing his brother’s foreign policy because all of his fellow Republicans are doing the same thing.